Pressure mounts on junk food advertising

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 19th May 2008

The campaign against junk food advertising to children is gaining momentum with consumer group CHOICE releasing research indicating most parents believe junk food advertising undermines their efforts to teach their children about nutrition.

Almost nine out of ten parents (88%) responding to a Newspoll survey said the advertising and marketing of food specifically to children contributes to the difficulties
parents have in ensuring children develop healthier eating habits. The survey coincides with the release of an illustrated storybook called ‘Fed Up: A Tale of Junk Food Marketing to Kids’ in which parents Australia-wide tell how food marketing affects their family’s daily lives.

As part of a global campaign (which has over 50 consumer and health groups involved), CHOICE CEO Peter Kell will present the research results and the Fed Up storybook to the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva this week (from Sunday May 18).

CHOICE is calling on the Federal government to take notice of Australian parents’ concerns. “According to our research, 82% parents are in favour of increased
government regulation over the way high sugar and fat foods are marketed to children. It’s time for governments in Australia and around the world to act.”

The Newspoll survey also found 82% of parents had experienced their child asking for a specific food/drink because they’d seen it advertised; to get a giveaway or enter a
competition; or because a character or celebrity was involved in the packaging or promotion.

“Children don’t have the knowledge to make good decisions on the right foods to eat. They don’t understand the long-term impacts of poor eating. Organisations are preying
on their vulnerability,” one parent contributor told Fed Up.

CHOICE is campaigning to reform the way food companies are allowed to market high-fat and high-sugar foods to children as part of a global consumer campaign to end the
harm caused to children through the promotion of unhealthy foods. “Parents want to teach their children healthy eating habits but from a young age their kids are being bombarded with enticements for high fat and high sugar foods,” said CHOICE food policy officer Clare Hughes. “Parents are telling us that they’re sick of their efforts being undermined by the marketing budgets of multinational companies.”

Consumers International, of which CHOICE is a key member, aims to garner the support of the WHA for a tough new worldwide code which restricts the marketing of unhealthy products to children. Obesity is now a global epidemic with one in ten children being overweight. In Australia, the number is one in four.

CHOICE has been attempting to get the Australian Government to enforce stricter advertising laws as well as ban the use of cartoon/celebrity characters from junk food promotions. However, the Health Minister’s spokesman said last month that changes would not even come under consideration until towards the end of the year.

At the recent 2020 summit there were calls for higher taxes on junk food, tobacco and alcohol. Since action has been taken with regard to some alcoholic products since the summit, it would come as no surprise to see a tax introduced on junk food within the next couple of years. The difficulty of the idea though is how to apply such a tax – would it be based on fat content or sugar content or both?

Another suggestion has been the traffic light labelling system, which has been seen in Britain. This involves the front of the food package having red, amber and green colours to indicate whether a product has high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. The concept is that it will make it easier for people to choose healthier options. It would also put increased pressure on food manufacturers to boost the health of their products as a lot of red on the front of their product would not look good.

The issue of obesity has stung people into action and it appears there will be a number of changes with regard to providing healthier choices. Just what those changes are will be followed with great interest by marketers, fast food restaurants and food manufacturers alike.