Food and beverage advertising to children escapes ban

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 28th August 2008

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released its draft Children’s Television Standards 2008 for public and industry comment, with general restrictions on food and beverage advertising not recommended.

“ACMA’s draft standards are informed by a significant body of commissioned research, review and analysis of available data, detailed economic modelling and its consideration of public submissions,” said Chris Chapman, ACMA Chairman. “The draft standards are designed to ensure that Australian children continue to be catered for in free-to-air television programming and to protect children from material that may be harmful to them. This is a particularly important, high profile issue and we would expect, and welcome, robust commentary.”

Given current community concern, the issue of food and beverage advertising to children and its potential impact on childhood obesity was a core component of the review of the Children’s Television Standards, ACMA reported. However at this stage, ACMA is not proposing to introduce general restrictions on food and beverage advertising to children. “ACMA is not a health advisory body. Therefore, in assessing whether or not a ban on food and beverage advertising would have an impact on childhood obesity, ACMA commissioned an independent review of research on the issue,” Mr Chapman said. “Childhood obesity is a highly complex issue and the review found that there was not a sufficient consensus on the impact of banning food and beverage advertising on obesity levels.”

“The research does indicate that there is a relationship between advertising and children’s food and beverage preferences and requests. It also indicates a relationship between television viewing (as distinct from television advertising specifically) and obesity in children,” he added. “However, existing research does not clearly demonstrate a causal relationship between any of these factors and obesity-indeed only a modest association is apparent. ACMA has formed the view that restricting food and beverage advertising, particularly without a tool to identify high fat, salt, sugar (HFSS) products, would be a blunt form of regulatory intervention, with significant cost to the commercial television sector and uncertain national benefits. Such restrictions would also prevent healthy food and beverage products from being advertised.”

ACMA is, however, proposing to strengthen certain provisions regulating advertising to children. These proposals would further restrict the use of licensed characters, popular personalities and celebrities to promote and endorse products immediately before, during and after ‘C’ and ‘P’ periods. They would also clarify rules for premium offers, such as toys offered with food and beverage purchases.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has welcomed the release of the draft review, with Chief Executive Kate Carnell reporting that ACMA’s findings that a general restriction on food and beverage advertising during children’s programming is unnecessary reflects available international research. “Whilst a well informed debate about the potential impact of food advertising during children’s programming is important, evidence to support advertising bans as a solution to childhood obesity does not stack up. ACMA’s report reflects this,” she said. “Childhood obesity is not unique to Australia and governments around the world that have tried to restrict advertising to children have found that it does little to solve the problem.”

“The food industry is responding positively to public health concerns regarding childhood obesity by working with government and other stakeholders to promote a balanced approach to nutrition,” Ms Carnell added.

The Queensland and South Australian Governments have indicated their desire to implement a ban on food and beverage advertising to children, a plan which has been criticised by the AFGC.

“Three out of every four food ads on children’s TV now promote junk foods or drinks – it’s increased from two out of three food ads in two years,” Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson said earlier this week. “And it’s abundantly clear that fast food chains, confectionery and soft drink companies target our children through television.”

Ms Carnell has labelled such a plan as nothing more than a political fix. “‘The proposed silver-bullet solution of a blanket ban on advertising offered up by some state governments and consumer groups is an over-simplistic approach to the very serious issue of childhood obesity,” she said. “The reality is that the important issue of childhood obesity requires a multi-pronged public health approach in which government, industry and other stakeholders work together to achieve good health outcomes for our children.”

Mr Chapman added that ACMA would consider reviewing its position if evidence of an identifiably stronger association between advertising and obesity and the benefits of food and beverage advertising restrictions becomes available and a food identification standard is successfully introduced in Australia.

Information about the report can be found at: