Food and drink advertising ban would prohibit healthy competition: ARA

Posted by Isobel Drake on 17th October 2008

Peak retail industry body the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has today criticised the Queensland Prevention Alliance’s call for a total ban of food and drink advertising directed at children.

The Queensland Prevention Alliance, which includes the AMA (Australian Medical Association) Queensland, Cancer Council Queensland, Diabetes Australia – Queensland and the Heart Foundation, is set to campaign heavily to ban junk food advertising to children over the next few months.

ARA Executive Director Richard Evans claimed a ban on advertising legal products and services was stripping retailers of their right to compete against opponents in the marketplace. “Advertising is a competitive tool used as part of any standard marketing mix. For many retailers the only time to reach busy working mums with advertising messages is when they are watching television or spending time with their children – and it is the retailer’s prerogative to exercise this right,” he said. “This is an attack on retailers’ right to compete and a government that supports the ban of food and drink advertising is a government that supports anti-competitive behaviour.”

“Just as we’ve seen with bans on tobacco advertising, banning food and drink advertising will not reduce the number of children consuming ‘junk’ food. It will simply entrench the market share of existing brands by restricting competition in the market place,” Mr Evans added. “No retailer or food manufacturer is under the delusion that it is good for children to eat unhealthy food on a regular basis. However, these bans assume that parents are not fit to make up their own minds about the benefits or otherwise of certain food and drink products.”

“Many retailers are already doing their part by broadening their product range to include healthy alternatives for children. Under the proposed ban, instead of being congratulated these retailers will be punished with restrictions on their right to engage in healthy competition.”

The Queensland Prevention Alliance believes children are being exploited by exposure to junk food advertising and this is having a negative impact on influencing children’s food choices. “We are experiencing one of the greatest increases in childhood obesity in the world. We must act now by banning junk food advertising during children’s television,” Diabetes Australia – Queensland CEO, Michelle Trute, said.

“Australian research suggests that heavier TV use and more frequent commercial TV viewing are independently associated with more positive attitudes toward junk food; heavier TV use is also independently associated with higher reported junk food consumption,” Heart Foundation CEO, Cameron Prout, added.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council, which represents food manufacturers, has expressed its appreciation to the Queensland Prevention Alliance for being the first public health group to take advantage of the important data contained in the recently released Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey but suggest they need to take into account all of the findings.

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said that the $3 million study of more than 4000 children, which was jointly funded by the AFGC and Federal Government, is the most comprehensive study of its kind since 1995 and will be offer a useful guide to future policy decisions.

‘The information contained in the survey results will be an invaluable tool for health researchers and policy makers well into the future,” Ms Carnell said. “(However), it is important that groups such as the Queensland Prevention Alliance that seek to use the data do so in its full context.”

Ms Carnell pointed out that in a media statement issued by the Alliance only isolated results to back up their claims regarding childhood obesity and believes other important key findings need to be placed on the record, including:

· That 76% of children were found to be of a normal weight.

· That marginally the same numbers of children were found to be obese (6%) as were found to be undernourished (5%).

· That the proportion of children who were found to be overweight (17%) and obese (6%) has not increased since the last study was done in 1995.

“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, as proposed by this group, does not stack up,” Ms Carnell said. “In 2007 the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s own assessment was that food and beverage advertising contributed no more than 2 per cent to children’s choice in products.”

“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 proposed silver-bullet solution of a blanket ban on advertising offered up by both the Queensland Prevention Alliance and Queensland Government is an over-simplistic approach to the very serious issue of childhood obesity. It downplays the importance of an informed approach to diet issues associated with nutritional intake,” Ms Carnell concluded.