ACMA sees no need for junk food ad ban

Posted by Isobel Drake on 2nd September 2009

The need for a blanket ban on advertising unhealthy food on pay and free-to-air TV prior to 9pm has been disputed by the advertising watchdog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) believes that the recommendation, seen in a report released yesterday by the Preventative Health Taskforce, lacks the research to support it.

Speaking upon the release of ACMA’s standards for advertising to children, Chris Chapman, Chairman of the ACMA, said that the regulator had maintained its initial view not to implement further general restrictions on food and beverage advertising.

Advertising will continue to be banned during P programs while advertising restrictions during C programs have been strengthened. The use of popular characters in advertising during C programs is now prohibited, unless the popular character is part of a toy or game, or part of a general non-commercial campaign such as road safety.”The public debate about advertising of so-called junk food on television, and indeed in other media, has been enlivened and significantly advanced since the ACMA commenced this review. As the ACMA has indicated previously, it is not a health body and must rely on the evidence from the health research sector,” Mr Chapman advised.

“The ACMA concludes that the relative contribution of advertising to childhood obesity is difficult to quantify and that a causal relationship between these may not be possible to determine,” he said. “However, there is currently no consensus in the research that the ACMA is aware of as to whether the association between food advertising and obesity is anything more than the ‘modest’ association identified in the ACMA report that accompanied the release of the draft standards.”

“In addition, there is only limited evidence about the benefits of banning food and beverage advertising, as this is an area where research is only beginning to emerge internationally and locally.”

Mr Chapman suggested that the costs to broadcasters of any general ban on food advertising – made necessary by the lack of an agreed, implemented, high fat/salt/sugar food identification standard in Australia – would be significant.

“Without greater confidence that such bans would have a direct and real benefit, the ACMA considers that a general ban would be a blunt regulatory intervention with uncertain results and significant costs to the sector,” he concluded.

The advertising regulator added that they welcomed the current commitment of some of the largest food manufacturers and would monitor the impact of self-regulation to see if it “can adequately address community concern without the need for additional government regulation”.

The obligations under the new standards will commence on 1 January 2010.