Food ad fight continues

Posted by Josette Dunn on 7th April 2010

Bans on advertising food products during times when families are watching television together should not be imposed in Australia because it’s a “family choice” issue, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said today.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has called for legislation to urgently stop the “ruthless way” young people are being exposed to adverts for high fat, sugar or salt foods.

The US, the UK and Australia have all taken steps to restrict food advertising targeting children, particularly junk food advertising, to promote healthy eating and combat rising obesity among children.

But AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said when families watch television together, parents had a primary responsibility of ensuring their children understood the importance of eating some foods only occasionally and enjoying a balanced diet.

“Foods high in fat, sugar or salt do not cause obesity – eating too much and exercising too little does,” Ms Carnell said.

“Television watched as a family should not be subject to advertising bans that amount to censorship.

“But advertising when children are watching television alone without supervision is a different matter – during these programs, industry does have a responsibility to advertise healthy food and active lifestyles which it’s taking seriously.”

Advertising of high fat, sugar or salt foods on children’s television has “virtually ceased” in Australia following the success AFGC’s Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), according to a preliminary industry report released on March 29.

During its first 12 months in operation, the industry-code has also proved successful with many iconic products that are popular with children being been made healthier by leading food manufacturers, the new RCMI Interim Report for 2009 found. In 2009, there were no breaches of the industry code reported to authorities and 10 companies represented did not advertise their products to children.

Many people feel however, that this voluntary code does not go far enough, and that Australia should follow in the footsteps of the UK and the US, and implement stronger legislation to ban junk food advertising.  Children are exposed to junk food advertising and marketing from many different sources, such as TV, product placement in movies, billboards, and via cross promotion in stores.

It remains to be seen which side the Government will agree with, and how far they will intervene in this issue to reduce junk food advertising aimed at children.