Call for tighter rules on food product advertising to children

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th September 2011

The Cancer Council of New South Wales has renewed calls for tighter regulations on using promotional characters on food packaging. It claims that nearly 75 per cent of promotional characters on Australian food packets spruik products that are high in fat, salt, and sugar.

Research conducted by Cancer Council NSW with the University of Sydney’s Prevention Research Collaboration found that the market was “saturated” with licensed merchandise characters, such as cartoon characters, promoting less healthy foods.

Researcher and Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said, “These characters are being placed on television, billboards, and food packets to build brand loyalty between children and unhealthy products like chocolate, chips, and snack bars.

“Food companies invest millions of dollars on attention grabbing promotional characters to encourage children to pester their parents for unhealthy snacks.

“Regulations should prevent companies from promoting junk food to children through characters, competitions, and other tactics designed to sell products packed with harmful ingredients,” Ms Chapman said.

“What we would really like to see happening is the introduction of regulations that encourage promotional characters for healthy food only. This would give parents another weapon in their armoury to promote healthy eating to their children,” she said.

Food industry returns fire

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) today released a statement describing the call by Cancer Council NSW as “comical”.

According to the AFGC, most of the leading Australian food companies have already stopped using characters in advertising high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) food products to children.

AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said that, “The AFGC had already stopped using licensed characters in advertising HFSS food products to children under the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI).  The industry code involves the majority leading food manufacturers who have committed not to advertise HFSS foods to children under 12, unless they promoted healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

“Industry has removed licensed characters from advertising HFSS food products to children in a range of different media such as TV, radio, online and in school canteens – under the RCMI,” Ms Carnell said.

“Licensed characters such as Coco the Monkey and Freddo Frog have been around for decades in Australia – the obesity epidemic only started in the 1980’s.  So you simply can’t blame the obesity problem on Coco and Freddo.

Ms Carnell said industry’s RCMI has been effective in reducing the number of advertisements targeting children for HFSS foods.

“The latest independent research in Australia found only 2.4 per cent of adverts on children’s TV were for HFSS foods – between March to May 2010.  These adverts were primarily placed in error by advertising agencies,” she said.

Other measures restricting child-orientated marketing in fast food industry

Advertising of foods to children has surfaced as an issue on several fronts in the past few months in Australia.

For example, it was reported on 27 June 2011, the Australian Medical Journal had published a study relating to the Australian Quick Service Restaurant Industry Initiative for Reponsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (OSRI Initiative). In 2009, the OSRI Initiative was launched. The June 2011 Australian Medical Journal study showed that the OSRI Initiative had not led to a decrease in children’s exposure to fast food advertising in Australia. The OSRI Initiative is an initiative of the fast food industry similar to the RCMI Initiative of the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

In 2009, non-core fast-food advertising comprised 93% of total fast-food advertising, while in 2010, it comprised just 67%. However, the actual frequency of food advertisements had remained the same, even during peak viewing times for children.

The latest Cancer Council NSW call, for tighter regulation of promotional characters in advertisements to children, comes only days after major fast food chain KFC Australia announced on 25 August 2011 that it will no longer provide toys with its children’s meals. The fast food chain said the move will encourage its customers to make “more responsible food choices”.