AFGC attacks respected CSIRO research on junk food television adverts and national seminar planned

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th November 2011

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has blasted South Australia Health Minister John Hill over a claim that voluntary limits on junk food advertising aimed at children are not working.

Speaking at the Don Dunstan Foundation yesterday, Health and Ageing Minister John Hill said tighter regulation is needed on junk food advertising aimed at children. He referred to new research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s most respected scientific research body. The CSIRO research had led to a concession that voluntary limits on junk food advertising to children are “not working” in Australia.

Today, AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said Mr Hills’ claim was contrary to separate independent research which had found that only 2.4 per cent of advertising on children’s television were for unhealthy foods between March and May 2010.

Mr Hill had claimed the CSIRO research showed no clear change to the pattern of advertising by food manufacturers that had previously signed a voluntary marketing initiative.

Currently, food marketing to children in Australia is regulated under a mixed system of government regulation and voluntary industry self-regulation. The Australian Government is trialling self-regulation to see whether food companies will comply with the voluntary codes in place.

Mr Hill said the voluntary self-regulation is restricted to children’s programs when in reality children watch a much wider range of programs.

CSIRO’s research, commissioned by the Cancer Council of South Australia, found the largest numbers of children are watching television between 6pm and 10pm, and that the television programs popular with children continue to contain numerous junk food advertisements.

For example, there were 11 junk food advertisements during the screening of The Simpsons in March 2010, 8 during Undercover Boss in July 2010, and 15 during Australian Idol in October 2009.

CSIRO’s research had found that between March 2010 and January 2011, the top nine food advertisers in South Australia were all fast food outlets and they spent A$13 million on metropolitan television advertising, nearly all in children’s viewing time.

Mr Hill claimed that this is more than six times the amount of money Quit campaigns used to drive down smoking rates. A recent telephone survey of 2,000 adults conducted by SA Health also found public concern about junk food adverts and support for regulation.

In July 2011, 76 per cent of South Australians surveyed had agreed with the proposition that there is too much advertising of unhealthy food during children’s TV viewing times, while more than 90 per cent agreed that the advertising on TV of toys and giveaways influences children, and 87 per cent agreed that the government should regulate the way food or drink is advertised and marketed to children.

Minister Hill called on the food industry to work with the Australian Government to take action, including:

  • using transparent and common criteria to decide which foods are healthy and unhealthy
  • extending voluntary initiatives to the times of day when large numbers of children are actually watching TV – this means extending restrictions into evening timeslots
  • including all relevant media including their websites, packaging and outdoor advertising
  • prohibiting product placement in TV shows
National seminar planned

Mr Hill also announced that the SA Government and SA Health will be working with the Australian National Preventive Health Agency and the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to host a national seminar next year to discuss action – and inaction – on “unhealthy food” advertising. Food industry members will be invited to participate in this seminar.