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Ads for fast food over emphasise premiums and under emphasise healthy food choices which is the opposite to guidelines within the advertising self-regulatory initiatives in the US. A study showed television ads for McDonald’s and Burger King to 3-7 year old children and asked them to recall what they had seen.

Two thirds of children shown McDonald’s ads and half shown Burger King ads could not recall any food at all and if they did it was rarely healthy food even though images of healthy food were shown in all children’s ads. They were just as likely to recall premiums although under the advertising initiatives premiums are supposed to be secondary to healthy food in ads to children.

The study authors suggest current self-regulation has little impact because by the time ads are reviewed they have stopped running. This is also the case in Australia where the self-regulatory system requires complaints to be lodged by the public before being considered. If the ad is found to breach the self-regulation it has usually finished running before the finding is handed down.

Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gilbert-Diamond D, et al. Children’s Recall of Fast Food Television Advertising- Testing the Adequacy of Food Marketing Regulation. PLoS ONE 2015 Mar 4; 10(3):e0119300

Busted

An audit of the food environment at 61 sites has found nearly 80% of food and beverage marketing targeted at children in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) featured unhealthy products.

The Heart Foundation (ACT) was engaged by ACT Health to undertake an audit of food marketing to children in the ACT, including around shopping centres, bus shelters, sports venues, hospitals and close to schools. They found in audited sports venues, 86% of marketing was for unhealthy items, as was 80% in audited major shopping centres and 77% in audited supermarkets. Four of nine surveyed sports organisations received sponsorship from an unhealthy food or beverage company.

In its Healthy Weight Initiative, the ACT Government has identified that advertising of unhealthy foods, including advertising in close proximity to schools, playgrounds and childcare centres, is an area requiring action.

Heart Foundation ACT CEO Tony Stubbs said “the audit clearly shows that messages about healthier foods and drinks are being completely drowned out by marketing for unhealthy items such as confectionery, fried foods and sugary drinks”.

“It is evidence of an environment where it is impossible for parents to shield their children from junk and fast food marketing. We need to fix this marketing imbalance to better support the work parents, schools and governments are doing to improve our children’s health”, Mr Stubbs said.

Full Report: Heart Foundation (ACT) 2015 Food and beverage marketing to children in the ACT: Persistent, pervasive and persuasive.