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A new Cancer Council NSW study reveals many well-known food companies can continue to promote unhealthy products to children because their slack nutrition standards mean their sugary cereals and confectionary are considered healthier foods.

Analysis revealed that Kellogg’s Coco Pops, Arnott’s Tiny Teddies and Nestle Smarties can all be promoted to children according to the companies’ own health standards, which are set up as part of voluntary advertising codes.

We looked at what the big food companies use to determine what is healthy enough to be advertised to children under the current voluntary advertising initiatives, the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative and the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative. We compared it to more robust and scientifically approved nutrition criteria developed by the food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and used to prevent companies making certain advertising and marketing claims on foods that are unhealthy.

Cancer Council NSW, Nutrition Program Manager Clare Hughes said “Our results showed that food companies such as Kellogg’s, Campbell Arnotts and Nestle have set their own criteria so low that foods high in sugar and saturated fat can still be advertised to children”. 

“We also found loopholes in the fast food code. Currently it only covers advertising of children’s meals, but our study found foods like KFC’s Mint Choc Krusher, Hungry Jack’s Brekky Meal and McDonald’s Chicken N’ Cheese Burger which aren’t children’s meals can still be advertised to children.

As well, there are no criteria for such foods as Cadbury Freddo frogs or Mars Milky Way because both companies say they do not advertise chocolates to children.

Our results reaffirm that the current self-regulatory codes do not work. There is no effective criteria underpinning these codes to ensure only healthy foods can be promoted to children.”

What we want:

We found more ads for unhealthy foods by companies that had signed the voluntary initiatives. This suggests the voluntary initiatives may be just ‘smoke and mirrors’ when it comes to protecting children.

Introducing the Food Standards Australian New Zealand (FSANZ) criteria would be an effective way to ensure sugar-laden and high saturated fat foods aren’t directly targeted to children. In the absence of government regulation we challenge the food industry to adopt this criterion in their voluntary initiatives to create a level playing field for all food companies and help Australian parents to raise healthier children.

Watson W, Johnston A, Hughes C, Chapman K. Determining the ‘healthiness’ of foods marketed to children on television using the Food Standards Australia New Zealand nutrient profiling criteria. Nutrition & Dietetics 2014;doi:10.1111/1747-0080.12127


McDonald's Emlings app

McDonald’s Emlings app

McDonald’s has released the Emlings mobile phone application aimed at 4-8 year olds. According to the website it is intended to “encourage creative play”. The app features ‘Happy’, the cartoon character based on the Happy Meal box. Children can scan Happy Meal boxes to access the app although it can also be accessed via the website.


We believe the app is breaching the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative that McDonald’s has signed up to because it advertises Happy Meals to children and not all Happy Meals meet the ‘healthy’ criteria within the Initiative. The Advertising Standards Board dismissed our complaint.

Although previously the Advertising Standards Board had found that the mention of a Happy Meal without products is a reference to all Happy Meals, in this case the Board ruled that, “there is not a requirement in this context for each image of the Happy Meal Box to be accompanied by a picture of the healthier choice meal”. The Board found that the product promoted in the game was the Happy Meal containing the chicken snack wrap, apple slices fruit bag and flavoured milk and “the depiction of a complete meal including all recommended food groups is an example of modelling good dietary habits”.

The Board report made a comment that the minimum play time of 30 minutes is a lengthy period for a young child playing a computer game but it was suggested this was within Government guidelines and the report concluded “physical activity is being portrayed and encouraged to the extent possible in a game”. Advertising Standards Board Case Report 0166/14.

What do you think? Is this type of branded game ok for under 8 year olds?