The world is watching Chile
Andrea Western, Senior Policy Advisor, LiveLighter WA
While World Health Organisation recommendations about reduction of children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising date back to 2010 , Chile is one of the few nations to have taken comprehensive statutory action to address the issue. In June 2016, Chile became a world leader in anti-obesity regulation, enacting laws that address three key areas – front of pack labelling, advertising to children and sale of unhealthy foods in children’s settings.
Article 5 of the new Chilean law requires that all foods high in saturated fat, salt, sugar and/or calories feature a stop-sign warning label (one for each applicable nutrient). This definition of ‘unhealthy foods’ is then applied to the regulation of advertising, with Articles 6, 7 and 8 prohibiting advertising and promotion of stop-sign labelled foods to children.
Comparison with Australia’s complex web of voluntary and self-regulatory schemes highlights the robust, innovative and comprehensive nature of Chile’s laws.
The Chilean ban applies to any form of marketing, communication, recommendation, propaganda, information or action intended to promote the consumption of a product. The law also encompasses practices that take advantage of children’s natural credulity, such as use of gifts, contests, toys, games and stickers, and there have been suggestions that it applies to the use of cartoons, characters or animals on product packaging. Importantly, the law extends to advertising that does not relate to a product, such as brand advertising and sponsorship.
Australia’s codes and initiatives vary widely in their application to different types of media however there are currently no provisions that address product packaging or the toys that come free with fast food meals. Australian brand promotion and sponsorship of children’s sport is also largely unregulated, as Australia’s instruments apply only where there is depiction of an actual food product.
Directed to Children
In Chile, an advertisement is considered directed to children where 20% or more of the audience are children under the age of 14. Other factors taken into consideration include use of animated characters, children’s voices, cartoons, toys, children’s music, animals, child figures and depictions of situations common to a child’s daily life, such as school.
An advertisement is ‘directed primarily to children’ in Australia where children represent 35% or more of the audience. Other factors to be considered are the advertisement’s visuals, themes and language. The Advertising Standards Board’s (ASB) approach to assessing this test is also problematic. Advertisements that include cartoons, animations or emojis are often considered by the ASB to appeal to adult’s whimsical feel of nostalgia for childhood.
Definition of ‘unhealthy’ food
As noted above, Chile’s use of the warning signs provides much needed clarity as to the ‘unhealthy’ products that cannot be advertised to children. In Australia, this test has proven to be problematic, in that the initiatives enable food companies to generate their own definition of ‘healthier.’ This has resulted in the Board accepting foods such as Coco Pops a ‘healthier dietary choice.’
Sale of unhealthy foods in children’s settings
Article 6 of the Chilean law includes a ban on the sale of stop-sign labelled foods in all school canteens. This aspect of the law is aimed at improving the food supply and guiding students towards healthier (and more traditional) eating patterns.
The use of the stop signs both in the supermarket and to classify the foods that can be sold in schools and advertised to children provides consumers with a consistent message from the Chilean government as to the harms of such products.
The Chilean law also has significant potential in terms of product reformulation. It appears that McDonalds Chile has modified its children’s meals to evade warning label cut-offs, enabling continued marketing using toys.
What Australia can learn
It is clear that the Chilean government has demonstrated some serious political courage in legislating to address unhealthy food advertising to children. Moving forward, Chile’s world leading regulations will hopefully provide much needed evidence concerning the effectiveness of these initiatives, which will assist countries like Australia to engage in law reform.