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A new Cancer Council NSW study found no reduction in unhealthy food and drink advertisements on television during children’s peak viewing times, despite voluntary self-regulatory initiatives introduced by the food industry in 2009.

The study published in the Journal of Public Health found that children are being exposed to an average of three unhealthy food advertisements every hour that they watch TV during peak periods.  This figure remains unchanged since Cancer Council NSW and University of Sydney conducted the same analysis in 2011.

44 per cent of food advertisements were for unhealthy foods, with 1 in 5 being for fast food. McDonald’s dominated the fast food category accounting for 47% of fast food advertisements, followed by KFC (26%) and Hungry Jack’s (16%).  This is concerning as all three brands are signatories to the voluntary initiatives that aim to reduce junk food marketing to children in an effort to tackle childhood obesity.

Previous studies have highlighted loopholes within the food industry’s self-regulatory initiatives. The definitions of what constitutes ‘unhealthy food’ and when an ad is considered ‘advertising to children’ are not protecting children.  For example, the audience must be at least 35 per cent children to be considered ‘advertising to children’.  This study observed that in Sydney alone there were 40,000 children watching the footy and 30,000 watching a popular cooking show, which only made up about 10 per cent of the audience, so a junk food ad in those shows would still technically comply.

This study provides further evidence that the food industry will continue to exploit loopholes in these weak, self-defined codes and fail to reduce the exposure and impact of junk food marketing to children unless the government takes action.

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Paddle Pop YouTube ad upheld by Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB)

Repeat offender Unilever have been called out for their Paddle Pop ad promoted on You Tube. The ad features two primary school aged children discovering a treasure chest that is opened to reveal a Paddle Pop Twirly Pop inside. An exciting adventure follows with the Paddle Pop lion fighting off an evil character. The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) submitted the complaint to the Advertising Standards Board (ABS) claiming the ad breaches the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) to which Unilever is a signatory. The OPC argue that through its themes and visuals this ad is directly promoted at and will appeal to young children, the product is not a healthier dietary choice as it is classified as a ‘red’ product according to the NSW Healthy School Canteen Strategy and it does not promote healthy dietary habits or physical activity.

In response to the complaint, Unilever contended that the Paddle Pop has wide appeal and is consumed by people of all ages. They argued that it is classified as a ‘milk-based ice confection’ therefore is regarded as an ‘amber’ canteen choice despite milk not being the first ingredient. Unilever claimed there are references (albeit tenuous) to physical activity and healthy dietary habits through being in an active beach setting, a physical battle between the animations, presence of fruit within the screenshot and display of the wordTrue heroes balance energy intake and activity’.

After reviewing the evidence, the ASB concluded that the ad did breach the RCMI and upheld the complaint. In response, Unilever accepted the decision and will not rebroadcast the advertisement.

ASB case number: 0512/16.