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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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A colourful back-to-school promotion by Bakers Delight received an ‘F’ on their report card from the Advertising Standards Board (ASB). A complaint was made about the billboard advertisements promoting sugary finger buns covered in M&M’s as an adequate solution to school lunches. The complainant argued that the promotion specifically targeted children and that bread covered in sugary icing and lollies should not be promoted and normalised as an everyday lunch item, especially in a time where Australia is facing an obesity crisis. They added that it is irresponsible and unethical for Bakers Delight to market such products to children and their carers.

Bakers Delight responded saying that the advertisement did not break any rules as it was aimed at busy parents, was only for a limited time, the products were designed for sharing and that no nutrition claim was made. Interestingly they stated that the finger buns were ‘mini’ therefore designed to be more appropriate size for children to consume – which is as good as admitting that it was aimed at children.

The complaint was considered under the AANA Children’s Code and the Food Code. The ASB agreed that the advertisement was not directed at children despite noting that iBakers Delightt was attractive to children due to the colourful childlike graphics, school lunchbox theme and coloured M&M’s finger buns. However they found it did breach the Food Code as it promoted the products as ‘your lunchbox solution’ therefore undermining the promotion of a healthy balanced diet.

Bakers Delight response to the decision was that they were ‘surprised’ and the campaign was a limited-time promotion and ‘for this reason the campaign has finished and will not be repeated anyway’. Therein lies yet another issue with the self-regulations, there are no strong repercussions for the advertisers if a breach is made and due to the lengthy time to process a complaint, the campaign ship has sailedand finished its intended run and damage has been done.

ASB case number: 0072/17