Food industry failing to self-regulate junk food ads to kids

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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