Public supports tougher regulation of unhealthy food advertising

16 Nov 2011

93% of South Australians agree the time has come to put a stop to unhealthy food producers from targeting kids through glitzy television ads and marketing ploys.

This was the resounding feeling that followed Minister Hill's speech at the Don Dunstan Foundation this afternoon where he presented latest research that showed the current voluntary codes were falling a long way short of protecting children as intended.

"Cancer Council SA together with the Obesity Policy Coalition applauds the SA Government for releasing these findings that support the fight against childhood obesity and the need for greater regulation," says Professor Brenda Wilson, Chief Executive Cancer Council SA.

"With over one in five South Australian children now overweight or obese, childhood obesity is one of our state's most serious public health issues.

"It is a proven risk factor for a vast array of chronic diseases, including cancer which now impacts one in two Australians."

The report commissioned by SA Health identified several flaws in the current voluntary system; namely that the fact that it only applies to Children's and some General programs, when in reality the largest numbers of kids are watching TV between 6pm and 10pm.

Jane Martin, Senior Policy Advisor from the Obesity Policy Coalition says that while it is heartening to see a government finally taking an interest in one of the key drivers of unhealthy diets, the current system of self-regulation has been ineffective in protecting children from being targeted by unhealthy food producers.

"When unhealthy food can be advertised during some of the most popular children's TV shows such as Junior Masterchef and global snack food companies have the ability to directly market to children online then you'd have to say the loopholes are bigger than the safety net that self-regulation is meant to provide."

"We call on all governments to recognise the pervasive influence of the promotion of unhealthy food to children, not only on TV, but via the internet and through direct marketing as well."

"The next step is to take the evidence released today and turn it into meaningful action to protect children and support the South Australian government's commitment to addressing overweight and obesity.

"A lot of important policies and programs have already been implemented in the state; however these are being undermined by unhealthy food marketing to children."

Government intervention also has strong public support, with a 2010 Cancer Council SA survey finding the vast majority of South Australian consumers support restrictions on unhealthy food advertising to children.

"93% of South Australian consumers say they would be in favour of tougher restrictions being placed on unhealthy food advertisers so children are better protected from their glitzy TV ads and marketing ploys.

"Specifically, 90% of South Australians support restrictions on free-to-air television, pay-tv, children's magazines and online games and competitions," says Professor Wilson.

"Furthermore 87% support restrictions on promotional fundraisers for schools and 77% support restrictions on unhealthy food producers from sponsoring children's sporting activities."

Recent Cancer Council SA data also show between March 2010 and January 2011, the top nine food advertisers in SA were from fast food outlets and overall they spent around $13 million on metropolitan advertising.

"Children are often too young to understand or interpret advertising messages as merely persuasion, raising serious ethical issues as well as public health concerns.  It's high time the government stepped in to protect them," says Professor Wilson.

"By implementing tough regulations on unhealthy food advertising, federal and state governments would be taking a giant leap towards decreasing children's exposure to junk food marketing and reducing the burden of obesity across Australia."

Key public opinion findings (Cancer Council SA):

  • 85% of consumers believe children should be protected from unhealthy food advertising.
  • 93% of people were in favour of the government introducing stronger restrictions to reduce the amount of unhealthy food and drink advertising seen by children, with 79% strongly in favour.
  • When asked up to what age children should be protected up to: One in five consumers said 17 years; and 30% said 12 or 13 years.
  • 86% of grocery buyers are in favour of a ban on advertising of unhealthy foods at times when children watch TV, with 70% strongly in favour.
  • When asked what most commonly negatively impacted their children's food purchase requests grocery buyers reported television commercials (36%) or toys and giveaways (24%).
  • 88% of consumers are in favour of restricting or stopping toys and giveaways.
  • 91% of consumers want the government to regulate the use of unhealthy food products in games and competitions on websites aimed at children.
  • 98% of those surveyed believe the government should regulate the use of email or SMS food marketing to children. 81% think the practice should be stopped altogether.

Notes for editors:

  • Representatives from Cancer Council SA and the Obesity Policy Coalition Cancer will be available for comment either onsite after Minister's Hill's forum (Napier Theatre, Uni of Adelaide) or by request.
  • The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes Australia - Vic, Cancer Council Victoria, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.
  • The Obesity Policy Coalition was established in 2006 with the purpose of identifying, analysing and advocating for evidence-based policy and regulatory initiatives to reduce overweight and obesity, particularly in children, at a local, state and national level.
  • National public opinion data is available on request from the Obesity Policy Coalition.