Charade of 'responsible' junk food ads worsening

1 Dec 2015

Profit-hungry advertisers exploit rules, fail to protect kids: report 

A new Obesity Policy Coalition report calls for action to protect children from junk food marketing, as profit-hungry food advertisers exploit loopholes in self-regulatory codes.

The report, End the Charade, highlights the failures of self-regulation by the food and advertising industries, exposing sneaky tactics that are resulting in children being bombarded with junk food advertising.

The report reveals that the system has become even worse since an initial investigation by the OPC in 2012, despite widespread concern over soaring rates of overweight and obesity in Australia.

Examples include:

  • A looser definition of “healthier food” that fails to stop Kelloggs categorising Coco Pops as a “healthier dietary choice”, and therefore able to be marketed to children
  • A weakened interpretation of advertising “directly targeted to children” allowing Nestle to use fairy tale imagery to advertise Wonka Cookie Creamery chocolate, arguing it was “designed to appeal to an adult’s sense of nostalgia for childhood”.
  • A complex, slow system that failed to consider a complaint for Peter’s ‘Zombie Guts’ and ‘Zombie Snot’ icy-poles because the ad campaign had ended by the time the complaint reached the Advertising Standards Board.

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said the current self-regulatory approach to food marketing meant the food and advertising industries were free to make, break and rewrite the rules as they saw fit.

“At a time when one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, we should not be leaving their wellbeing in the hands of the food and advertising industries whose main goals are to sell food and drinks, not improve the health of the next generation,” Ms Martin said.

 “Despite strong growing evidence of the powerful influence food advertising can have on children’s diets, Australia’s already weak system for protecting children from unhealthy food marketing has gone backwards.

 “Around 40% of what Australian school-aged children eat is unhealthy food[1]. As poor diet and weight-related chronic disease continues to engulf the nation and rates of childhood obesity continue to climb, we cannot allow the charade of self-regulation to continue.”

The OPC is calling for urgent government-led action to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing and minimise the influence of food advertising.

The OPC is calling on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to monitor and measure children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising on television, as a first step. The federal government should introduce comprehensive regulations or, at the very least, direct broadcasting, advertising and food industries on how to strengthen their existing approaches.

“Restricting junk food marketing to children is acknowledged by peak health bodies, including the World Health Organization, as an important and necessary step to help improve children’s diets and slow obesity rates in Australia,” Ms Martin said.

“The food and advertising industries seem to be primarily motivated to merely create an appearance of corporate social responsibility and ward off tighter government regulation.

“It will only be through significant improvements led by government that children’s exposure to this type of marketing will be reduced and their diets and health improved.”


About the Obesity Policy Coalition

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are concerned about the high levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a partnership between Diabetes Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, with funding from VicHealth.


[1] Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12