Decade of sham junk food marketing codes failing Australian kids

24 Jul 2018

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has taken aim at the food industry for its failure to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing, despite introducing self-regulated codes in 2009 that promised to do just that.

Released today, the Overbranded, Underprotected report from the OPC exposes the systemic failures of the food and advertising industries’ self-regulated codes, and calls on the government to step in and stop allowing corporations to set their own rules.

OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin said leaving children’s health in the hands of the industry was irresponsible, especially at a time when 27% of Australian children are above a healthy weight.

“It is naïve to entrust our children’s health to the same companies that are actively encouraging them to consume junk foods. The end goal of the food industry will always be to make more profit.” Ms Martin said.

“We know marketing directly impacts what children eat, what they want to eat and what they pester their carers for.”

Overbranded, Underprotected offers an in-depth analysis and review of the food and advertising industries’ self-regulated codes, which purport to protect kids from unhealthy food marketing. The report found children aren’t protected from junk food marketing in practice in many circumstances, including:

  • sport sponsorship (e.g. McDonald’s sponsorship of Little Athletics)
  • packaging, including popular cartoon characters and animations (e.g. Minions, Coco-Pops monkey, or Disney-branded foods)
  • in-store promotions
  • free toys and other giveaways (including Happy Meals and Kinder Surprise), and
  • competitions.

Australian research also shows there was no reduction of unhealthy food marketing to children on TV between 2011 and 2015 – including by the companies who signed onto the codes.

“Under the current codes, food companies and fast food chains can easily argue an advertisement isn’t directed primarily at children, even if it still blatantly appeals to kids.

“For example, it has been argued that advertisements with childlike animations and images are targeting adults – as they invoke nostalgia – rather than children.

“The food industry claims to be compliant – even successful – in adhering to these codes, but the bar is set so low that self-proclaimed success means little. The industry is effectively setting its own homework, then giving itself top marks,” Ms Martin said.

“Kids are also exposed to a lot of junk food marketing online in highly targeted ways that are entertaining and fun, but also manipulative.

“When they use social media, play games, use apps and watch videos, kids can be entertained, they can interact and create content, and they can share things with their friends.

“These self-regulated codes don’t do enough to protect kids in these activities and mediums and it’s really hard for parents to see what’s going on.

“We have had these sham rules for long enough to know they are not working. It’s time for government to step in and support families and communities to raise healthy children, free from the negative influence of junk food marketing,” Ms Martin said.

Around 40% of the energy in the average Australian child’s diet comes from unhealthy food, and only one in 20 children eats the recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables 1.

“Unless we act now on unhealthy weight, the appalling reality is that, for the first time in decades, many of the current generation of children will die at an earlier age than their parents.”


About the report

Overbranded, Underprotected outlines the systematic failures of the food industry’s self-regulated codes, and provides a list of recommendations for the Australian Government to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing.

Overbranded, Underprotected: How industry self-regulation is failing to protect children from unhealthy food marketing is available at

1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014). Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011–12, ABS Cat No 4364.0.55.007, viewed at