OPC calls for removal of unhealthy food marketing on public transport to protect kids

23 Aug 2019

Nearly two thirds of food ads on public transport are for junk food: new research

At a time when almost a quarter of children are above a healthy weight, new research from the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has found that 61% of the food advertisements on Melbourne’s public transport network promote unhealthy food and drinks.

The study[1] mapped public transport routes across Melbourne, collecting data on the type of food advertisements displayed in and around train stations, tram stops, bus stops and near schools.

The OPC is calling on the Victorian Government to protect children from the influence of marketing by removing such advertisements from state-owned facilities, including public transport.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, said the findings show the saturation of junk food advertising children could be exposed to.

“Around one-third of the energy in the average child’s diet comes from junk food[2]. This is extremely worrying, and yet unsurprising when kids are bombarded with unhealthy ads every day on their way to and from school. We know that marketing influences what kids eat, what they want to eat and what they pester their parents for.”

“With many of these ads featured in places frequented by school-aged children, there is little doubt they drive demand and normalise unhealthy products in the minds of children, fuelling unhealthy weight gain.”

Data was collected in February 2019, analysing products advertised on government transport assets and school areas within walking distance from busy stations. These areas were chosen because they are frequently used by school-aged children.   

A total of 779 food ads were identified across the 21 sampled areas, nearly half of which were for food and drink.

  • Almost two thirds of food ads within a 750 metre radius of schools were for unhealthy foods.
  • 60% of food ads at train stations were for unhealthy foods.
  • 77% of ads at bus stops were for unhealthy food and drinks.
  • 100% of food ads at tram stops were for unhealthy foods.  
  • Nearly a quarter of the food ads were for sugary drinks including soft drinks and energy drinks and one in four ads were for fast food restaurant chains.

Food and beverage companies spent $39.5 million last year on outdoor advertising alone, much of which will feature on public transport infrastructure and routes, over half of which promoted unhealthy food and drink.[3]

“We know that 1.4 million people travel through Southern Cross Station each week, many of these will be children and teenagers.

“The food industry knows that children are especially influenced by marketing; their unhealthy products are plastered across public transport and along school routes.”

“While children are taught healthy habits at school, as soon as they walk out of the school gate they’re inundated with ads for fast food brands and sugary drinks. This sends mixed messages about diet and undermines efforts of schools, parents and communities to establish healthy habits,” Ms Martin said.

“Governments control what goes on the side of buses, at tram stops and at train stations. Other states and territories including Queensland and the ACT have already taken the initiative to protect children from this relentless push to consume junk food.

“We’re calling on the Victorian Government to match other governments’ efforts and put children’s health above profits,” Ms Martin said.

The OPC’s calls follow the release of a new report from a coalition of health groups that presented the Victorian Government with eight key recommendations to support healthy weight for Victorian children. A Healthier Start for Victorians includes a recommendation to prohibit advertising in publicly-owned places, particularly on public transport.

[1] The prevalence of junk food advertising on public transport, public transport infrastructure and near schools in Melbourne, Victoria.

[3] Based on takeaway & restaurant and energy and soft drink media spend for May 2018- May 2019 inclusive