3 in 4 Australians support a blanket ban on targeting kids online with unhealthy food marketing: New study

22 Jun 2023

New research by Cancer Council Victoria reveals 3 in 4 adults (76%) support a blanket ban on targeting kids online with unhealthy food and drink marketing. While the majority (81%) do not believe that unhealthy food and drink companies should be permitted to collect children’s personal information for marketing purposes.

Study lead researcher from Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research for Cancer, Dr Belinda Morley said almost 7 in 10 (69%) Australian adults agree that government should protect children from marketing of unhealthy food and drink products. 

“Of those survey participants in favour, most thought protections from marketing of unhealthy foods should apply until children were older – aged 16 (34%) or 18 years (24%),” Dr Morley said.

Recently published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, the study of over 2,000 Australian adults aged 18 to 64 years, revealed most supported government action to stop unhealthy food and drink marketing on websites and apps at times when children are likely to be using them (68%) and on social media for all users under 16 (68%). There was also widespread support to stop certain marketing techniques used to target children on digital platforms. 

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of Food for Health Alliance, said the findings clearly show strong community support for government action on this important issue.

“The online environment is an integral part of children’s daily lives. Children should be able to go online to learn, access information or communicate with their friends and family without being bombarded with unhealthy food marketing,” Ms Martin said.

“Industry knows this harmful digital marketing works. These unhealthy ads can be highly targeted, tailored and effective at building loyal customers from a young age, but as company profits grow, it’s our children’s health that’s at risk. Unhealthy diets can lead to children being above a healthy weight, and if this persists into adulthood increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Research shows Australian children aged 13 to 17 years are exposed to almost 100 online promotions for unhealthy food and drinks every week. Saturating kids’ digital devices with harmful marketing helps processed food industries shift the dial towards unhealthy foods being seen as a normal, regular part of our diets, undermining everything we know about good health and wellbeing.”

Ms Martin highlights current opportunities for government to step in to protect children, pointing to the recent review of the Privacy Act

“Processed food industries should not collect and use children’s personal information to target them with these unhealthy food and drink ads – and the Australian public agrees,” she said.

“It is shocking to think that by the time a child is 13 years old, an estimated 72 million data points ii have been collected that can be used by marketers to build a profile and target them with sneaky ads for cheap, junk foods.

“The strong level of public support to protect children from unhealthy food marketing should give government confidence to enact higher standards to prioritise children’s health over company profits. These measures must also include efforts to protect children’s privacy online, especially from industry’s aggressive and predatory marketing.

“We want to see the Federal Government adopt strong reforms to the Privacy Act. This is a tangible opportunity to ensure that children’s personal information can’t be collected and used for commercial marketing, particularly for harmful marketing like unhealthy food. This is a really important step forward,” Ms Martin said.

Food for Health Alliance supports government action to protect children from digital marketing of unhealthy food as a key element of its Brands off our kids! campaign for a childhood free from unhealthy food marketing. Learn more about the campaign here.   


About the study:

The online study with 2,044 Australian adults aged 18 to 64 was conducted in December 2019 to assess attitudes towards government actions to protect children from digital marketing of unhealthy food and drink products. Respondents were asked if they were in favour or against government taking action on digital marketing on internet, mobile sites and social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, You Tube and SnapChat) at times when children were likely to use them, as well as digital marketing techniques.