The Australian state of South Australia has called for a ban advertising of unhealthy foods to children citing surveys that found growing concerns about such advertising’s influence on them.
Last week, South Australia Health Minister John Mill launched a scathing attack on the food industry saying that industry codes to reduce advertising of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods are not working.
The food codes Mill referred to include the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which involves the majority leading food manufacturers. The industry has committed not to advertise HFSS foods to children under 12, unless they promote healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.
Reiterating that there had been no change to HFSS advertising patterns, Mill also released results of research that his ministry had conducted with South Australian adults seeking their views on food and beverage advertising to children.
The surveys saw over 2,000 South Australians aged 18 and above polled in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, by the South Australian Department of Health (DOH).
According to the DOH, the overall data collated from the research demonstrated a high level of concern regarding this issue, with a ban on advertising of unhealthy foods during children’s viewing times being the solution with the most support.
The DOH said that 70% of participants agreed that there is too much advertising of unhealthy food during children’s viewing time.
Majority supports a ban on unhealthy food advertising
Giving the government more leverage with bringing in more regulation was the finding that more than 82% of the respondents agreed that the government should regulate the way food or drink is advertised and marketed to children.
The survey also found that 83% or more of those polled agreed that television adverts for food such as chocolates and lollipops incentivize children to persuade their parents to purchase the food advertised.
Also, over 89% of the respondents agreed that the advertising on television of toys and giveaways associated with food products influence children’s purchasing habits.
Food body chief slams research
However, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has termed the surveys flawed and rejected the minister’s call for a ban on HFSS foods, claiming the RCMI code has been successful.
In a statement, AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said that independent research in Australia showed that only 2.4% of advertising on children’s TV was for HFSS foods from March and May 2010; and those too were placed in error.
“Over the past three years, industry has taken the important step to significantly reduce advertising of HFSS foods to children in all forms of media,” she said.
Carnell also questioned the TV programmes used in the SA Government study, claiming that they were family orientated and not those aimed at children.
“Industry believes that banning HFSS food advertising when families watch TV together amounts to censorship. Surely families can make a joint decision on what a healthy diet looks like for them,” she said.