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Battle for junk food ads moves to new media in Australia

By Ankush Chibber , 29-Nov-2011

Calls to extend bans across new media, including internet and SMS
Calls to extend bans across new media, including internet and SMS

The debate over junk food ads in Australia has shifted base with the country’s pro-environment party calling for a ban on such ads on Internet and mobile text messages as well.

The Greens in Australia have introduced a new package in the Australian Parliament that calls for a ban on high fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS) food advertising aimed at children from the Internet, email, pay television, and text messages.

The party, which is part of the opposition coalition, had introduced a similar bill earlier this year in the Parliament under which it tried to ban such advertising only from television. But both the government and the coalition blocked this bill.

Now, backed by public health groups such as the National Heart Foundation and Diabetes Australia, the party is taking a second try at it by introducing the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Amendments) Bill 2011.

Besides being fully banned on new media, junk food advertisements would also be prohibited under this bill to be shown on television between 6 and 9am and 4 and 9pm on weekdays and from 6am to noon and 4 to 9pm on weekends.

The bill has been proposed to combat growing cases of obesity in Australian children, the Greens have said, claiming that there is evidence which shows advertising unhealthy food to children influences the foods children want.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has called this ban on advertisements of HFSS foods over-the-top and a form of censorship.

Food body says the bill is junk

Kate Carnell, chief executive of the AFGC, said that advertisements for HFSS products are already not running during television programs aimed at children under 12 and derided the bill for defining a child as a person under 16 years old.

“Fifteen year olds can hold a job in Australia but under this legislation, they can’t be trusted to see a chocolate, ice-cream or a hamburger from an advert – this is the Nanny State gone crazy,” she said.

Carnell remarked that this bill is clearly not about advertising to children but advertising to families, adding “Australian families and 15 year olds can make a decision about what a healthy diet looks like for them without having food advertisements banned.”

Carnell pointed out that when children watch television alone without supervision it’s a different matter – during these programs, industry does have a responsibility to advertise healthy food and active lifestyles.

“That’s why industry introduced the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative [RCMI] has successfully reduced the amount of HFSS food advertisements on children’s television,” she said.

The RCMI involves the majority leading food manufacturers who have committed not to advertise HFSS foods to children under 12, unless they promoted healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

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.

Growing voices over junk food ads

The Greens are not the only one gung-ho about banning HFSS advertisements to children. Last week, South Australia Health Minister John Mill launched a scathing attack on the food industry saying that industry codes, like the RCMI, to reduce advertising of HFSS foods were not working.

Reiterating that there had been no change to HFSS advertising patterns, Mill also released results of surveys of his ministry had conducted on South Australian adults, seeking their views on food and beverage advertising to children.

The surveys saw over 2000 South Australians aged 18 and above surveyed in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011, by the South Australian Department of Health (DOH), according to the statement.

The DOH found that more than 70% of people surveyed agreed that there is too much advertising of unhealthy food during children’s viewing time amongst other key findings.

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