According to an AMA statement issued on June 27, new research suggests that self-regulation has failed dismally in reducing junk food advertising during children’s television viewing times.
Professor Geoffrey Dobb, AMA vice president, said in the statement that that junk food advertising to kids should be banned through government regulation as the industry has not effectively regulated itself.
The statement cited research by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council New South Wales, which found that the frequency of fast food advertisements remained unchanged overall since self-regulation began.
Geraldine Kurukchi, a spokesperson for the AMA, said that junk food advertising on television is currently regulated by two industry-developed marketing codes.
“The first was developed by the Australia Food and Grocery Council, and the second is the Quick Service Restaurant Industry Initiative [QSRI] for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children,” she said.
QSRI has failed, suggests research
The QSRI is a self-regulatory initiative that began in August 2009, with signatories including McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut but not the AMA, Kurukchi said.
Under that code, signatory companies agreed that all marketing communications and advertising of food and beverage combinations to under-14s must represent healthier lifestyle choices, as determined by a defined set of nutrition criteria for assessing children’s meals and physical activity.
Further, companies committed to ensuring that nutrition information was available on their websites or upon request in restaurants and, wherever practical, displayed on packaging.
According to the study, which compared a period before (May 2009) and after (April 2010) the QSRI initiative, the mean frequency of fast food ads significantly increased over the study period, from 1.1 per hour in 2009 to 1.5 per hour in 2010.
In addition, the frequency of ads for unhealthy fast foods remained unchanged at 1.0 per hour overall, and during kids’ peak viewing times at 1.3 per hour, the study said.
Dobb said in the statement that childhood obesity is a major health problem in the community and glossy advertising, especially in peak children’s television viewing times, is a major contributor to unhealthy eating.
He pointed to an AMA web poll conducted in October last year, which showed that 88 per cent of people who visited the AMA’s website supported a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television time.
Food council says AMA is wrong
In response to the AMA’s claim and call for an advertising ban, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said in a statement that the medical body was wrong to say that food industry codes have failed to reduce advertising to children.
AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said that its Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) has reduced the number of adverts targeting children for high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) foods.
Carnell added that the RCMI code, according to independent research, found only 2.4 per cent of adverts on children’s television were for high fat, sugar and salt foods – from March to May 2010.
Those adverts, which were shown during children's view times, were primarily placed in error by advertising agencies, she said in the statement.