Sugar coated regulations fail to save children from fast food ads

| August 30, 2011

Fast food companies have failed to clean up their act under voluntary self regulations, with the total number of fast foods ads increasing on television since 2009, and no change in children’s exposure to unhealthy fast food ads. It proves what many of us feared; that the industry only pays lip service to effective and responsible advertising.

Recent research we undertook (Medical Journal of Australia) shows that children who watch up to three hours of television per day are exposed to more than 1640 fast food ads per year – a jump of more than 430 ads per year since industry regulations were introduced in August 2009.

This is contrary to the recommendations put forward by the World Health Organisation that any standards should be to reduce children’s exposure to fast-food and unhealthy food and drink advertising. 

Does this come as a surprise? Not really.

When seven major fast food companies established the Australian Quick Service Restaurant Industry Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI) in August 2009 it was to appease community concern on fast food advertising to children. However, this self-regulation only applies to a very narrow range of advertised foods. These regulations for example, don’t cover “family meals” sold by fast food outlets which will be eaten by both parents and their children. A loophole the industry no doubt takes advantage of.

But let’s face it; junk food companies have a vested interest in increasing profits from their products and allowing the food industry to self regulate is like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse.

And so junk food ads targeting children will continue to slip through regulatory loopholes and pass subjective and ineffective restrictions – all to the detriment of our children. The consistent scientific evidence shows us that food marketing influences what children want and what they ultimately eat and drink.

Surely it’s time for this sugar coated voluntary code to be scrapped and replaced with clear and meaningful Government regulations that protect children at times they are actually watching television (not just limited to after school!) and reduce their exposure to the wrong types of food. 

It’s time to stop undermining parent’s influence over their children’s eating habits. Parents are up against an unchecked, marketing-savvy, multimillion dollar junk food industry and it’s not surprising that more than eight out of ten parents believe children should be protected from this type of marketing.

With one in four Australian children being overweight or obese – it’s critical as a society we stop putting profit ahead of our health.

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As Health Strategies Director for Cancer Council NSW, Kathy Chapman is responsible for leading cancer prevention work, focusing on encouraging healthy living and making healthy choice the easy choice for all Australians. As a qualified nutritionist, she is also a foodie, enjoying cooking for family and friends.