Media

Missing the mark: AFL bombards kids with junk food

Thursday 22 November, 2018

With the 35th national draft starting today, health experts are urging the AFL to pick healthier sponsors, as a new study exposes the extent to which Aussie kids are bombarded with junk food and sugary drink branding on TV during the national game.

New research released by Cancer Council Victoria today revealed that the 2017 AFL Grand Final was saturated with junk food branding, with a massive 452 junk food brand appearances occurring during the televised game, amounting to 36 minutes’ worth of advertising.

The results showed that at least one junk food brand was visible for 25% of the entire match, which was the highest rating program for kids under 15 in 2017 1.

Around 322,000 kids across major cities around Australia tuned in to watch the match last year – enough to fill the MCG three times over 2.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Senior Research Fellow and lead researcher of the study, Dr Helen Dixon, said that associating unhealthy food brands with healthy, family-oriented sports like AFL gives junk food brands a misleading ‘healthy halo’.

“Our research found that unhealthy food and drink sponsorship accounted for more airtime during the 2017 AFL Grand Final than alcohol and gambling sponsorship combined,” Dr Dixon said.

“The amount of unhealthy food and drink marketing was highest during the second quarter of the game, just before footy fans were looking for their half time snack.”

Dr Dixon said the heavy marketing of energy-dense, nutrient-poor food and drinks is a known contributor to overweight and obesity and poor diets, and children are particularly susceptible.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, says this research exposes the prevalence of unhealthy food and drink marketing in Australia’s national sport.

“The AFL is missing the mark by saturating a game that’s popular with Australian kids with junk food brands. They’re taking advantage of children’s vulnerability, while building positive associations between their sporting heroes and unhealthy food and drinks,” Ms Martin said.

“Last year’s AFL Grand Final was the most watched program by children under 153; these sponsors are exploiting Australian kids’ love of this sport.”

The worst offender was McDonalds, accounting for over half the total time unhealthy food and drink marketing was shown. This was chiefly due to the junk food giant’s logo being plastered on the goal posts.

Coca-Cola was the second biggest player, taking up nearly a third of the total time unhealthy food and drink marketing was shown.

Gatorade was also a contender for children’s attention, accounting for 17% of unhealthy food and drink marketing time, while Four n’ Twenty accounted for 3% of junk food marketing time.

As teams jostle for the national draft picks, Ms Martin called on the AFL to use this as an opportunity to phase out its sponsorship arrangements with unhealthy brands to help protect our kids from a future of chronic disease.

“When over 26% of Australian children are overweight or obese, and nearly 31% in Victoria – the home of the AFL Grand Final, major sporting bodies like the AFL should not partner with corporations who put profits before the health of children.”

About the research
The 2017 AFL Grand Final television broadcast was coded for episodes of marketing for unhealthy food and drinks, as well as alcohol and gambling. A marketing episode was coded if the brand name, logo, slogan, or other readily identifiable imagery was clearly visible for at least one second, and the length of time each episode remained visible was recorded to the nearest second. The total duration of coded footage was 2 hours 6 minutes and 37 seconds, spanning the first bounce of each quarter to the start of the between-quarter commercial break for Quarters 1 to 3, and to the final siren for Quarter 4. The study was supported by a National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Targeted Research Grant (APP1114923). The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of NHMRC.

1 OzTAM (2017), Consolidated Ratings for Week 39, 2017. Unpublished raw data; AdNews (2018). AdNews Analysis: The top 20 TV shows of 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2018, from http://www.adnews.com.au/news/adnews-analysis-the-top-20-tv-shows-of-2017

2 OzTAM (2017), Consolidated Ratings for Week 39, 2017 – viewing habits of children 0-15 years (capital cities). Unpublished raw data

3 OzTAM (2017), Consolidated Ratings for Week 39, 2017. Unpublished raw data; AdNews (2018). AdNews Analysis: The top 20 TV shows of 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2018, from http://www.adnews.com.au/news/adnews-analysis-the-top-20-tv-shows-of-2017