A report released today by the media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), further highlights the inadequacy of self-regulation of junk food advertising, according to Jane Martin, senior policy adviser for the Obesity Policy Coalition.
"When the government's own watchdog finds it is ‘unclear' whether new self-regulation initiatives have acted to reduce children's exposure to junk food advertising on free to air TV, and community concern about the issue is strong, surely it is time for government to step in and develop an effective regulatory system.
"This echoes other reviews of the effectiveness of industry codes and all have said the same thing: self-regulation is a charade - the loopholes in the codes are bigger than the safety net they are meant to provide, and where industry has been caught flouting its own rules, there are no sanctions. Government agencies must stop passing the buck and start taking action to protect children from junk food advertising."
Ms Martin said while the government commissions reviews and passes the issue from agency to agency, it was losing pace with junk food advertisers who were becoming increasingly sophisticated in their methods of targeting children.
"At a time when community concern about junk food advertising is at a high, and obesity is at record levels, it beggars belief that McDonalds is able to produce It's a Knockout, the first Australian prime-time, advertiser-funded TV program.
"You only need to watch an episode of It's a Knockout, which is brazen in its relentless branding and promotion to see that advertisers don't take the issue of controls around marketing to children seriously," Ms Martin.
Ms Martin said there was clear evidence that junk food advertising is a key driver in promoting unhealthy food to children.
"With one in four children overweight or obese, the government must call time and rein in junk food advertising to children," she said.
Recent OPC consumer research[i] found:
- 84% of consumers believe children should be protected from unhealthy food advertising.
- Just under 9 in 10 people were in favour of the government introducing stronger restrictions to reduce the amount of unhealthy food and drink advertising seen by children, with 76% strongly in favour.
- 83% of grocery buyers are in favour of restricting advertising of unhealthy foods at times when children watch TV, with 66% strongly in favour.
- When asked what most commonly negatively impacted their children's food purchase requests, grocery buyers reported television commercials (29%) or toys and giveaways (29%).
[i] Obesity Prevention Policy Proposals: Public Acceptability 2008 to 2010 study
A random sample of 1521 adults who were the main grocery buyer, residing in private households in metropolitan and regional areas across all Australian states and territories were surveyed in 2010 by the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at Cancer Council Victoria.