The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has today released ‘Brands off our kids!’, a report highlighting the tactics used by the processed food industry to target children with unhealthy food marketing and calling on government to set higher standards and stop the processed food industry setting its own rules.
The report, released on World Obesity Day, comes after a new national survey revealed that 7 in 10 Australians want government to step in and protect our children from unhealthy food marketing.
The survey revealed strong public support for:
- An end to unhealthy food marketing on TV at times children are watching (73%)
- An end to various forms of unhealthy food marketing that are commonly used to target and appeal to children (such as popular characters or cartoons on websites, games or mobile apps) (60%).
- Higher standards to stop unhealthy food and drink marketing in public places owned or managed by the government (60%)
- A stop to unhealthy food and drink marketing near schools (66%).
- A stop to unhealthy food marketing targeting children online (76%) and across all social media for users under 16 years of age (68%).
The OPC’s ‘Brands off our kids!’ report sets out four actions to protect all Australian children from unhealthy food marketing:
- Ensure TV, radio and cinemas are free from unhealthy food marketing from 6am to 9:30pm
- Prevent unhealthy food companies from targeting children
- Ensure public spaces and events are free from unhealthy food marketing
- Protect children from digital marketing of unhealthy food
Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition, Jane Martin, said all Australian children should be able to grow up in a society that promotes their health and wellbeing.
“We want our children to enjoy a bright, happy and healthy future. But this is easier said than done when the processed food industry spends millions of dollars every year reaching them with marketing for unhealthy food in every aspect of their lives.
Children should be able to travel to school without seeing a billboard for a soft drink plastered on their bus stop, watch a video online without first seeing an ad for a burger chain, or watch their favourite TV show without seeing promotions for junk food.
Ms Martin said that leaving oversight of marketing of unhealthy food to children in the hands of the same companies that seek to encourage them to eat their unhealthy products is like leaving Dracula in charge of the blood bank.
“We know that the processed food industry is getting away with airing three unhealthy food ads every hour during children’s peak TV viewing times; with making apps designed specifically to promote unhealthy brands to very young children; and with saturating digital media with unhealthy food so that Australian children aged 13-17 years are exposed to almost 100 online promotions for unhealthy food every single week.”
Ms Martin said at a time when two thirds (67%) of adults and a quarter (24.9%) of children in Australia are above a healthy weight, our community expects government to prioritise children’s health above the profits of the processed food industry.
“For too long we have left it up to junk food companies to police themselves. Today’s report, together with the strong public push for government regulation, adds to the litany of evidence which highlights a need for government action to protect children from the processed food industry’s unhealthy food marketing.”
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said the many ways Australian children are being exposed to unhealthy food marketing are worrying, and we must protect them.
“'Brands off our kids!' highlights the importance of having strong, evidence-based government actions to support families and ensure the health and wellbeing of Australian children. The time is now to put the health of Australian kids before the profits of the processed food industry." Dr Demaio said.
The OPC is urging all governments across Australia to adopt regulation to effectively protect children from unhealthy food marketing, including in all forms of media and in the online environment.
“The National Obesity Strategy, now overdue, provides the framework to include the four actions in our ‘Brands off our kids!’ report. This provides all governments with an opportunity to live up to community expectations by improving diets, supporting healthy weight and enhancing the health and wellbeing of millions of Australians.” Ms Martin said.
 Hickey K, Schmidtke A, Martin J Brands off our kids! Four actions for a childhood free from unhealthy food marketing. Obesity Policy Coalition, Melbourne, 2021.
 Nuss, T. Chen, M. Morley, B. (2020). Australians’ support for initiatives to protect children from unhealthy food and drink marketing and advertising. Research brief, prepared for: Obesity Policy Coalition. Melbourne, Australia: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria