Australia’s solution to defining junk food

New Cancer Council research shows that Australian government-designed criteria works well for identifying unhealthy food that shouldn’t be marketed to children. Now it must be used for government regulation to protect children from junk food marketing.

In 2018, the Council of Australian Government Health Council set criteria that can be used to determine unhealthy food when assessing food advertising. Our study found these criteria were simple to use, aligned with Australian Dietary Guideline advice and performed better than other independently developed criteria.

Worryingly, 83% of food and beverage products advertisements we analysed from Sydney buses and train stations were unhealthy foods. We can’t stop children seeing food ads on public transport and we know they influence what kids eat. We need Australia-wide regulation of all forms of advertising and the NSW government must step in and protect children from unhealthy food ads on property they own and control.

Reducing advertising and exposure to unhealthy food and drinks was one of the top five focus areas raised by participants in the 2020 consultation on the National Obesity Strategy. Our study has shown Australia has a suitable criterion, so there is nothing standing in the way of the government regulating to protect children from junk food ads. Government regulation must be part of our new National Preventive Health and National Obesity strategies.

Watson WL, Khor PY, Hughes C. Defining unhealthy food for regulating marketing to children—What are Australia's options? Nutrition & Dietetics. 2021

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