Merely window dressing: changes to the AANA industry code on food marketing do not protect children
Junk food advertisements surround our kids; during prime-time TV, popping up online, travelling with them on buses and trains. The advertisements send harmful messages to kids about healthy eating.
Changes to the AANA food and beverage code in 2021 are merely window dressing and will go no way to protect children from exposure to junk food advertising. The food industry bombards children with unhealthy eating messages through advertising and the code fails to address this.
Australia lags behind best practice
A University of Sydney review in 2020 found 45 countries have taken legislative action to protect children from unhealthy marketing. The UK is trying to put in place effective measures to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing. They have planned to adopt a watershed that stops junk food advertisements on television before 9:00 pm. Unfortunately, its implementation date keeps being extended. Right now, in Australia, hundreds of thousands of children are exposed to junk food advertisements during popular early evening shows such as MasterChef, Friday Night Footy, Ninja Warrior and State of Origin. As it stands, restrictions on junk food advertising would only apply if children made up more than 25% of the audience. We know that, because these programs are so popular with adults, it’s unlikely that these restrictions would ever apply, and too many children will continue to be exposed to junk food ads every night.
Children’s exposure to online advertising is insidious; it is targeted and personalised. It can be interactive, engaging children in an experience; and social, promoting sharing. Australia should follow the UK where they have planned a total ban on online junk food advertising.
We can look to the UK to see ways to protect children from outdoor advertising too. Transport for London has had a policy since 2019 to advertise only healthy foods on their property and councils such as Bristol have announced they will restrict junk advertising on council-owned spaces, assets, and events. Results of the Transport for London policy has shown a reduction in kilojoules, saturated fat and sugar in the unhealthy foods bought. This has been projected to result in fewer cases of obesity and therefore health benefits and cost savings.
Protecting children from manipulative marketing is a human rights issue. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child governments should protect children – defined as those under 18 years – and ensure their right to health and privacy.
It’s not hard to define junk food
We no longer need to wonder about how to define junk food. Governments around Australia have agreed on a guideline to define unhealthy food for food marketing codes. The Health Council guide is consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and is simple and easy to use – according to our Cancer Council NSW study. The Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion referred to in the AANA food and beverage code was designed for regulating food labels on groceries only — and not fast food — and has not been tested on advertising regulation. It allows foods such as fries to be advertised — so the code can hardly claim to protect children from unhealthy food advertising.
The advertising codes are failing
Best practice advertising codes that protect children must be independent of industry influence, include monitoring and have penalties for breaches — all these are absent from the AANA food and beverages code . Another Cancer Council NSW study showed the industry codes are not set up to protect children from exposure to unhealthy advertising and go nowhere near best practice.
It’s the fox guarding the henhouse
For over ten years now, the food industry has been putting forward its own codes to baffle decision-makers into thinking, like the fox guarding the henhouse, they can do what’s right when it comes to children and junk food marketing. Many studies over that time have shown that children are still exposed to junk food. It’s about time governments stepped in and did what is right by our children.
That’s why this latest version of the advertising industry’s code is merely window dressing. It will not prevent children from being exposed to unhealthy eating messages. Our children deserve a chance to grow up in a safe and healthy environment – it’s their right.