The debate over advertising junk food to children has heated up yet again, this time with calls from the Greens for policy makers to target new media.
Junk food advertisers have been advised to stop directly advertising their products to children, particularly during television programs.
But a push from the Greens earlier this year to introduce a ban on advertising junk food to children was rejected by the Government and the Opposition.
Junk food manufacturers have been steadily trying to improve the health and nutrition of their products, with everything from vegetable options at Hungry Jack’s to kilojoule information on menus at Subway and other Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) including McDonald’s and Dominos.
When McDonald’s made the decision to display the information in September, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) expressed its “disappointment” that the burger giant had not waited until a national scheme was rolled out.
The AFGC also responded to calls for cartoons to be banned in advertising to children, labelling it ‘unnecessary.’
Now the Australian Greens want a ban on junk food advertising to children not only on television screens, but also on email, SMS and internet sites.
The party wants the ban on television to extend from 6am until 9am and from 4pm and 9pm on weekdays and between 6am and midday and 4pm to 9pm on weekends.
Today Greens leader Bob Brown will introduce a new package that extends the ban to the internet, pay TV and new media.
The Heart Foundation and other public health groups are supporting the ban.
Corrine Langelaan from the Parents Jury told Food Magazine a ban on advertising to children is a positive step forward in the long battle against childhood obesity.
“The Parents’ Jury are supportive of the bill being put forward by the Greens leader, Bob Brown to curb the amount of junk food advertising children are exposed to,” she said.
“Many parents work hard trying to make sure their kids are healthy.
“However, they are being undermined by sophisticated marketing campaigns that can target their children.
“Children are subjected to all forms of advertising, including that which is beyond a parents’ direct supervision.”
In response to the many who say it is the responsibility of parents to say ‘no’ to junk food, and not up to junk food advertisers, Langelaan said it is not an easy task when children are exposed to so much advertising.
“The issue goes beyond simply telling parents to say no,” she told Food Magazine.
“With one in four Australian children considered to be overweight or obese, it’s a problem all of society must tackle. On its own, this bill won’t reverse the high levels of childhood obesity.
“However, it gives Government and industry a solid move to help create a healthier society.”
In August a US study found a direct correlation between children watching advertisements for junk food and the amount of nagging they did.
According to the research in the Journal of Children and Media, the packaging, characters and commercials all make a difference to the amount of nagging the children will do.
Those children who watched more television advertisements were found to be more likely to nag for products with relatable characters on them, even if they did not like the food.
Heart Foundation chief executive Dr Lyn Roberts seconded Langelaan’s comments, saying the impact on advertising junk food to children is well documented.
"There is a growing body of evidence which shows advertising unhealthy food to children influences the foods children want and eat and has a negative impact on their overall diets," she explained.
Greens Leader Bon Brown has also weighed in on the issue, saying something needs to be done to protect the health of Australian children.
"The problem is not going away,” he said.
“It is getting worse.”