Voluntary system ineffective in curbing junk food ads: global review

The effectiveness of a voluntary approach to limiting junk food ads targeting children is being called into question, with surveys from around the world showing the industry has done little to change its ways.

A review in scientific journal, Obesity Reviews, examined children's exposure to advertisements for food and drinks high in sugar and fat, and found that independent surveys in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America showed little change in the last five years.

This is despite the industry assuring it would change its ways, and also in contrast with industry-sponsored reports indicating a 98 percent or higher compliance with their self-regulations.

The report's senior author, Dr Tim Lobstein, said "Five years after companies announced their voluntary pledges to limit advertising of junk food to children we find the industry has not done enough. While the companies report that self-regulation has worked just fine, the evidence collected by independent researchers and government agencies shows that children continue to be exposed to junk food advertising at high levels."

According to Lobstein, there are a number of issues with the industry's findings. Companies are only considering what they themselves advertise, not everything children watch. They also don't consider advertisements from companies that haven't committed to self-regulation, only look at children's TV programs, not family programs, and use their own criteria for judging what's appropriate to advertise to children.

The review found that the UK's ban on junk food advertising during children's TV programs is effective, however junk food ads during family programs have actually increased since the ban came in, Lobstein said.

"Self-regulation simply does not work in a highly competitive marketplace," he said. "Asking the companies to restrict their own marketing is like asking a burglar to fix the locks on your front door. They will say you are protected, but you are not."

The reviews findings come just weeks after cereal manufacturer Kellogg was reprimanded for marketing unhealthy foods to children.

The Advertising Standards Board upheld a complaint made by the Obesity Policy Coalition in regards to Kellogg's 'fun facts' ads.

The ads, which will now be withdrawn, feature animated dinosaurs, snails and children's voices. The ABS found they primarily target children and are in breach of the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative.

The Obesity Review's report mirrors findings from a study conducted by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council last year, which found that the number of junk food ads aimed at children hasn't slowed, despite the Australian Food and Grocery Council introducing the Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative.


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