August 28th, 2008

Junk Food Ads to Stay: Regulator

By Kelly Burke
The Age (Australia)

The government communications regulator has delivered a victory to the junk food industry by deciding not to impose further restrictions on advertising during children’s television hours.

The decision has prompted an avalanche of criticism from health and community groups, which have been lobbying the Australian Communications and Media Authority for more than two years to ban the promotion of junk food to children on television.

The new draft of the Children’s Television Standards, which is more than a year overdue, was released yesterday, revealing minimal proposed changes to existing regulations put in place 18 years ago.

More than half of the 76 submissions had argued for tighter restrictions or an outright ban on junk food advertising to children. But the authority’s chairman, Chris Chapman, said the regulator was not a health advisory body, and after commissioning an independent review to assess whether a ban on food and beverage advertising would have an effect on childhood obesity, had concluded there was insufficient consensus.

“The research does indicate that there is a relationship between advertising and children’s food and beverage preferences and requests,” Mr Chapman said in a prepared statement. “It also indicates a relationship between television viewing - as distinct from television advertising specifically - and obesity in children. However existing research does not clearly demonstrate a causal relationship between any of these factors and obesity and indeed only a modest association is apparent.”

The Coalition on Food Advertising to Children, which represents more than a dozen medical and nutritional authorities including the Australian Medical Association, Cancer Council Australia, the Public Health Association of Australia and the main bodies representing dentists and GPs, has slammed the draft report as a major setback in the battle against childhood obesity.

Its chairwoman, Kathy Chapman, said the code failed to protect children from junk food commercials that promote fatty and unhealthy foods which fuel increasing obesity levels.

“In spite of ACMA’s claims, there is little doubt that junk food commercials are contributing to the obesity epidemic by encouraging pester power,” Ms Chapman said.

Nutrition expert Dr Rosemary Stanton said she was angry and disappointed over the report.

“It’s plain common sense the manufacturers wouldn’t spend millions of dollars every year advertising to children if it didn’t work,” she said.

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