November 28th, 2005

Australian Medical Assn. Wants Junk Food Ads Banned

By Edmond Roy
Australian Broadcasting Co.

ELEANOR HALL: Australia’s peak medical lobby is calling for radical changes to advertising laws to deal with an epidemic of obesity in Australian children.

A complete ban on junk food advertising on television, and an end to the selling of chocolates and lollies for school fundraisers, are among the recommendations made by the Australian Medical Association, which warns that unless the country’s soaring obesity rates are checked, more than half of all young Australians will be overweight within a generation.

But the advertising industry says television ads do not cause obesity, and that it’s the community’s parenting skills instead that need to be addressed.

This report from Edmond Roy.

EDMOND ROY: The Australian Medical Association describes it as an epidemic.

In a position paper released this morning, the AMA points out that obesity has reached such proportions largely due to poor nutrition.

The findings are startling - one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, and in Australia childhood obesity is rising at a rate of 1 per cent each year.

Around 15 per cent of children between the ages of two and fourteen are overweight. In addition to that, roughly 5 per cent of children are obese.

Australian children, the AMA argues, are suffering from diseases once thought common in middle age - diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal is President of the Australian Medical Association.

MUKESH HAIKERWAL: The need to deal with nutrition is very important, and government’s role is central in things like regulating advertising to young children.

At the moment kids are exposed to huge amounts of advertising, they think that that’s the right thing to be asking for, pester their parents for those foods and drinks and end up getting them.

This of course is reinforcing bad behaviour. It’s important to actually ban all advertising to children during peak viewing hours, which will reduce the drive for these products to be demanded, and hopefully therefore to be used excessively.

EDMOND ROY: It’s not a view the Australian Association of National Advertisers agrees with.

Executive Director Colin Segelov.

COLIN SEGELOV: The simple fact is that you get obese when you have more energy intake than you have energy output. That’s the fundamental problem. Now, what are you going to achieve by taking some ads off the television.

Well, you’re not going to achieve any cure to obesity. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we have reduced the amount of exercise that people have in modern life.

So reducing the amount of exercise, and here we are people advocating that we reduce the amount of television advertising. The two things don’t really line up.

The real fundamental when it comes to children is that parents are the primary carers, and it is their province to say how much television that people watch. But I still say that if they allow them watch a lot or a little, that is not of itself going to cure obesity.

EDMOND ROY: It’s a view echoed in part by Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who, in an interview to ABC Television’s Four Corners earlier this year, made the observation that it was up to parents more than anyone else to decide on what foods their children eat.

For its part, the Australian Medical Association argues that we’re still not quite so sure about what we eat.

AMA President Mukesh Haikerwal says Australia needs a comprehensive national nutrition survey, because the data being used at the moment is a decade out of date.

MUKESH HAIKERWAL: Well, it’s frightening. When we did the research to put this paper together, the data that we were using was really quite out of date.

It’s actually useful and actually very pertinent to do regular surveys, to actually see what the proper health… eating status is, what people are eating, what they’re lacking, because what we’re finding is that some of the nutrients that used to be added to table salt, for instance, like iodine and folic acid are often added to flour, are now missing and people are actually getting vitamin deficiencies, which we thought we’d never see again since the days of scurvy and the colonisation of the new world.

EDMOND ROY: The AMA also wants the Federal Government to set up an independent national nutrition centre which will be responsible for conducting national surveys and public awareness campaigns.

It will also fund programs to improve the nutritional status of Aboriginal and Islander women and put in place an obesity accreditation system for weight loss programs and centres.

It is an ambitious proposal, but one that the AMA believes Australia desperately needs to curtail the obesity crisis.

ELEANOR HALL: Edmond Roy with that report.


  1. Posted by bianca on March 5th, 2006

    i agree that junk food bans should take place during childrens hours and there should also be a decrease during the other hours as well to promote healthy eating. i am in yr 12 and are doing a project on the effects of junk food advertisments on children if anyone has any useful information could you please send it to me.
    Thank you for your help

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