June 9th, 2009

Health Groups Want Ban on Junk-Food Marketing Ploys

By Daniella Miletic
The Age (Australia)

Health groups have called on the Federal Government to ban the junk-food industry’s free toy and competition offers often used to promote fast-food meal deals and sugary cereals to children.

The Obesity Policy Coalition, which includes VicHealth, Cancer Council Victoria and Diabetes Australia, believes the persuasive marketing tactics should only be used to advertise healthy food and drink to reduce the nation’s rising childhood obesity rate.

Under a ban, food ranging from cereal and chocolate to soft drinks and meal deals could not use free toy, competition or celebrity-endorsed promotions if the food did not meet government-approved nutrition standards.

“We need to produce a level playing field where all those who produce junk food are not allowed to market to kids in this way,” said Jane Martin, the Obesity Coalition’s senior policy adviser. “It is all very well to talk about trying to increase physical activity in schools, but we really have to look at other ways that are creating demand for foods for children which are not healthy to be eating.

“It’s all about sales and we need to decrease sales of unhealthy foods and ensure that there are more sales of healthy foods using these very techniques.”

The call comes as a survey, commissioned by the Obesity Policy Coalition and conducted by Cancer Council Victoria, revealed that more than 90 per cent of Australians think the Government needs to regulate the use of giveaways to promote unhealthy food and drink. The survey showed 55 per cent believe those practices should be stopped.

The survey of 800 consumers also showed that 88 per cent of respondents were in favour of a ban on the advertising of unhealthy food during the peak hours when children watch television. About 65 per cent wanted a complete ban on television junk-food advertising.

The study also revealed that 91 per cent of people believe the use of popular movie and cartoon characters in promoting unhealthy foods should be regulated and 90 per cent also wanted regulation of marketing strategies that used competitions to help sell unhealthy food.

Ms Martin said the promotions were an important part of “the junk-food industries’ promotional arsenal” and created “pester power” - where children pester their parents for particular items. “I think that people believe that the Government should regulate and that children should be protected from this type of very pervasive and powerful marketing technique,” she said.

Under the proposed ban, the standards that would determine whether food and drink could use the techniques could be based on British profiling.

“There is quite a good tool to determine whether food is unhealthy or not and could be adopted for use here in Australia,” Ms Martin said.

The research comes less than a week after a parliamentary report into obesity moved away from recommending an end to the food industry regulating its own advertising, opting to give the self-regulation system more time to prove itself.

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