A new study by the Cancer Council NSW found that the rate of unhealthy food and beverage advertising on TV has not dropped since 2011, suggesting minimal impact of the self-regulatory industry initiatives. The authors urge the government “to take long-awaited action to regulate to protect children from the impact and influence of junk food advertising.”
The study published in the Journal of Public Health analysed ads broadcast during peak children’s viewing times (i.e. 06.00 - 09.00 and 16.00-21.00 on weekdays, 06.00 - 12.00 and 16.00 - 21.00 on weekends) on 3 commercial TV channels in Sydney, over a 4 day period in 2015. Ads were categorised according to the healthiness of foods (non-core or ‘unhealthy’, core or ‘healthy’, and miscellaneous) and by signatory status to the self-regulatory initiatives, such as the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) and Quick Service Restaurant Initiative (QSRI).
- 3.08 ads for ‘unhealthy’ food were broadcast every hour on TV in 2011 vs 3/hour in 2015.
- 44% food ads were for unhealthy foods, with 21% being for fast food (1.3/hr). Other frequently advertised categories were chocolate and confectionary (0.7/hr) and sugary drinks (0.4/hr).
- 69% of the fast-food ads were for children’s meals.
- TV advertising remains a major channel for unhealthy brands to promote their products and there has been a 33% increase in the rates of TV food advertising since 2011.
- There have been no changes in the self-regulatory initiatives since 2009 with the original 7 QSRI signatories and limited changes to the 18 RCMI signatories.
Wendy Watson, lead author of the study said: “We have shown that these industry initiatives have not helped protect children from junk food marketing on TV and it is time government stepped in.”
“If the objective of voluntary self-regulation initiatives is to reduce children’s exposure to advertisements that are not healthier choices then the definition of children’s viewing periods needs to incorporate times when high numbers of children are viewing, irrespective of the ratio to total audience numbers,” she added.
Gary Dawson, chief executive of The Australian Food and Grocery Council said: "The advertising to children codes are what the name suggests: They're about advertising directed at children because adults are well able to make their own choices and take responsibility for themselves, just as parents are best placed to make decisions for their children".