Obesity is a risk factor for 11 cancers including cancer of the breast (post-menopause), stomach, bowel, liver, endometrium, gallbladder, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, prostate (advanced) and ovary. Reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing has been recommended as an important area for action in the prevention of obesity.
Systematic reviews have found that children do not understand the persuasive intent of food marketing; that food marketing influences children’s food preferences and generates positive beliefs about the foods advertised; and food marketing influences children’s purchase requests and ultimately children’s food consumption. Australian research on food marketing to children has consistently shown that children are exposed to high levels of unhealthy food advertisements on television. In addition, the limited research relating to food marketing using other non-broadcast media and more recently online media similarly demonstrates a high level of unhealthy food marketing to children.
To date, industry codes of practice on responsible marketing to children have not been effective in reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing.
Cancer Council NSW believes reform of food marketing regulations is a priority public health goal. Children should be protected from the potential harms of food marketing and parents should be able to raise their children in an environment that is conducive to the development of healthy eating practices.
To better protect children from unhealthy food marketing, Cancer Council recommends that Government develop a specific food marketing policy framework and embed this in regulation. This government regulation should:
- Prioritise the protection of children from the influence of unhealthy food marketing.
- Significantly reduce children’s exposure to food advertising that promotes unhealthy foods.
- Apply to any unhealthy food advertisement that is intended or likely to appeal to children (whether or not the advertisement is also intended or likely to appeal to older age groups) and apply to all advertisements screened on television between 7-9am and 4-9pm weekdays and 7am-9pm on weekends, independent of whether they are shown in a designated children’s program or not.
- Apply to all media and forms of marketing, including TV, radio and print advertising, online marketing, food company websites, social media, sports sponsorship, on-pack and in-store promotions and outdoor advertising, which is directed to children aged under 16 years, or to which a high number of children under 16 years are likely to be exposed.
- Include limiting persuasive techniques that are used to promote unhealthy food to children such as the use of promotional characters and premium offers.
- Use independently-developed and consistent nutrition criteria to ensure only healthy foods are promoted to children, such as the nutrient profiling scoring criteria in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, Health and Related Claims.
- Include independent, clear and transparent monitoring and enforcement processes.
- Ensure open and transparent regulatory and governance processes which are easy for the public to engage with.
- Subject regulations to regular reviews to ensure they cover emerging technologies and techniques used to reach children.
- Include significant and meaningful penalties that deter companies from breaching regulations.
Cancer Council NSW supports government regulation of food advertising to children, as industry self-regulation of food marketing has not adequately addressed children’s high level of exposure to unhealthy food advertising or the persuasive marketing techniques commonly used by food companies to target children.