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Junk food advertising dominates the trip to school: new study

4th February 2019 - Cancer prevention Advocacy

New research from Cancer Council NSW has found that 75% of the food ads Sydney children see when they travel to school are for junk food and drinks, despite alarming rates of obesity across the state.

The study mapped routes to a number of schools across Sydney, collecting data on the types of outdoor ads children are exposed to every day. Of the food ads recorded, only 11% were classified as healthy.

Worryingly, 72% of the food ads on buses designated to school routes were for junk food.

“These statistics are extremely concerning. We know that one in five NSW children are overweight or obese, and unhealthy habits developed now will carry into later life and can influence their risk of 12 different cancers,” said Cancer Council NSW’s Nutrition Program Manager, Wendy Watson.

With a child’s school journey equating to over 400 trips per year, Cancer Council NSW is concerned that exposure to outdoor junk food advertising is unavoidable whether a child is walking, or taking the bus or train.

Mother of two Linda Tollis from Gymea said “It’s difficult for parents when junk food is in the faces of their kids everywhere, every day. I do feel the pressure as a parent for not allowing my daughters to have the foods they see all around them, on their way to school, whilst they’re watching the TV, when they’re on their phones.”

“I do everything I can to teach them healthy habits but seeing processed foods on buses, trains and billboards makes my job as a parent harder and harder, and I’m sure the same can be said for many other parents.”

The study also found children using public transport saw 4.5 junk food ads per trip, over double the number they would see if they walked to school. In light of the findings, Cancer Council NSW is calling on the next NSW Government to protect children from the influence of junk food marketing by removing junk food advertising from public transport.

 “Despite evidence that restrictions on junk food marketing to children is an effective obesity prevention intervention, the NSW government continues to gather revenue from advertising junk food on state-owned property, sending harmful mixed messages and contradicting the healthy messages children receive within the school gate,” Ms Watson concluded.

Sign the Saving Life 2019 petition here.

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Media contact: Eden Patrick, Cancer Council NSW, T: (02) 9334 1903; M: 0421 517 245;

Notes to editor

About the study

  • Junk food marketing exposure on the school run: A sample of 21 school areas in Sydney were included in this study. School areas chosen were from the top 50 largest government-controlled primary and secondary schools within the Greater Capital City statistical area.
  • Hypothetical routes to school were mapped out for each area. Researchers travelled the mapped routes as a school child would, noting the number and type of advertisements seen on each journey.
  • A sub-study, analysed advertisements on 90 designated school buses that serviced 8 Sydney schools.
  • The advertisements were coded as either food or non-food advertisements. The food advertisements were classified into either core, discretionary or miscellaneous using criteria based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
  • The most commonly advertised food categories were fast food, sugary drinks and snack foods such as crisps.

Saving Life 2019

This topic forms part of Cancer Council NSW’s pre-election campaign: Saving Life 2019:

  • Saving Life 2019 is the Cancer Council NSW pre-election advocacy campaign that calls on the next NSW government to protect the community from tobacco, tackle childhood obesity, and support people with lymphoedema. Key policy proposals:
    • Strengthen the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 to ensure that people working or socialising in a bar or club in NSW will be protected from second-hand smoke.
    • Ban tobacco vending machines and introduce an annual licence fee to encourage retailers to stop selling and reduce the risk of young people developing this fatal habit.
    • Remove junk food advertising from NSW Government owned or leased property, in particular public transport, to ensure parents’ efforts to promote healthy eating are not undermined.
    • Increase funding for public lymphoedema services across NSW to ensure timely access to care, regardless of where people live.
  • Sign the Saving Life 2019 petition here.
Cancer prevention Advocacy