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Majority of food ads kids see on public transport are for junk food: new research

7th November 2018 - Cancer prevention Cancer research Advocacy

New research from Cancer Council NSW has found that 82% of food ads on Sydney buses and at trains stations are for junk food, despite growing rates of childhood obesity.

“This is extremely alarming as 21.4% of NSW children aged 5-16 are now overweight or obese. If they carry that weight into adulthood that puts them at risk of 12 different cancers, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Cancer Council NSW’s Nutrition Program Manager, Wendy Watson.

Each month children under the age of 15 in NSW make over 3.3 million bus trips and over 2 million train trips. The research found that one third of the food advertisements along their journeys on public transport services were for sugary drinks and one in five for fast food meals like burgers and chicken.

“We know that half of children eat an unhealthy snack every day and 45% regularly drink sweetened beverages. Food advertising on public transport is having an adverse effect on efforts to reduce this alarming statistic,” Ms Watson continued. 

The research, which will be presented tonight at an event hosted by Sydney Health Law and Cancer Council NSW: Protecting children from unhealthy food marketing: Learning from the past, ideas for the future, also found that on buses alone, nearly 60% of food ads were for popular fast food restaurant chains.

“Food marketing influences what kids pester their parents to buy and ultimately influences the foods they eat. Only 12% of food ads children see when they are out and about are for healthy food. That’s undermining parents’ efforts to create healthy habits,” Ms Watson continued.

In light of these 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.

The ACT Government have already taken similar measures on buses, and in Western Australia alcohol advertising has been banned on all public transport. “Childhood obesity is currently a premier’s priority. If we want to see a real decline in overweight and obesity, this is one way a NSW Government can show leadership,” said Ms Watson.

Restricting junk food promotion on NSW government owned property was identified to be one of the most achievable actions according to a report on government initiatives to tackle obesity.

“It is the logical next step in protecting children from junk food marketing, reducing childhood obesity rates, helping children develop healthy eating habits for life, and ultimately saving lives,” Ms Watson concluded.

– ENDS –

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

Notes to editor

About the study

  • Cancer Council NSW carried out an environmental scan of food advertising on buses, trains and train stations.
  • Main transport hubs in Sydney where large numbers of school-aged children are likely to commute were selected. Data were collected in February 2018. Train stations included Hornsby, Chatswood, Macquarie University, Central, Town Hall and Parramatta. Buses, trains and train stations were included.
  • Food was coded based on the definition of discretionary food in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and includes those high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.
  • The top categories advertised on buses were sugary drinks such as frozen drinks and soft drinks, meals such as burgers and savoury snacks such as fries.
  • The top categories at train stations were ice creams and sugary drinks such as frozen drinks.
  • These findings reflect advertising on buses and train stations in summer in Sydney. While they cannot be extrapolated beyond that, the results are similar to a previous study showing that about 80% of advertisements at Sydney train stations are for discretionary foods.

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.

About The University of Sydney Law School and Cancer Council event

  • Protecting children from unhealthy food marketing: learning from the past, ideas for the future is a free event at The University of Sydney Law School on Wednesday 7 November, 6-8pm
  • This event is hosted by Sydney Health Law at The University of Sydney Law School, the Food Governance Node at Charles Perkins Centre, and Cancer Council NSW.
  • Regulation of unhealthy food marketing to children remains a hot topic, given increasing concern about children’s dietary health. Australia relies on two voluntary food industry initiatives which were introduced in 2009 to determine unhealthy food marketing to children. Approaching the 10 year anniversary of these initiatives, this event reflects on the state of play on food advertising regulation in Australia.
Cancer prevention Cancer research Advocacy