Junk food advertising to kids

One in four Australian children is overweight or obese. Is the all-pervasive junk food advertising to children part of the problem?
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03.Experts call for regulation

What the government’s up against is a powerful, well-funded food and beverage industry,” says Kerin O’Dea, professor of population health and nutrition at the University of South Australia. She argues junk foods are highly profitable, and it’s not in the industry’s financial interest to cooperate with public health initiatives - but when governments mandate regulations, the industry does toe the line.

"In the past, governments have legislated to force changes that are good for public health, like seat belts in cars and smoking laws,” she says. “But while Australia has been a world leader in the fight against big tobacco, we’re quite timid when it comes to the processed food industry, and the media companies that make money out of junk food advertising.”


Opponents of government intervention are disdainful of “nanny state” policies. However, O’Dea argues critics of intervention need to realise the massive financial costs - like the estimated $56 billion spent on obesity annually in Australia - are borne by the whole community.

“The National Broadband Network is called expensive at $30 billion in total,” says O'Dea, “but the financial costs of obesity are more than that every year.”

The World Health Organization weighs in

There are no simple solutions to the obesity problem, and no single approach is likely to be effective.

However, a World Health Organization report concluded that marketing of junk food to children has damaging consequences and that tightening restrictions on marketing is central to the fight against childhood obesity.

“In a perfect world this would mean banning all advertising and marketing of discretionary foods to children under 12,” says Dr Mark Lawrence, associate professor in public health nutrition at Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. "Research consistently finds that government regulation of advertising is the among the most cost-effective interventions for obesity prevention.”

Regulation saves money in healthcare costs that are avoided, and it doesn’t cost much to change the law to protect the rights of children in this way, says Lawrence.

Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC), agrees. “Getting junk food out of junior sport would be a good start, followed by restrictions on advertising of unhealthy food in the highest-rating children’s programs between 6pm and 9pm.” 


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