Advertising for junk food is being shown more frequently on TV during times when children are watching, a report has found.
The findings come from a recent Heart Foundation-funded report which was led by the University of Adelaide.
University of Adelaide’s associate professor Lisa Smithers studied an entire year’s worth of television and ads from one free-to-air commercial TV network in South Australia.
The report found children would view more than 800 junk food ads each year if they watched 80 minutes of television per day.
According to the research, thirty thousand hours of television containing more than 500 hours of food advertisements (almost 100,000 food ads) were logged during 2016.
Overall, snack foods, crumbed/battered meats, takeaway/fast food and sugary drinks were among the most frequently advertised foods.
Commenting on the findings, Smithers said, “This is the most robust data we’ve seen anywhere.”
“It is the largest dataset ever used by health researchers for examining food advertising in Australia, and probably the world.”
“Most research in this area is based on only a few days of data, and there are no Australian studies taking seasonality into account.”.
During children’s peak viewing times, the frequency and duration of “discretionary” (ie, junk) food advertising was 2.3 times higher each hour than for healthy foods.
Across the year, discretionary food advertising peaked at 71 per cent of all food advertising in January, dropping to a low of 41 per cent in August.
Moving forward, Smithers suggested Australia look at the models set by countries such as Norway, which has implemented a ban on junk food advertising.
“Diet-related problems are the leading cause of disease in Australia, and the World Health Organization has concluded that food marketing influences the types of foods that children prefer to eat, ask their parents for, and ultimately consume,” Smithers added.
Last year, digital media marketing firms were accused of using personalised promotion, interactive and direct engagement and integrated cross-platform techniques to sell products to young people that are high in fat, sugar and salt, according to an Aussie professor.
In her study of six food brands, University of Sydney Business School’s associate professor of marketing, Teresa Davis, identified a number of methods used by digital marketers to build brand relationships with young consumers in ways not seen in traditional media.
“Food marketers have an unfair advantage in the digital space,” Davis said.
“In the Australian context, we have a food marketing industry that is currently self-regulating. There is a code of practice and companies can be called to account only through a complaints-based system,” she added.
“This system has a poor record when it comes to in censuring advertising that breaks the rules.”