The marketing of unhealthy foods towards children is a hotly debated topic amongst Adland. A recent article from the New Zealand Medical Journal however has upped the ante on regulations surrounding junk food advertising in the land of the Kiwis.
“The marketing of unhealthy food products to children is powerful, pervasive and predatory,” the article stated, citing an opinion poll conducted in New Zealand that showed strong public support for not showing any ads for junk food on television before 9pm – 3.7 on a scale of one to five.
And the authors, Stefanie Vandevijvere and Boyd Swinburn, take aim at the country’s Advertising Standards Authority about the current regulations.
“The voluntary controls on marketing unhealthy food to children currently in place by the Advertising Standards Authority are narrow, weak and ineffectual, and their continuation in their current form, is not a credible option for protecting children,” the article Getting serious about protecting New Zealand children against unhealthy food marketing stated.
The voluntary regulations are failing, said Vandevijvere and Swinburn “because the sector has too many vested interests in perpetuating the status quo”.
Reducing childhood obesity is a huge issue and one which New Zealand said it’s “getting serious” about. Referencing previous studies, the article outlined how the majority of food marketing aimed at children is for unhealthy food products.
The piece advocated for strict Government regulation on advertising junk food to children, deeming mandatory approaches should be the “gold standard”.
The current guidelines in the ‘Children’s Code for Advertising Food’ in New Zealand states all ads should be prepared with, and observe a high standard of “social responsibility”.
Guideline 1(c) states: “Advertisements for treat food, snacks or fast food should not encourage children to consume them in excess.” Guideline 1(d) says: “Advertisements for treat food, snacks or fast food should not encourage children to consume them in substitution for a main meal on a regular basis, nor should they undermine the Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children.”
Junk food advertising in Australia is also self-regulated, with a number of codes and guidelines advertisers should follow, but it’s not always a happy case.
A few weeks ago TV personality Charlie Pickering mocked junk food advertising in Australia, bewildered by the country’s self-regulatory codes.
“That’s right, under the code, food companies get to choose their own definition of a healthier option,” he said during a segment on ABC’s The Weekly.
“Some say, and stick with me on this,” he said, “if we want to discourage kids from eating junk food, then we should stop encouraging kids to eat junk food.”
Similarly, in January this year, a study from Wollongong University found ads for unhealthy foods absolutely saturate cricket during the broadcasts, with many of those ads being for the cricket’s principal sponsor, KFC.
At the time, Fairfax Media reported Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin saying: “Cricket fans, many of whom are children, are bombarded by these messages every few seconds, sending the misleading message to children that consuming these products is consistent with a sporting career and healthy lifestyle.”