3 in 4 Australians Back Nationwide Junk Food Ad Ban, Cancer Council Finds

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In a world where children are bombarded with nearly 100 online promotions for unhealthy food and drinks each week, the pressing question arises: are we unwittingly normalising a diet detrimental to their well-being?

A survey encompassing over two thousand Australian adults unveiled that 76% advocate for a comprehensive prohibition of promoting unhealthy food and beverages to children via online platforms.

The survey is conducted by researchers from Cancer Council Victoria and Food for Health Alliance. It aligns with MP Dr Sophie Scamps‘ recently introduced bill, titled The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill 2023, which aims to prohibit the advertisement of junk food on television, radio, and the internet.

Furthermore, the study disclosed that 81% of respondents believe that companies selling unhealthy food and beverages should not be permitted to collect children’s personal information for marketing purposes. 

Additionally, 69% agree that the government should undertake measures to safeguard children from the marketing of junk food.

Protecting Children from Unhealthy Food Marketing: A Call for Government Intervention in the Digital Age

Dr Belinda Morley, the lead researcher from Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research for Cancer, commented, “The majority of participants who supported the ban advocated for the continuation of protection against the marketing of unhealthy foods until children reach the ages of 16 (34%) or 18 (24%).”

Approximately 68% of the participants expressed their support for government intervention to restrict junk food marketing on websites, applications, and social media platforms frequently accessed by children, especially those under 16.

The findings of this study, published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, were based on a survey conducted among 2,044 Australian adults aged 18 to 64. The primary objective was to assess their attitudes towards governmental initiatives to shield children from the digital marketing of unhealthy food and beverage products.

Jane Martin, the executive manager of the Food for Health Alliance, underscored that these results indicate substantial community support for government intervention in this critical matter. 

She said, “The online environment is indispensable to children’s daily lives. They should be able to engage in online activities, such as learning, accessing information, and communicating with friends and family, without being inundated with advertisements for unhealthy food.”

Martin also emphasised the effectiveness of detrimental digital marketing in cultivating loyal customers from an early age. She emphasised that as companies profit from these practices, children’s health becomes endangered. 

Unhealthy dietary patterns can contribute to childhood obesity, which, if persisting into adulthood, escalates the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

How Unhealthy Food Ads Shape Adolescent Diets and Well-being?

“Studies indicate that adolescents in Australia, ranging from 13 to 17 years of age, encounter nearly 100 online advertisements promoting unhealthy food and beverages every week. The inundation of children’s digital devices with detrimental marketing contributes to normalising unhealthy food as a regular component of our diets, contradicting established knowledge regarding good health and well-being,” Martin continued.

Martin pointed out that the government possesses multiple opportunities to intervene and safeguard children, referring to the recent review of the Privacy Act. 

She argued, “Companies involved in the production of processed food should refrain from collecting and utilising children’s personal information to target them with advertisements for unhealthy food and beverages – a standpoint supported by the Australian public.” 

She further emphasised the disturbing fact that by the time a child reaches 13 years of age, an estimated 72 million data points have been collected, allowing marketers to develop profiles and target them with deceptive advertisements for inexpensive, unhealthy foods.

“The considerable public backing to shield children from unhealthy food marketing should embolden the government to establish more stringent regulations that prioritise the well-being of children over corporate profits. These measures should safeguard children’s online privacy, particularly in light of the industry’s aggressive and predatory marketing strategies.”

“We advocate for the Federal Government to implement robust reforms to the Privacy Act. This presents a real opportunity to ensure that children’s personal information cannot be collected and exploited for commercial marketing purposes, particularly when it comes to harmful marketing such as that for unhealthy food. This constitutes a highly significant stride forward.”

In response to Scamps’ bill, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) recently expressed their view that calls for banning junk food advertisements on television, radio, and online platforms would not effectively address the issue of child obesity and would only result in job losses.

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