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Junk food ads worsening

 coco-pops1A new Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) report  has called for action to protect children from junk food marketing, as food advertisers exploit loopholes in self-regulatory codes.

The End the Charade, report, compiled by the leading public health agencies of the OPC, highlights the failures of self-regulation by the food and advertising industries, exposing tactics that are resulting in children being bombarded with junk food advertising.

The report reveals that the system has become even worse since an initial investigation by the OPC in 2012, despite widespread concern over soaring rates of overweight and obesity in Australia.

Examples that the OPC identified include a looser definition of “healthier food” that fails to stop Kelloggs categorising Coco Pops as a “healthier dietary choice”, and therefore able to be marketed to children; a weakened interpretation of advertising “directly targeted to children” allowing Nestle to use fairy tale imagery to advertise Wonka Cookie Creamery chocolate, arguing it was “designed to appeal to an adult’s sense of nostalgia for childhood”; and a complex system that failed to consider a complaint for Peter’s ‘Zombie Guts’ and ‘Zombie Snot’ icy-poles because the ad campaign had ended by the time the complaint reached the Advertising Standards Board.

Jane Martin, executive manager, OPC, said the current self-regulatory approach to food marketing meant the food and advertising industries were free to make, break and rewrite the rules as they saw fit.

“At a time when one in four Australian children are overweight or obese, we should not be leaving their wellbeing in the hands of the food and advertising industries whose main goals are to sell food and drinks, not improve the health of the next generation,” Martin said.

 “Despite strong growing evidence of the powerful influence food advertising can have on children’s diets, Australia’s already weak system for protecting children from unhealthy food marketing has gone backwards.

 “Unhealthy foods make up more than a third of children’s diets (35 per cent) and almost half that of adults (45 per cent). As poor diet and weight-related chronic disease continues to engulf the nation and rates of childhood obesity continue to climb, we cannot allow the charade of self-regulation to continue.”

The OPC is calling for urgent government-led action to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing and minimise the influence of food advertising.

“Restricting junk food marketing to children is acknowledged by peak health bodies, including the World Health Organization, as an important and necessary step to help improve children’s diets and slow obesity rates in Australia,” Martin said.

“The food and advertising industries seem to be primarily motivated to merely create an appearance of corporate social responsibility and ward off tighter government regulation.

“It will only be through significant improvements led by government that children’s exposure to this type of marketing will be reduced and their diets and health improved,” she said.

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