We need action on unhealthy food marketing – and community agrees

Cancer Council NSW

Did you watch Magda’s Big National Health Check on ABC television? In the first episode Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO of VicHealth, explained how the system has led to the high numbers of people with illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer in the community, saying “I do believe the cards are stacked against us when it comes to being healthy in Australia today”. One strong influence on what we eat is the advertising we see, and Episode 1 tells us we need to do something about it, especially for the sake of our kids. And our NSW community agrees.

Community support for governments to protect children from unhealthy food marketing

In February, we surveyed the NSW community to find out what they think the government should do to help us lead healthier lives.

  • 70% of the NSW community support restrictions on unhealthy food advertising that targets children,
  • 60% of the NSW community support unhealthy food advertising restrictions on government-owned property such as buses and trains,
  • And both these rates of support have increased by 5 percentage points since 2019.

We asked the NSW community how concerned they were about the different ways and places unhealthy food is marketed to children. They were most concerned (over 80% of those surveyed) about marketing techniques using celebrities, sportspeople or cartoon characters, and unhealthy food ads on TV when children are watching. Over 75% of the community were concerned about unhealthy food sponsorship of sports and giveaways with unhealthy food, and 71% were concerned about outdoor ads for unhealthy food. And again, that concern has markedly increased since 2019 – at least six percentage points in all cases. The percentage of the community concerned about marketing on the internet and apps had increased from 65% to 76%!

What does this mean?

With such strong support from the community, there is no reason why the NSW and federal governments shouldn’t act now to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food. The UK government has introduced legislation to protect children from unhealthy ads on television and in digital media as well as legislation on unhealthy promotions in supermarkets. Transport for London only allows healthy food to be advertised on their property and it has already been shown to be beneficial. Join our call on the NSW government to follow London’s lead. Australia is lagging many countries such as Chile and Mexico that have taken real steps to protect children from unhealthy food marketing and help the community improve their diet. Comprehensive regulation is needed to protect children from all forms of influential marketing and that requires the state and federal government to work together.

As Magda’s Big National Health Check has shown, unhealthy food marketing is pervasive and influential. The consequences are worst for children who are particularly vulnerable to the power of marketing and at a vital stage to develop healthy lifelong habits. Our research has shown governments, both state and federally, that there is strong community support to act now.

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