Processed food ads leaves a bad taste
For years the processed food industry has been given free rein to aggressively market their harmful products to our children – surrounding them at every turn with enticing advertising for highly processed food and drinks laden with salt, fat and sugar.
Each day, our children are bombarded with at least 25 ads for these unhealthy products, that’s more than one ad every single hour that they are awake, day in day out. In Victoria alone, over 60 per cent of food and drink ads on Melbourne’s public transport network and near schools are for unhealthy food and drink.
More than a third of Australian children’s daily energy intake comes from unhealthy food and drinks.Credit:iStock
This advertising has become the wallpaper in our children’s lives, dominating the spaces where they learn, play and commute and shaping their diets and preferences from a young age.
For the processed food industry, it’s a question of profits. Surrounding our kids with this advertising builds powerful brand recognition, positive associations and ultimately, ensures lifelong customers.
But this game of manipulation is not harmless, and, of course, they wouldn’t spend millions doing it every year if it wasn’t effective.
Research has shown that children who are exposed to high levels of food and drink advertising are twice as likely to have tried a new food and drink product or to ask a parent for a product they’ve seen advertised than who only see a few of these ads.
Concerningly, but not surprisingly, the more food and drink advertising children see, the more likely they are to report high consumption of unhealthy food and drinks.
The processed food industry is moulding what our children eat, want to eat and what they ask for without any regard for the long-term health implications. Unhealthy diets in childhood can lead to being above a healthy weight, increasing the likelihood of serious disease, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and 13 types of cancer later in life.
With more than a third of Australian children’s daily energy intake currently coming from unhealthy food and drinks and over 90 per cent of children failing to meet the recommended serves of fruit and vegetables each day, we must act now to protect their future health.
So, how can we turn this around?
A junk food ad on the side of a bus.
Education and community programs although necessary, will not fix this alone – we need to stem the issue at the source, stopping the processed food industry from influencing our children and undermining the efforts from families, schools and communities to promote healthy habits and give our kids a healthier future.
Removing this advertising from public transport and public transport infrastructure and within 500 metres of schools will go a long way to reducing children’s exposure to this advertising outside of their homes and it’s something we can do right now.
We would not be the first to do this, in fact a growing number of jurisdictions around the world have already implemented similar policies to protect the health of their children.
In 2019, the City of London introduced a ban on unhealthy food advertising across the entire Transport for London network, including the Underground – stopping the promotion of all foods and non-alcoholic drinks high in fat, salt and sugar on one of the busiest transport systems in the world.
This policy has been linked to an estimated 1000 calorie (4180kJ) decrease in energy from unhealthy food and drink purchases in Londoners’ weekly shopping within a year of being implemented, compared with what would have happened without the policy.
London is not alone in taking action to put children’s health above the profits of the processed food industry. Amsterdam, New York and Canberra have also already taken resolute action to protect children from unhealthy food and drink advertising, removing it from their public transport systems and other public spaces. There’s no reason that Victoria can’t be next.
There is already strong support for change in Victoria, with 72 per cent of parents supporting government action to stop unhealthy food and drink marketing in public places owned or managed by the government.
Since March, more than 8800 people and organisations have signed Cancer Council Victoria’s statement calling for unhealthy food and drink advertising to be removed from public transport, public transport infrastructure and around schools.
We know the Victorian community wants action – now it’s time for government to heed the call.
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