OPC calls for government regulation of food marketing to children

Tuesday 28 August, 2007

The Obesity Policy Coalition* has condemned the Advertising Standards Bureau's dismissal of a complaint against food advertisements featuring cartoon ogre Shrek, and says government regulation of all forms of food marketing to children is urgently
required to protect children from marketers' underhand promotional tactics.

The dismissal, announced yesterday by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), relates to a complaint by The Parents Jury** about the widespread use of the children's film ‘Shrek the third' and the Shrek character on the packaging of, and in
the advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods directed to children. The Parents Jury ‘Trial by Jury' panel recently voted the use of Shrek as the worst current example of marketing of unhealthy foods aimed at children. 

The Obesity Policy Coalition's senior policy advisor, Jane Martin, said the ASB's rejection of all complaints made under the new AANA Food and Beverages Code, including the complaint made by the Parents Jury about the recent Shrek promotions, shows the Code is inadequate for protecting children from the huge volume of junk food marketing directed towards them.

"This decision shows the Code does not prevent marketers from using techniques that foster pester power in children, such as associating products with popular children's movie characters, and offering toys and competitions with purchase. The Code only prevents ads which actually tell a child to ask their parents to buy a product. Clearly this is not the way marketers actually create pester power," said Ms Martin.

"Recently, the ASB departed from previous interpretations of the Code, and has decided the Code now applies to company-owned websites. Whilst this is a step forward, we are concerned about the lack of clarity regarding which types of
advertising the Code does and doesn't apply to.

"The provisions of the AANA Food and Beverages Code are highly ambiguous and ineffective. They are vague, susceptible to different interpretations, and contain many loopholes and exceptions, allowing easy circumvention by advertisers."
Ms Martin added that government regulation was the only way to monitor properly the activities of the food and beverage industry and help stamp out the growing problem of childhood obesity.

"Parents are fed up with the sneaky attempts by marketers to lure children into a junk-food loaded world," she said. "A recent national survey of Australian parents found that 86% of parents supported stronger government restrictions on unhealthy
food advertising to children. Parents can see that current self-regulation by the food industry is not in the best interests of their children.

"The current Code does not apply to product packaging, in-store promotions or the
use of toys and premiums; strategies that strongly influence pester power in children
and cause headache for parents."

ENDS

To arrange an interview with Jane Martin please contact Emma Fay, OPC media and
communications, on 0415 477 537.

Notes to editors:
* The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) is a coalition between the Cancer Council Victoria, Diabetes Australia - Victoria and the WHO Collaborating Centre on Obesity Prevention at Deakin University, with support from VicHealth. The OPC is concerned about the escalating rates of overweight and obesity in Australia, particularly in children.

** The Parents Jury is a web-based forum for parents to voice their views and collectively advocate for the improvement of children's food and physical activity environments. The Parents Jury is supported by the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity, Diabetes Australia - Victoria, The Cancer Council Australia and its member bodies, and VicHealth.

The Obesity policy Coalition believes the AANA Food and Beverages Code is inadequate for dealing with advertising of unhealthy food to children for a number of reasons:

The AANA Code does not, and cannot, restrict the volume, frequency or timing of advertising of unhealthy food to children. Collin Segelov, the Executive Director of AANA said in evidence to the Parliament of South Australia Fast Foods and Obesity Inquiry in March this year that the Code ‘does not and cannot attend to the frequency and placement of advertisements.(1)

The Coalition believes it is the volume and frequency of advertising of unhealthy foods at
times and during programs when large numbers of children watch television, more than
individual instances of inappropriate or misleading marketing, that influences children to
prefer, demand and consume unhealthy food.

In addition, the provisions of the AANA Food and Beverages Code are highly ambiguous and
ineffective. They are vague, susceptible to different interpretations, and contain many
loopholes and exceptions, allowing easy circumvention by advertisers.

Consequently, the AANA Food and Beverages Code does not prevent most inappropriate
techniques and practices used to advertise unhealthy food to children.

For example:
• typical techniques used by advertisers to create pester power (i.e. that make children
want products so they will pester parents to buy them)
• promotion or endorsement of products by popular children's characters and
personalities to (unless the use of a character or personality blurs the distinction
between a program and an ad)
• promotion of free toys (unless they are given ‘undue prominence').

(1)Collin Segelov, oral evidence to the Parliament of South Australia's ‘Fast Foods and Obesity Inquiry', cited in
the Twenty-Fifth Report of the Social Development Committee.