ACMA’s children's TV standards fail to provide protection

Thursday 28 August, 2008

As childhood obesity continues to escalate in Australia, the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has condemned new draft Children's Television Standards for failing to adequately protect the interests of children, and says broadcasters and the food industry are the only winners.

Released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the draft standards do not include a ban on junk food advertising and do not impose meaningful limits on promotional strategies used to influence kids to desire and pester
for advertised products during peak children's viewing times.

Senior policy adviser for the OPC, Jane Martin, says Australia is falling behind other nations who have comprehensive policies and programs protecting children from exposure to unhealthy food promotions. She says contrary to what ACMA suggests, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a ban on advertising is an important component of a broad strategy to address overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

"Recent comprehensive and systematic reviews of the evidence show that food advertising affects what children eat, what they prefer to eat and what they pester their parents for. Victorian research looking at the cost-effectiveness of restricting junk food advertising on TV found that it was both a cost effective and effective measure. Although the effect on an individual is small, it is large when applied across a population," Ms Martin said.

ACMA also rejected that there was an appropriate model to determine whether a food was unhealthy or not. However, the OPC recommended a tool that Food Standards Australia New Zealand is using to determine whether particular foods are unhealthy or not. This model is also used by the UK to determine whether a food can be advertised on television during programs popular with children.

"The food industry spends over $200 million a year on advertising and a significant part of this is used to promote unhealthy, high fat, high salt, high sugar foods. It is little wonder that a quarter of children are overweight or obese. This will have severe ramifications for their future health, with obesity linked to a range of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

"Australia has one of the highest rates of food advertising to children in the world, and the majority of this is for unhealthy food. The promotion of junk food is no longer confined to the television-it is ubiquitous and impossible to avoid...you don't need to
look very far to see toys, websites, music downloads and competitions being used to entice children to want everything from burgers to soft drinks.

"For some time now, the OPC has been calling for national legislation to ban junk food advertising at peak times when children are actually watching television and to substantially restrict all other forms of promotion of unhealthy food to children and adolescents. The federal government needs to put in place legislation that protects children, supports parents and does not undermine campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles."