Final kids TV advertising standards leave Australian children vulnerable to exploitation

Tuesday 1 September, 2009

ACMA's Children's TV Standards released today will have no impact on the childhood obesity epidemic

The final version of the Children's Television Standards released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has failed to protect our children, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition's senior adviser, Jane Martin.

"The Standards released today ignore the raft of evidence linking junk food advertising to obesity, to the detriment of our children. The Standards are hopelessly inadequate in terms of restricting junk food advertising on TV and the techniques used by advertisers to create pester power. It is time the government stopped pandering to big business and stepped in to protect

"Contrary to ACMA's claims, there is sufficient evidence-based research to justify action in terms of banning junk food advertising in programs popular with children such as Australian Idol and The Simpsons. A recent study found that banning unhealthy food advertising could prevent between one in seven and one in three children from being obese*.

"By ignoring the evidence in this way, ACMA is not considering the positive impact of regulation. In the UK a phased in ban has been shown to have reduced the amount of junk food ads seen by children by a third in the first phase. Despite concerns, there has been no decline in advertising revenue; in fact on children's channels, advertising revenue has actually increased at a time when the country is in a recession," said Ms Martin.

A recent Australian study, which assessed the cost-effectiveness of a range of interventions to reduce obesity in children and adolescents, estimated that the impact of banning unhealthy food advertising on TV would be far greater than any of the other 12 potential inventions modelled in the study.

"The Standards released today only restrict advertising during low-rating, dedicated children's programming (which averages one hour per day, usually between 4pm-5pm), whereas we know that five times more children watch TV between 6pm and 9pm on weekdays and this is period in which the highest number of junk food ads are screened," said Ms Martin.

"In addition, the Standards do not impose meaningful limits on promotional strategies used to influence children to desire and pester for advertised products. The code will not stop companies marketing their unhealthy products with toy tie-ins or using personalities or fun characters that appeal to children.

"Protection of our children cannot be left to the advertising industry through self-regulation. Studies indicate that up to the age of eight years, children do not understand the intent of advertising and therefore cannot effectively evaluate advertising claims. When you consider this in the context of how pervasive TV is in our children's lives - it reaches children at a younger age and for longer than any other socialising institutions except for school and the family - it is tantamount to a commercial exploitation."

" The federal government needs to put in place legislation that protects children, supports parents and does not undermine investment in programs and campaigns to promote healthy lifestyles."

A Cancer Council Victoria survey of 800 consumers recently found that 88% were in favour of a total ban of TV junk food advertising at times when children watch TV.

More than 90% called for stronger restrictions to reduce the amount of unhealthy food and drink advertising seen by children.
The survey also found 91% of consumers believe the government should regulate the use of toys and giveaways to market unhealthy food and drink to children - with 55% believing the practice should be stopped completely.

In addition, 91% believe the use of popular personalities or characters should be regulated.

About the Obesity Policy Coalition

The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are concerned about the escalating levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.

The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes Australia Victoria, The Cancer Council Victoria, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the World Health Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.

* Veerman J, Van Beeck E, Barendregt J, Mackenback J. By how much would limiting TV food advertising reduce childhood obesity? The European Journal of Public Health. 2009. Vol. 19. No. 4: 365-369