Health taskforce needs to close the loop on sneaky advertising to primary school children

Monday 7 September, 2009

The Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations for the phased banning of TV advertising to children on free-to-air and paid TV before 9pm is a welcome step, however the recommendations stop short of protecting children from strategically placed messaging from junk food manufacturers whilst at school, according to Dr. Suzy Honisett, Manager of school obesity prevention program at the Cancer Council Victoria and Diabetes Australia - Victoria.

"Whilst we support the Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations for the ban of advertising to children on television, we call on the government to also include a ban on allowing advertising in schools.

"McDonalds Hoop Time and Milo in2Cricket are only two of the major brands that have established relationships and programs within primary schools.  This provides a confusing paradox for children as on the one hand they are taught to eat healthy and be physically active, yet they take part in programs that are supported by products that are high in fat and sugar and nutrient poor.

"McDonalds has maintained a relationship with primary schools through their various sports programs for over 20 years. This is 20 years of unmitigated brand development and alliance that a global junk food company has held over the children of Australia. Time after time we question what right a junk food company has in promoting physical activity to school children when there is obviously no parallel between physical activity and junk food, yet nothing happens. It is now time for this to be stopped for good.

"This is a half measure approach in tackling advertising to children. History tells us that when a marketer's messaging outlet is restricted they become more creative and targeted in the distribution of their brand or product.  The cigarette industry is the perfect example of when traditional forms of advertising are restricted, they switch to other channels, such as merchandising and packaging.

"We know that junk food companies are already masters of using targeted sponsorship to communicate with children, but what will happen when they have no other choice?  It is sure to get more targeted and underhanded.

"Children are at school for 30 hours a week.  This is prime advertising space for industry and they know it," said Dr. Honisett.

Recent studies demonstrate the increasing prevalence of overweight and obese children with one quarter of Australian children being classified as overweight or obese.

"Statistics such as this confirm the need for preventative action and push for an overarching policy that ensures all avenues of communication with children are moderated to ensure health and wellbeing is the main objective.

"Eradicating the chance for companies to directly influence children in schools will mean that we start seeing a decrease in overweight and obese Australian children sooner," said Dr. Honisett.

Media contact: Megan Edwards 0401 659 366