Double your donation this Cancer Research Giving Day, 2 February 2023.

Food Fight to protect Victorian kids from unhealthy food and drink advertising

Thursday 10 March, 2022

Victorian children are being hit by at least 25 unhealthy food and drink ads every day1, as Cancer Council Victoria launches Food Fight, a new campaign to protect children from unhealthy food and drink advertising by the processed food industry on public transport and their routes to school.

The hard-hitting Food Fight campaign will air on TV, radio and digital channels showing a child being hit by unhealthy food and drink as she’s exposed to unhealthy food advertisements around her. The campaign will raise awareness of the impact the processed food industry and their advertising is having on our kids’ health, including an increased risk of 13 types of cancer and other serious disease later in life.

New research2 shows the processed food industry’s advertising is highly effective at manipulating what children eat and drink. A national survey of high school students found:

  • Children who were exposed to high levels of food and drink advertising were more than twice as likely to have tried a new food and drink product compared to children with low exposure.
  • Children who were exposed to high levels of food and drink advertising were twice as likely to ask a parent for a product they had seen advertised.
  • The more food and drink advertising children were exposed to, the more likely they were to report high consumption of unhealthy food and drinks.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Mr Todd Harper said the research reinforced the power of this advertising, even on older children, and it was time to put our kids’ health above the profits of the processed food industry. “We all want our kids to enjoy a healthy childhood, free from the influence of unhealthy food and drink advertising. But this is impossible when the processed food industry spends millions of dollars every year to advertise in places where they know children will see it.

“In 2019, over 60 per cent of food and drink advertisements on Melbourne’s public transport network and near schools were for unhealthy food and drinks3. Why are we allowing the food industry to do this to our children knowing the effect it’s having on their future health?

“The processed food industry is influencing what our children eat, want to eat and what they ask for. We know this advertising impacts the quality of their diets, putting their future health at risk by increasing the likelihood of serious disease, including 13 types of cancer later in life.” he said.

Mr Harper said there is an urgent need for state and federal governments to prioritise this issue in their jurisdiction.

“Today's campaign is part of a nation-wide approach to work with governments and health groups to raise the issue and protect our children from unhealthy food and drink advertising,” he said.

A recent report into food marketing by the World Health Organisation4 found that food marketers predominantly promote unhealthy foods (such as sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolate, confectionery and “fast food”) and use a range of creative strategies likely to appeal to young audiences.

Associate Professor Kathryn Backholer, Associate Director of the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), a World Health Organisation (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, said the impact was clear.

“Evidence shows that unhealthy food and drink advertising works. The processed food industry knows what it’s doing and wouldn’t be spending millions advertising their unhealthy food and drink if it wasn’t effective. The industry targets our kids in the hope of setting purchasing and consumption patterns for life, with no regard for the impact this has on long-term health outcomes.

“At a time when a third of children’s energy intake is coming from discretionary foods and only 6 per cent are meeting the recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables, we should be doing everything in our power to ensure our children are surrounded by healthy messages about food,” she said.

Ms Jane Martin, Executive Manager Obesity Program at Cancer Council Victoria, said that while some might find the campaign confronting, she hoped the public would see that as the industry profits continue to grow, it's our children's health that's at stake.

“Our children deserve to grow up in environments that support and promote good health and wellbeing and governments have a role to play in creating these healthy environments. Not allowing unhealthy food and drink advertising within 500m of schools, and on public transport and public transport infrastructure like stations, platforms and bus shelters, would go a long way to protecting our kids.

“We know it works, because others have done it. Transport for London’s ban on unhealthy food advertising was associated with an estimated 1,000 calorie decrease in energy from unhealthy food and drink purchases in people’s weekly shopping, compared to what was expected without the changes. Amsterdam, New York and Canberra have also ensured their public transport is 100% free from unhealthy food and drink advertising. There’s no reason Victoria can’t be next,” Ms Martin said.

Food Fight will air across TV, radio and digital channels from 15th March, 2022. The campaign microsite at, will invite Victorians to support Cancer Council Victoria’s campaign, share it with their networks and upload examples of unhealthy food and drink advertising around Victoria that is targeting kids. 



1 Gascoyne C, Morley B, Dixon H, Wakefield M. Australian children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink advertising: Research insights report. Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria: Melbourne, Australia, December 2021.

2 Gascoyne C, Scully M, Wakefield M, Morley B. Is food and drink marketing across various settings associated with dietary choices and intake among Australian adolescents? Findings from a national cross-sectional survey. The Austral-Asia Obesity Research Update; Brisbane, Australia, 22 July 2021.

3 Obesity Policy Coalition. The prevalence of junk food advertising on public transport, public transport infrastructure and near schools in Melbourne, Victoria. Obesity Policy Coalition: Melbourne, Australia, 2019.

4 World Health Organization. Food marketing exposure and power and their associations with food-related attitudes, beliefs and behaviours: a narrative review. World Health Organization: Geneva, Switzerland, 2022.