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The real impact of unhealthy food and drink ads

Thursday 31 March, 2022

Pester power.

If you’re a parent whose child has ever begged and badgered you for food or drink out of the blue, you’ll know this term well. But did you know that kids who are exposed to ads for unhealthy food and drinks are more than twice as likely to ask a parent for a product they had seen advertised?

Our kids are being hit with at least 25 ads for unhealthy food and drink every day. With this much exposure, it’s little wonder parents are getting pestered at every turn. The processed food industry is spending millions of dollars every year to bombard kids with ads for unhealthy food and drinks, and these ads are highly effective at manipulating what our kids eat, want to eat and ask for.

In fact, new research1 has revealed the true impact of exposure to advertising on children, with a national survey of high school students finding:

  • 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.

Join our community of over 2,200 families, experts and organisations to protect kids from unhealthy food and drink advertising:

Add your name to our statement

The impact revealed.

In a nutshell, the more they see, the more they want, the more they consume.

Over a third of Aussie kids’ daily energy intake is coming from unhealthy food and drink – that is processed foods high in energy, fat, salt and sugar - such as commercial fast food, sugary drinks, chocolate and sweet snacks. The Australian Dietary Guidelines refer to these as discretionary food.

And what is the true impact of this?

Our kids need good nutrition for healthy growth and development. What kids eat can affect their:

  • physical health
  • mood
  • mental health
  • learning and attention spans.

Good nutrition in childhood is also important for long-term health and for the prevention of serious diseases like cancer later in life.

Unhealthy diets high in processed foods can also lead to being above a healthy weight. Being above a healthy weight in childhood increases the likelihood of being above a healthy weight in adulthood, which in turn increases the risk of at least 13 different types of cancer. Being above a healthy weight causes nearly 5,300 cancer cases in Australian adults each year – and they are mostly preventable.

Our kids are surrounded but we are not powerless.

We all want our kids to grow up in environments that support their health and wellbeing. It’s an uphill battle though, when research shows the majority of food products promoted by the food industry on Melbourne’s public transport network and near schools are for unhealthy food and drinks.

Removing unhealthy food and drink ads in areas where kids commute, learn and play would help reduce our kids’ exposure to these unhealthy foods and drinks and help to provide them with healthy environments to grow up in.

To give our kids the best chance of growing up healthy, we need to protect them from this advertising. We can do this by restricting where the processed food industry can advertise their unhealthy food and drinks and removing this advertising:

  • within 500m of schools, and
  • on public transport and public transport infrastructure (i.e. stations, platforms, stops and shelters).

It’s time to protect our kids from the processed food industry targeting them with unhealthy food and drink advertising. Their future health is at stake. Help us create healthier environments for our kids to grow up in by adding your name to our statement.