Senate debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising Bill 2006

Second Reading

4:22 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising Bill seeks to put in place some restrictions on advertising to children that would protect them from the relentless efforts of the junk food industry. 

This bill essentially makes food and beverage advertising on television during children’s viewing times subject to the same restrictions that apply to the advertising of alcoholic drinks.

It also places restrictions on the advertising in schools of companies whose principal activity is the manufacture, distribution or sale of junk food.

Australia is facing an obesity epidemic.

Currently, 1 in 2 Australian adults and 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese.

And the rates are rising. If the current trends continue, within 20 years about half of Australian children will be obese.

Research shows that Australian children are not eating more than they did previously but they are eating more high-fat and high sugar foods and drinks than previously.

Children’s dietary choices have a lasting and long term effect on their health.

Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults and to experience the same chronic health problems that are associated with adult obesity.

We are seeing alarming increases in young people in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, high cholesterol, and orthopaedic problems because of excessive weight.

Childhood obesity is a complex problem that is caused by many factors. This means that no one intervention will resolve the problem and that the “battle” needs to be waged on several fronts.

Television advertising is one such front.

Australian children see on average 25,000 television advertisements each year and much of this is directed specifically at children.

Advertising conferences are held specifically on how to market to children and companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on advertising directed at children.

And despite all their claims to the contrary, they do this because it works. Most parents would be well aware that television advertising can lead to a young child’s demands for the advertised product.

It is true that it is not possible to provide ‘incontrovertible proof’ of the relationship between advertising, junk food and obesity. That is because there are many factors which are at play.

There may not be ‘incontrovertible’ proof but there is an ever increasing body of evidence that is showing that children are susceptible to what they see on TV and that food advertising specifically influences children’s food preferences and increases their requests for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt.

A major systematic review of the international evidence on the impact of food advertising to children released in 2003 concluded that it was not until the age of around 12 that children had the cognitive ability to understand the concept of marketing.

This same review found that food promotion has an effect on what food children prefer, what they buy (or hassle their parents to but) and what they consume. 

The American Psychological Association has also concluded that young children are uniquely vulnerable to commercial persuasion.

Surely marketing something to a child too young to understand the concept of marketing and therefore unable to counter it is wrong?

Television is the main way of advertising food to children. Even before they reach school age, when they are still unable to tell the difference between ads and other programmes and do not understand the purpose of advertising, children are bombarded with advertisements to entice them to demand their parents buy a particular brand of high sugar cereal or to drink a certain soft drink.

Recent research has shown that almost all food and drink advertising on TV is promoting products that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat and that these advertisements are much more common during children’s programmes then later in the evening.

A 1996 survey found that Australian children are exposed to an average of 12 food advertisements every hour.

The Australian Divisions of General Practice conducted a junk food advertising audit in 2003 and found that that during children’s viewing times there was an average of one junk food advertisement per ad break.

They also found that 99% of all food advertisements broadcast during children’s viewing times were advertisements for junk food. Very few food advertisements promoted foods that were in line with a healthy diet.

An Australian study released in 2005 found that confectionery ads were 3 times more likely to be broadcast during children’s programs than during adults’ programs on Sydney television stations and fast food restaurant ads were twice as likely to be shown during children’s programs than during adult programs.

Television advertising of food is clearly dominated by pre-sugared breakfast cereals, soft drinks, confectionary, savoury snacks, and fast food outlets.

This promotion contrasts sharply with the diet recommended by health professionals.

It is clearly time for the Federal government to face up to its responsibility and take on the junk food industry and regulate food advertising to children. 

Their line that it is the role of parents to control what children eat is not good enough.

It is true that parents do have a role to play.

But many parents do not have the knowledge, the time, or the energy to counter the constant barrage of misinformation directed at children through junk food advertising.

Focusing on parents also absolves the government of its responsibilities in this area.

We already protect children from advertising of alcohol and tobacco and high levels of violence during TV programmes but when it comes to food and drink the government gives the companies free reign.

Of course much of children’s viewing occurs outside specified children's viewing times.

We know that children’s peak viewing times are 5-9pm and that restrictions on advertising to protect children do not apply to these times.

It is time that the Government took children’s peak viewing times into account and reconsidered when restrictions should apply.

Of course it is not only television advertising that needs to be considered.

That is why we have included a ban on junk food advertising in schools.

There are increasing reports of sponsorship deals between schools and companies that produce fizzy drinks, potato chips and chocolates.

We need to promote healthy eating in schools. We should not be allowing the sale of these products in schools, whether through vending machines or in the tuckshops, and we should not be promoting them through allowing advertising by the companies that produce them.

The measures in this bill in themselves won’t eliminate obesity but they are a central part of the overall plan.

We need Government policies and programs that encourage and recommend good eating and proper exercise.

But we also need to remove the temptations of an unbalanced poor diet and activity from vulnerable eyes and ears and stomachs.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.