August 28th, 2008

New Push for Junk Food Ad Bans

The Age (Australia)

The media watchdog’s failure to restrict junk food advertising which targets children has provoked a renewed push to ban the practice.

The Australian Greens plan to revive draft laws against such advertising amid outrage among health and parents groups over the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) finding.

Retailers described the legislative move as irresponsible because it would undermine the watchdog’s work.

Research found little evidence of an association between the TV advertising of junk food and obesity levels in children, convincing ACMA there was no need to recommend any general restrictions.

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) says Australia is falling behind other nations which have comprehensive policies protecting children from exposure to unhealthy food.

There was plenty of evidence to show advertising bans were linked to improvements in childhood obesity, OPC senior policy adviser Jane Martin said.

“Recent comprehensive and systematic reviews of the evidence show that food advertising affects what children eat, what they prefer to eat and what they pester their parents for,” Ms Martin said.

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

The Parents Jury - an online network of 3,400 parents, grandparents and guardians - called for a complete ban on junk food ads on television from 6am to 9pm.

“It is a shame that the revised standards have put broadcasters’ revenue before our children’s health,” group manager Justine Hodge said.

“This was the government’s opportunity to do something positive.”

The Greens’ plan to bring back legislation introduced by the Australian Democrats in 2006 which did not succeed.

Greens leader Bob Brown said ACMA’s advertising standards were inadequate and did not reflect community standards or concerns about childhood obesity.

“A national ban on junk food advertising during children’s TV viewing hours is a sensible first step in tackling childhood obesity,” he said.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The Queensland and South Australian state governments also have flagged potential restrictions on junk food ads.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council attacked the Greens’ “recycling” of old legislation.

“Senator Brown’s amendment, if successful, would potentially compromise ACMA’s standing as an independent regulatory body,” council chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Legislators cannot just ride roughshod over independent regulatory bodies because they don’t like the findings that they present,” she said.”

Governments overseas which have tried to restrict advertising to children have found it does little to solve the obesity problem, Ms Carnell said.

“The food industry is responding positively to public health concerns regarding childhood obesity and is working with government and other stakeholders to promote a balanced approach to advertising and labelling.”

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