3 in 4 Aussies support blanket ban on junk food advertising: Cancer Council survey

A survey of more than 2000 Australian adults revealed that 76% support a blanket ban on targeting kids online with unhealthy food and drink marketing.

Conducted by researchers from Cancer Council Victoria and Food for Health Alliance, the study supports the recently proposed bill by MP Dr Sophie Scamps earlier this week, with The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill 2023 aiming to ban junk food ads on TV, radio and online.

The survey also found 81% of the respondents do not believe that unhealthy food and drink companies should be permitted to collect children’s personal information for marketing purposes, and 69% agree the government should protect children from marketing of junk food.

“Of those survey participants in favour, most thought protections from marketing of unhealthy foods should apply until children were older – aged 16 (34%) or 18 years (24%),” Dr Belinda Morley, the study’s lead researcher from Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research for Cancer, said.

Around 68% of the respondents supported government action to stop junk food marketing on websites and apps at times when children are likely to be using them and on social media for all users under 16.

The study, which was published in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, surveyed 2,044 Australian adults aged 18 to 64 to assess attitudes towards government actions to protect children from digital marketing of unhealthy food and drink products.

Food for Health Alliance executive manager Jane Martin said the findings clearly show strong community support for government action on this important issue.

“The online environment is an integral part of children’s daily lives. Children should be able to go online to learn, access information or communicate with their friends and family without being bombarded with unhealthy food marketing,” she said.

“Industry knows this harmful digital marketing works. These unhealthy ads can be highly targeted, tailored and effective at building loyal customers from a young age, but as company profits grow, it’s our children’s health that’s at risk. Unhealthy diets can lead to children being above a healthy weight, and if this persists into adulthood increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

“Research shows Australian children aged 13 to 17 years are exposed to almost 100 online promotions for unhealthy food and drinks every week. Saturating kids’ digital devices with harmful marketing helps processed food industries shift the dial towards unhealthy foods being seen as a normal, regular part of our diets, undermining everything we know about good health and wellbeing.”

Martin said the government has some opportunities to step in to protect children, citing the recent review of the Privacy Act.

“Processed food industries should not collect and use children’s personal information to target them with these unhealthy food and drink ads – and the Australian public agrees,” he said.

“It is shocking to think that by the time a child is 13 years old, an estimated 72 million data points have been collected that can be used by marketers to build a profile and target them with sneaky ads for cheap, junk foods.

“The strong level of public support to protect children from unhealthy food marketing should give government confidence to enact higher standards to prioritise children’s health over company profits. These measures must also include efforts to protect children’s privacy online, especially from industry’s aggressive and predatory marketing.

“We want to see the Federal Government adopt strong reforms to the Privacy Act. This is a tangible opportunity to ensure that children’s personal information can’t be collected and used for commercial marketing, particularly for harmful marketing like unhealthy food. This is a really important step forward.”

Earlier this week, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) said calls to ban junk food ads on TV, radio and online channels won’t solve the child obesity problem and would just lead to job losses, in response to Scamps’ bill.


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