Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

December 2015

Message from the Editors

Wong Mei Teng photoWelcome to our last newsletter for 2015. Once again, the annual Parents’ Voice Fame & Shame Awards have shown that there are still plenty of unhealthy ads on TV despite recent changes to the Free TV Code of Practice removing provisions covering junk food advertising to children. The good news is that the ACT Government has just completed a consultation on food promotion in local Canberra settings, including sports settings.

In research news, a small study with a group of Australian children has shown many associate brand logos with the sports teams that wear these sponsors’ logos on their shirts. This newsletter also looks at studies into what influences Australian parents to buy ‘treat’ foods and why families visit fast food restaurants. Another study into themes used in kids’ snack ads has found different marketing techniques were used for parents compared to children.

In new media, we look at a study of digital promotions by three food and drink brands in Australia and a complaint about the mobile app for young children, YouTube Kids.


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Free TV Code of Practice no longer protects children from junk food marketing

Self-regulation of advertising to children just got weaker. Following a review of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, Free TV Australia has registered a new code with Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), effective 1 December 2015.

Clauses that referred to protecting children from unhealthy food marketing have been removed. Although these clauses were vague, the changes mean that besides advertising in ‘C’ and ‘P’ programs which is specifically covered in the Children’s Television Standards, all other TV advertising now falls under the advertising and food industries’ respective self-regulatory codes and voluntary initiatives. These codes narrowly cover advertising that is ‘primarily’ directed to children rather than advertising that appeals to children.

In their report, End the Charade!  the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) highlights the failures of self-regulation by the food and advertising industries, exposing sneaky tactics such as loosening the definition of healthy food by using the term “healthier food” and adding a practice note regarding the meaning of marketing “directed primarily to children” so that advertisers can argue that imagery reminiscent of childhood may be directed to adults and not to children. The OPC call for Government regulation to protect children from junk food marketing, as profit-hungry food advertisers exploit loopholes in self-regulatory codes.

Fame & Shame Award winners announced

McDonald’s have taken out two awards in the Fame & Shame Awards hosted annually by Parents’ Voice (previously The Parents’ Jury) as well as the special “Worst of the Decade” award in the  tenth year of the Fame & Shame Awards. The Happy Reader promotion that linked digital books with Mc Donald’s Happy Meals beat websites for Fandangles ice-cream and Whizz Fizz sherbet in the Digital Ninja Award. The Happy Meal TV ad starring the Minions took out the Pester Power Award and Coke Life was given the Smoke and Mirrors Award for being promoted as a healthier option without mention that it still has plenty of sugar. KFC’s sponsorship of cricket through the Big Bash League got parents’ vote for the Foul Sport Award.

The Parents’ Choice Award went to the Pick Bright. Feel Bright! campaign which uses the kiddy-appeal of The Wiggles to encourage families to choose fresh fruit and vegetables.

ACT government consultation on food and drink marketing

It is encouraging to see the ACT government has conducted an open consultation on food and drink marketing in Canberra, particularly marketing aimed at children.

The consultation covered the marketing and promotion of food and drinks in local Canberra settings including but not limited to shopping centres and food retail outlets including supermarkets, cinemas and local radio, restaurants/cafes including quick-service outlets, licensed clubs and hotels, sporting clubs and organisations and ACT Government venues such as GIO Stadium, Manuka Oval and Exhibition Park.

Well done to the ACT Government in taking steps to progress an action, “restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods within the government’s regulatory control”, that was in the 2013 Towards Zero Growth: Healthy Weight Action Plan.

What influences unhealthy food consumption?

Over 1,300 parents of Australian children aged 8-14 years were asked about their attitudes to unhealthy food and their children’s diet. The study found higher frequency of unhealthy food consumption was linked to parents having a favourable attitude to ‘treat’ food and to their perception of the acceptability of ‘treat’ food consumption. Frequency of children’s consumption of ‘treat’ foods was also influenced by how often their children asked or pestered their parents for these foods.

The authors concluded that these results back up calls for food marketing interventions because marketing contributes to children’s pestering and social norms which influences consumption both directly and indirectly through effects on their parents’ attitudes to ‘treat’ foods.

Pettigrew S, Jongenelis M, Chapman K, Miller C. Predictors of the frequency of Australian children's consumption of unhealthy foods. Pediatric Obesity 2015 Oct 14

Marketers use different tactics to promote kid's snacks to parents

A recent study out of the US suggests that marketers are tailoring ads differently to appeal to parents. The study into themes used to market kids’ snacks on US television found that parent-targeted ads more often featured nutrition, health and healthy lifestyle messaging whereas child-directed ads featured fun and product taste themes. Like the previous study, the authors highlight concerns that exposure to such advertisements may shape parents’ attitudes to these snacks and influence their purchases.

Emond JA, Smith ME, Mathur SJ, Sargent JD, Gilbert-Diamond D. Children's food and beverage promotion on television to parents. Pediatrics 2015 Nov 9; 136(6):1095-102

Kids remember unhealthy brand logos on sports shirts

Australians love their sport and each code has its particular sponsors, many from the alcohol, gambling and junk food industry. A small study of eighty-five 5-12 year olds presented children with two sets of magnets, one set had the logos of teams in rugby league, Australian football league, basketball and cricket and the other set had 16 brand logos including some alcohol, junk food and gambling sponsors that feature on sporting teams’ shirts. The children were not directed how to arrange the magnets. At least three quarters lined up a shirt sponsor with its sporting team. Older children were able to match more logos. About two thirds of the children had attended a live sporting game in the last year and 82% owned branded sporting merchandise. The children were recruited from local junior sports competitions and so the sample would be likely to show higher results than the general population.

There was also an association between sporting teams and brand categories. The team, a rugby league team, sponsored by an alcohol brand was the team most often associated with alcohol brands.

Sporting teams are held with high regard within the community and their influence in young people’s lives shouldn’t extend to brands that negatively impact on healthy lifestyles.

Bestman A, Thomas SL, Randle M, Thomas SDM. Children's implicit recall of junk food, alcohol and gambling sponsorship in Australian sport. BMC Public Health 2015; 15(1):1022

Analysis of three junk food digital marketing strategies

A small study has looked at the digital marketing strategies of three major brands – McDonald’s, Cadbury and Coca Cola. The researchers looked at the Australian version of Facebook sites, company/brand websites and mobile phone apps. They found engaging content aimed at children and adolescents that promotes fast food, confectionery and soft drinks. There was frequent use of flash animation and music in child-targeted marketing. Adolescent-targeted marketing used viral marketing and chances to receive discounts or win prizes. Mobile phone apps, Facebook and some websites are not considered to be marketing to children in the self-regulatory codes because they have age restrictions although these are easily circumvented.

Each brand had games that featured unhealthy products and were considered directed to children including a Coke drink mobile phone app interactive game featuring a bottle of Coke; the Cadbury Joyville website featuring chocolate in interactive games and a Big Mac Farm Challenge game featuring the iconic hamburger.

New media offers a pervasive form of advertising which engages tweens with junk food brands yet escapes regulation.

Boelsen-Robinson T, Backholer K, Peeters A. Digital marketing of unhealthy foods to Australian children and adolescents. Health Promotion International 2015 Mar 13

Joint complaint about junk food ads on YouTube Kids

In the US, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for Digital Democracy (CDD)  have lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about commercials and promotional videos for unhealthy food and beverage products on YouTube Kids, a mobile app for young children.

CCFC and CDD said a review found “hundreds of commercials and promotional videos for products” sold by companies who, as members of the Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative have pledged not to market to children under 12 years of age. Examples included: 47 television commercials and 11 longer promotional videos for Coke and Coke Zero on YouTube Kids even though the Coca-Cola Company has pledged to not market any beverages to children under 12 and 31 TV commercials and 21 product placements for Oreos although Oreos manufacturer Mondelez International has pledged not to market Oreos to children.

Frequent visitors to fast food restaurants watch more TV

A study in non-metropolitan US found that children who watched more commercial TV where fast food restaurants were advertised were more likely to visit fast food restaurants.

The study found that of the 100 parents of 3-7 year olds studied, 37% visited fast food restaurants at least monthly. Greater TV exposure was associated with more visits to restaurants and the collecting of toy premiums from fast food restaurants. About a third of children collected toys from fast food restaurants and that positively influenced frequency of visits. Over half of parents said their children asked them to visit these restaurants.

Other studies have already shown the influence of premiums on children’s food choices. In Australia, we want McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s to stop including toys and other premiums in kids’ fast food meals.

Emond JA, Bernhardt AM, Gilbert-Diamond D, Li Z, Sargent JD. Commercial television exposure, fast food toy collecting, and family visits to fast food restaurants among families living in rural communities. The Journal of pediatrics 2015; In press

Scottish calls for ban on junk food marketing before 9pm

The Scottish government has called on the UK Government to ban advertising of junk food before 9pm following a survey that found about two thirds of 11-18 year olds saw at least one food or drink promotion in the previous week and almost half said they had purchased in response to a promotion.
The most common marketing method was price promotions and these were dominated by sugar sweetened soft drinks, chocolate and confectionery.

This has widespread support with many organisations, with Cancer Research UK and British Heart Foundation recently reiterating their support for a pre-9pm watershed ban on junk food advertising.

Snack food marketing to young people in the US increasing

A report by UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found exposure to snack food advertising increased from 2010 to 2014 by 10% for children and 29% for teens although total snack food advertising spend increased by only 4%. The nutritional quality of advertised sweet and savoury snacks was generally poor and products advertised by companies that were signatories to the voluntary Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative were no better than products advertised by non-signatory companies.