Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

February 2013

Message from the Editors

To start the new year we look at some recent Australian studies on television advertising, a Facebook ruling that has implications for food companies with Facebook pages, and also highlight some developments in the regulation of food advertising to children from around the world. In the latest studies section there seems to be a lot of research into ways to promote healthy options to children.
Aimee and Wendy

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Companies responsible for all Facebook content

Facebook logo

In July last year the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) upheld a complaint against Fosters Australia regarding the VB Facebook page, finding that it depicted material that discriminated against or vilified persons or sections of society. In making this decision, the ASB determined that Facebook pages are a form of advertising and that advertising restrictions apply “to the content generated by the page creator as well as material or comments posted by users or friends”.

Despite the assertion from Fosters Australia that the tone of the page was “ironic”, “self-deprecating” and “tongue-in-cheek”, the ASB disagreed. The Board ruled comments on the page breached a number of clauses in the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code; including discrimination against women and use of strong and obscene language.

The case follows a precedent set by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in 2011, where a company was fined for misleading and deceptive comments made by users on Facebook, which took the form of testimonials.

While not directly related to food marketing to children, this decision could have consequences for many food companies, with social media becoming increasingly used to engage and interact with young consumers. Since July, the ASB has reiterated its stance on company responsibility for Facebook comments. For example, comments on the Pizza Hut Facebook page were considered advertising but the complaint was ultimately dismissed as the content of these comments was not deemed inappropriate.

Hut), ASB Case Report 0271/12 (Fosters Australia), ACCC media release #NR 028/11, Feb 2011.

McDonald's warned about send to friend marketing on the Happy Meal Website

Happy Meal

Leading up to Christmas the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) formally warned McDonald’s under the Spam Act for the ‘send to friends’ facility on the Happy Meal website. The investigation found that emails were sent to friends of users without gaining the friend’s consent. McDonald’s have since removed this function however ACMA warned others that commercial electronic messages require recipient’s consent, accurate information about the sender and an ‘unsubscribe’ facility.

Fail! Breaches of both Children’s Television Standards and voluntary company initiatives are common

A recent study looking at the compliance of television advertisements to Australian regulations, both industry and government has found over 900 breaches. During two months of advertising, over 600 breaches in the Children’s Television Standards were found. The voluntary industry codes faired no better with 332 breaches found. The study provides evidence of the ineffectiveness of current initiatives and poor monitoring processes.

Another study has echoed the need for independent monitoring of food advertising on Australian TV. The authors found that the levels of unhealthy food advertising to children on Sydney TV had not changed since the implementation of self-regulatory initiatives.

Roberts et al, 2012, Compliance with children’s television food advertising regulations in Australia, BMC Public Health
King et al, 2012, Building the case for independent monitoring of food advertising on Australian television, Short Communication, PHN

Global Roundup

European self-regulation deemed ineffective

A Junk Free Childhood 2012The International Association for the Study of Obesity has recently produced a report on current self-regulatory initiatives used across Europe to limit junk food advertising to children. A junk-free childhood 2012 condemns these self-regulatory initiatives for their limited success. The report shows there has been only a marginal fall in children’s exposure to junk food advertising since the initiatives began, and in some countries exposure has begun to increase again.

Author Dr Tim Lobstein highlights the problem of classifying foods as healthy and unhealthy as a contributing factor to the initiatives failure, saying “(It) is like asking a burglar to fix the locks on your front door. They will say you are protected, but you are not”. The definitions of healthy and unhealthy foods vary across schemes and many of these are too lenient when categorising junk foods. Most products that meet the company criteria, like Kinder Surprise, Milky Bars and Coco Pops, fail to meet similar criteria set by governments and health organisations.

Another major issue highlighted by the report are forms of marketing currently not covered by the initiatives. Many food companies use websites complete with games, puzzles, clubs and downloadable gifts to appeal to and engage children. Social media such as Facebook is also popular with children and allows opportunities for food companies to engage with them. Product packages are also important marketing tools, grabbing the attention of children in the supermarket.

IASO, 2012, A junk-free childhood 2012: The 2012 report of the StanMark project on standards for marketing food and beverages to children in Europe.

Food marketing on the agenda in Norway

In June, the Norwegian government released for consultation its draft regulations on marketing of unhealthy foods to children designed to promote health and prevent obesity and diet-related diseases. The regulations will cover all children under the age of 18 and will apply to all forms of marketing of food or beverages, including that which “can appeal to children” or “has children or young people involved”. There are clear definitions of foods that can’t be marketed to children based on definitions in Norwegian tariff provisions. The draft regulations include criteria for energy, fat, saturated fat and salt levels in fast food.

Toys off the menu in Chile

The Chilean government has implemented a law banning the marketing of foods to children under 14 years of age. Passed in June 2012, the legislation includes all forms of advertising of foods to children and restricts the use of games and free toys to appeal to children. A definition of foods that are considered ‘unhealthy’ and will be covered by the law has not yet been established.

A Chilean senator has since filed a complaint with the Ministry of Health because fast food companies have not altered their practices since the law was introduced.


Move to clean up Auckland's street signs

The Auckland Regional Public Health Service has requested the Auckland Council consider removing unhealthy food advertising from public spaces, like bus shelters and billboards. They also recommend removing sponsorship of public events by unhealthy food and drink companies, and limiting the number of fast food outlets near schools and parks. A report presented to the District Health Board stated the “cityscape (is) saturated in advertising for high-calorie, low-nutrient food and sugary drinks”. Childhood obesity is a significant problem in the area, with 35% of Year 9 students overweight and an additional 35% obese.


Taiwan proposes penalties for breaches

A survey in Taiwan has found children see on average one junk food ad every 6.6 minutes when watching TV. The Taipei Times has reported Government plans to introduce regulations which would restrict junk food ads and include penalties of NT$200,000 (approx AU$6500) for violating the regulations.


The Latest Research

Sports sponsorship reaches children

cricket ballA recent study from Western Australia of 164 five to twelve year olds investigated the extent to which children associate alcohol and fast food with popular sports. It found three quarters of the children were able to link a sport to its correct sponsor and over half correctly linked an AFL team to Hungry Jack’s. The authors expressed concern that there was a strong association between unhealthy foods and beverages and many sports. In some cases sponsorship of national teams by fast-food companies, as in the KFC sponsorship of the cricket, led children to incorrectly associate the state team with the same company. The good news is the results also show that positive messages could be promoted to children through sports sponsorship.

Pettigrew S, Rosenberg M, Ferguson R, Houghton S, Wood L. Game on: do children absorb sports sponsorship messages? Public Health Nutrition 2013; FirstView:1-8

Kids eat apples when encouraged by Elmo

Researchers have found that popular characters can increase children’s consumption of healthy foods. The study, conducted in New York school lunch rooms, offered over 200 children the usual choice of an apple or cookie, with or without an Elmo sticker. The number of children choosing an apple doubled when the apple had an Elmo sticker. The authors suggest using stickers on fruit and vegetables to increase their appeal to children, both in advertising and as a simple technique that parents can try at home.

Wansink, Just & Payne, 2012, Can Branding Improve School Lunches? Research Letter, Archives of Paediatric & Adolescent Medicine

Toys to promote healthy options?

Canadian researchers have found that children are three times more likely to choose a healthier version of a Happy Meal when only the healthy meal includes a toy. Toys were also found to have a greater effect on boys than girls. This evidence backs up the continued calls from parents and health groups to restrict the use of toys in food marketing to only healthy meals.

Hobin EP et al, The Happy meal Effect: The Impact of Toy premiums on Healthy Eating Among Children in Ontario, Canada. Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique.

Fast food logos light up kids brains

A small study of 10-14 year olds has shown that food company logos affect the parts of children’s brains that influence appetite and pleasure. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which measures blood flow to areas of the brain, the pleasure and appetite centres were shown to be activated when children viewed food company logos including familiar fast food and cereal logos. The same effect was not seen when non-food logos were viewed. As most of these logos represent unhealthy choices, this research is important in helping us understand the impact of brand marketing on children.

Bruce AS et al, Branding and a child's brain: an fMRI study of neural responses to logos.Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2012 Sep 20

Sell kids on catchy names for vegetables

Girl with carrots

Many parents talk about broccoli trees with their kids and a recent study looking into whether giving vegetables ‘cool’ names can increase their appeal shows they may be on the right track. The first part of the study found preschool children ate twice as much carrot when they were called ‘x-ray vision carrots’. In a second study, vegetable purchases at two schools were compared over two months. Both schools offered unnamed vegetables in the first month. In the second month, one school was able to double sales after introducing ‘x-ray vision carrots’, ‘power punch broccoli’ and ‘silly dilly green beans’. Sales dropped at the other school which continued to offer unnamed vegetables.

Wansink B, Payne CR Klinger MZ, Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools Prev Med. 2012 Oct;55(4):330-2