Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

June 2015

Message from the Editors

Wong Mei Teng photoCancer Council has recently released results of a comprehensive study of Australian secondary school students that gives insights into their body weight, dietary and physical activity behaviours. We look at the findings on junk food consumption and the influence of marketing.

Sponsorship of Australian sport has been identified in a recent study as an area that avoids regulation even though it promotes unhealthy eating habits. We also look at a couple of studies showing the effect on younger children of brand placement in TV shows and premiums in ads for children's meals.

image credit: Wong Mei Teng

To be added to the distribution list for Junk Food Injunction please contact:

Cancer Council NSW
Ph: (02) 9334 1467

Read past issues of Junk Food Injunction


Junk food marketing more influential on teenage boys

Australian teenage boys eat fast food and salty snacks and drink sugary drinks more frequently than teenage girls. The National Secondary Students' Diet and Activity Survey released by Cancer Council Australia and the National Heart Foundation of Australia shows that teenage boys were more likely to be regular consumers of fast food (46% compared with 34%) and sugary drinks (28% compared with 14%) than girls.

Overall, boys were more likely than girls to have been influenced by junk food marketing. In the month before the study just over half of boys (53%) and girls (51%) had tried a new food or drink product they had seen advertised and 40% of boys and 30% of girls had chosen a fast food outlet because it had a special offer or giveaway with the meal, while 42% of boys and 39% of girls said they had bought an extra food or drink product on display at the supermarket checkout.

The survey in 2012-13 looked at a nationally representative sample of 8,888 secondary school students in years 8 to 11, from 196 schools. Overall, 72% of all students were classified as a healthy weight, and although there were differences in age groups 25% of boys compared to 20% girls were either overweight or obese.

Kathy Chapman, Chair of the Cancer Council Australia Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee expressed concern that the current gender health disparity could continue into the future, unless our next generation of men change their eating habits now. She said "fast food companies invest tens of millions of dollars in advertising during programs watched by teenagers because mass-media advertising works. There is an urgent need for measures to protect teenage boys, and children more broadly, from the barrage of increasingly sophisticated junk food marketing undermining their longer-term health".

A study from the US has shown teenagers who watch a lot of TV are more likely to have positive perceptions of the consequences of eating fast food every day and less understanding of the health risks of eating fast food. The images of fast food on TV may be particularly influential for heavy TV viewers who had little direct experience with fast food. They were even less likely to understand the possible health risks associated with eating fast food.

The authors warn this is worrying given the positive images related to fast food on television and known links between perceived risks and teenagers' behaviours. Such biased perceptions of the health risks of eating fast food may result in increased fast food consumption, indirectly contributing to rising obesity rates.

Food ads could also hamper weight loss. When 12-15 year olds were shown ads within a TV show, overweight teens were more affected by the food ads than those of healthy body weight. MRI scans showed brain regions that control pleasure, taste and the mouth were more active in the overweight teens.

Morley B, Scully M, Niven P, Wakefield M.(2014). National Secondary Students' Diet and Activity Survey, 2012-13: Main report. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria.

Russell CA, Buhrau D. The role of television viewing and direct experience in predicting adolescents' beliefs about the health risks of fast-food consumption. Appetite 2015; In Press

Rapuano KM, Huckins JF, Sargent JD, Heatherton TF, Kelley WM. Individual Differences in Reward and Somatosensory-Motor Brain Regions Correlate with Adiposity in Adolescents. Cerebral Cortex 2015 May 20

Unhealthy sponsorship in Australian sport

Many national and state sporting organisations in Australia are sponsored by junk food, alcohol or gambling companies. A survey of 53 different sports found 39 had at least one unhealthy sponsor. Cricket had the highest number of unhealthy sponsors (27%). Coca Cola was the most common sponsor from food and beverage companies, sponsoring 14 different sports and identified on 34 different sporting organisation's websites. Schweppes sponsorship was found in nine sports and 14 websites and McDonald's sponsorship in eight different sports and nine different websites. The authors express concern that associating junk food with sports normalises unhealthy products and undermines the health benefits of sport. They call for regulatory guidelines for unhealthy promotions such as sports sponsorship.

Macniven R, Kelly B, King L. Unhealthy product sponsorship of Australian national and state sports organisations. Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2015; 26(1):52-6

No change in nutritional composition of foods advertised in the US

An independent study comparing the advertising content of children's programs in the US before and after self-regulation found there was no significant improvement in the overall nutritional quality of foods marketed to children since the introduction of self-regulation. It found that 80% of foods advertised on TV in 2013 were for products of poor nutritional quality. The authors believe that is due to the weak nutritional standards defining healthy foods within the self-regulation and the proportion of food marketers that do not participate in self-regulation.

The poor nutritional quality of ads in children's programs in the US was profiled in another study that found most ads exceeded guidelines proposed by a coalition of federal authorities in the US. Only 60% ads met guidelines for sodium and saturated fat and only 20% complied with added sugar guidelines.

Kunkel DL, Castonguay JS, Filer CR. Evaluating Industry Self-Regulation of Food Marketing to Children. American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Hingle MD, Castonguay JS, Ambuel DA, Smith RM, Kunkel D. Alignment of Children's Food Advertising With Proposed Federal Guidelines. American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Brand placement influences children's food preferences

Product placement increases top of mind recall of a brand and this effect is increased when advertising is used together with product placement. Researchers in Chile investigated nine, 12 and 15 year old children's brand recall and attitude to a promoted brand by showing them different versions of an edited film. The different versions included no food brand placement or advertising, McDonald's brand placement within the film, and both McDonald's brand placement and an advertisement. Children were more likely to say they intended to eat fast food and selected McDonalds as the food they would like to eat when there was product placement in the film and this intention increased when placement was combined with ads. This effect was greater with nine year olds. These findings are important because children are not exposed to single instances of advertising but they are bombarded by products and brands during the whole day though a range of media.

Uribe R, Fuentes-Garcia A. The effects of TV unhealthy food brand placement on children. Its separate and joint effect with advertising. Appetite 2015; In Press

Fast food toys more memorable than the food

Young children are more likely to recall a premium or tie-in such as a toy connected to a movie than the food mentioned in a fast food ad. Even though all ads for children's meals in a recent study showed a healthy choice the children rarely mentioned the healthy choices when they recalled the ad.

Researchers in the US showed 3-7 year olds TV ads for children's meals and adult's meals from either McDonald's or Burger King and then asked them "what was the story about?". Children were able to recall food after being shown the adult ads where food is the primary focus but did not recall the food in the children's ad. Even though the premium is supposed to be secondary to the food, the children recalled the premium rather than the food. In Australia, toys are sold with all meals, not just the 'healthy' children's meal. We have called on McDonald's to stop selling toys with kid's meals and this study reinforces the fact that ending an ad with a screen shot of the 'healthy' choice is not salient with young children.

Bernhardt AM, Wilking C, Gilbert-Diamond D, Emond JA, Sargent JD. Children's Recall of Fast Food Television Advertising- Testing the Adequacy of Food Marketing Regulation. PLoS ONE 2015 Mar 4; 10(3):e0119300