Junk Food Injunction- Latest Edition

May 2017

Junk food marketing

In this edition we share the latest CCNSW research on the effectiveness of the voluntary self-regulatory initiatives for junk food marketing to children on TV. Unfortunately there has been no reduction in junk food advertisements reinforcing our views that self-regulation does not work. We take a look at what other countries are doing to fight for tougher regulations.

A recent paper from the US has demonstrated that using tactics from junk food marketing can persuade children to choose healthier options. We also look at more evidence of the influence of food ads on pre-school children and the difference in brain responses to food ads in children with higher genetic risk of obesity.

Finally we are excited to announce a new campaign that we will be launching mid-year to increase the awareness of the manipulative advertising tactics used by junk food companies to target children.

Enjoy reading,

Wendy and Korina


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Read past issues of Junk Food Injunction


Self-regulations ineffective in reducing junk food ads on TV

A new Cancer Council NSW study released in February found no reduction in unhealthy food and drink advertisements on television during children's peak viewing times, despite voluntary self-regulatory initiatives introduced by the food industry in 2009.

The study published in the Journal of Public Health found that children are being exposed to an average of three unhealthy food advertisements every hour that they watch TV during peak periods. This figure remains unchanged since Cancer Council NSW and University of Sydney conducted the same analysis in 2011.

44 per cent of food advertisements were for unhealthy foods, with 1 in 5 being for fast food. McDonald's dominated the fast food category accounting for 47% of fast food advertisements, followed by KFC (26%) and Hungry Jack's (16%). This is concerning as all three brands are signatories to the voluntary initiatives that aim to reduce junk food marketing to children in an effort to tackle childhood obesity.

This study provides further evidence that although there is a move to online advertising, TV is still a source of junk food advertising at times when children are watching TV.

Watson W, Lau V, Wellard L, Hughes C, Chapman K.  Advertising to children initiatives have not reduced unhealthy food advertising on Australian television. J Public Health 2017 1-6.

Overseas update

Tough new regulations are coming into effect in the UK on 1st July banning advertising of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) food and drink in children's (under 16's) media or where children are >25% of the audience. These rules have been extended from television to all non-broadcast media including print, cinema, online and social media, in response to the research showing that young people are now spending more time online than watching TV. However marketing techniques such as use of licensed characters and celebrities will now be able to be used to promote healthier options. Government-defined nutrient standards will classify what is a healthier option. To coincide with the new rules, the Children's Food Campaign is planning to launch an initiative similar to Junk Busters called 'Operation Eagle Eye'. The aim of Operation Eagle Eye is to closely monitor the ads and 'swoop down' and take action if rules have been breached.

Following on from the report 'Who's feeding the kids online?' released last year, Irish Heart has launched a new campaign 'Stop Targeting Kids' to call on the government to introduce stricter controls on advertising, in particularly online. They hope to gain a minimum of 30,000 community supporters to demonstrate to the government that the community support change.

Similar actions have been seen by Heart & Stroke Canada, releasing the report 'The kids are not alright' in February. This report outlines how junk food marketing is negatively affecting children and that advertising restrictions are urgently needed to protect children's health. To support the report's findings, Heart & Stroke Canada have joined with Childhood Obesity Foundation to create 'Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition' that parents can join and advocate for stronger restrictions on junk food marketing to kids.

Beating them at their own game

It is common knowledge that junk food marketing is successful and that Big Food spends an exorbitant amount on advertising strategies and campaigns, therefore should we be utilising their strategies to successfully promote healthier options? Two studies from the US have looked at whether the use of common junk food marketing tactics would also be effective at promoting healthier products. A Ohio State University study looked at whether daily exposure of branded vegetable characters on either a large banner on the salad bar and/or short TV segment featuring the vegetable characters delivering health messages would increase the selection of vegetables amongst primary-school aged children. They found a significant increase in vegetable uptake in students exposed to the banner (12.6% to 24.0%) and both the banner and TV segment (10.2% to 34.6%). Interestingly, more girls selected from the salad bar when banner or banner + TV segment were implemented whereas boys were only influenced by the banners alone.

Research at the University of Arizona set out to test whether including a toy with a lower calorie meal (smaller-sized) meal only would incentivise children to choose these meals compared to the regular-sized meal without the addition of the toy. The results indicated that children did choose the smaller-sized meals that offered the toy over the standard-sized meal that did not include a toy. These results were also seen with children who were overweight or obese.

Hanks AS, Just DR, Brumberg A. Marketing Vegetables in Elementary School Cafeterias to Increase Uptake. Pediatrics. 2016;138(2)

Reimann M, Lane K. Can a Toy Encourage Lower Calorie Meal Bundle Selection in Children? A Field Experiment on the Reinforcing Effects of Toys on Food Choice. PLoS ONE 2017;12(1):e0169638.

Is plain packaging for junk food a way forward?

Professor Wolfram Schultz, a neuroscientist from Cambridge University, has called for fatty and sugary foods to follow the footsteps of tobacco and be sold in plain packaging. The researcher recently won a share in the world's largest neuroscience prize for his work on reward neurons. Schultz' research over the past 30 years has found that junk food marketing can trigger brain signals which increase the risk to overeat and this risk is stronger for some obese people, therefore plain packaging would minimise signals from the reward neurons and ultimately help fight obesity.

Effect of unhealthy ads on pre-schoolers

Further evidence of the strong association between fast-food ads and consumption among children has been found in the pre-school age group. The Dartmouth group in the US researched the effects of exposure to fast-food ads on pre-schoolers intake and found that after adjusting for demographics, socio-economic status, parental fast-food consumption and other screen time that moderate to high exposure to junk food ads significantly increased the likelihood of consuming junk food in the past week.

Another study released by the same group found that high-sugar breakfast cereals ads targeted at children does influence consumption in the pre-schooler age group.

Dalton MA, Longacre MR, Drake KM, Cleveland LP, Harris JL, Hendricks K, Titus LJ.  Child-targeted fast-food television advertising exposure is linked with fast-food intake among pre-school children.  Public Health Nutr. 2017;Apr 18:1-9.

Longacre MR, Drake KM, Titus LJ, Harris JL, Cleveland LP, Langeloh G, Dalton MA.  Child-targeted TV advertising and preschoolers’ consumption of high-sugar breakfast cereals.  Appetite.  2017;108:295-302.

Brain response to food advertisements

Research conducted by Rapuano and colleagues examined whether there were any differences in brain response to food ads between children who had the obesity gene compared to those without. Children aged nine to 12 year watched TV which included both fast-food and non-food ads in an MRI scanner. Results showed that region of the brain that is associated with reward craving was physically larger and had greater activity during the fast-food ads in children who were genetically at risk of obesity. This could explain why some children are more likely to overeat leading to obesity therefore strengthen the case for stronger restrictions on junk food advertising.

Rapuano KM, Zieselman AL, Kelley WM, Sargent JD, Heatherton TF, Gilbert-Diamond D. Genetic risk for obesity predicts nucleus accumbens responsivity to real-world food cues. PNAS. 2017;114:160-165.

A landmark policy study and the launch of our new junk food marketing campaign

A study conducted by Deakin University involving more than 100 nutrition and policy experts was released in February outlining policies to tackle obesity and create healthier food environments in Australia. One of the priority areas for action was stronger regulations to reduce exposure of children to marketing of unhealthy food. This report adds to the evidence that the government cannot keep on ignoring, which brings us to our new campaign currently in development. The aim of the campaign is to build awareness among parents about the negative effects of junk food marketing and how the current regulations are failing to protect our children. The main objective is to build a base of community supporters and put junk food marketing on the radar for NSW as an issue that requires the attention of the government. We are planning to launch mid-year so stay tuned for more info soon!