‘We need to act’: Junk food advertising bill tabled

Jolyon Attwooll

19/06/2023 4:20:01 PM

Proposed new laws would stop unhealthy food from being advertised from 6.00 am – 9.30 pm to help protect children.

Fast food restaurant
A number of countries have introduced legislation to limit junk food advertising.

Legislation that would dramatically curb the reach of junk food advertising to children was put before Parliament this week.
If passed, a private member’s bill tabled to the House of Representatives aims would stop junk food advertising from being broadcast from 6 am – 9.30 pm, as well as ban the marketing of junk food altogether on social media.
The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill – formally known as the Broadcasting Services Amendment Bill – was introduced by former GP Dr Sophie Scamps, the current independent member for Mackellar in NSW, on Monday morning.
In a speech to introduce the Bill, Dr Scamps said that that two-thirds of the adult population and a quarter of children are above the healthy weight range.
She also told Parliament that children see ‘at least’ 15 daily ads for unhealthy food.
‘With Australians being bombarded with unhealthy food ads all day, every day, is it any wonder we are facing an epidemic of obesity in this country?’ Dr Scamps said.
‘This Parliament needs to step up to support parents to help their children live healthy, productive lives.
‘It is time Australia joins the 40 other countries that have already introduced regulations to protect their children from harmful food advertising.’
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), obesity is one of the leading causes of chronic disease in this country, including for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
It is also linked to several cancers, as well as depression and dementia. The AIHW estimates that overweight including obesity contributed to approximately 16,400 deaths in 2018 – around 10% of the total for that year.
Under the terms of the Bill, the definition of unhealthy food and drink would be taken from a guide endorsed by the COAG Health Council in 2018.
The categories ‘not recommended for promotion’ include many of the meals and drinks served by fast food restaurants.
‘This bill is not about telling people what they can and cannot buy and eat,’ Dr Scamps said. ‘It’s about creating environments that support our kids’ health as they live, play and learn.’
Dr Terri-Lynne South, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Obesity Management, said she supports the Bill.
‘I think there are significant positives for children, not just in regard to obesity, but also other health conditions that are associated with sugar sweetened beverages,’ she told newsGP.
‘We’re starting to get a groundswell with the evidence showing why obesity is such an increasingly important health condition.
‘Particularly in our younger population, we definitely need to be focusing not just on management, but also prevention in overweight and obesity and prevention in that actually getting worse as people age.’
Successful private members’ bills are ‘extremely rare’, according to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
It reports that since November 1998, there have been 14 successful private members’ bills, with none of the 165 introduced during the last term of the Coalition Government going through.
However, with a significantly larger crossbench in the lower house, it is an open question whether such bills stand more chance of passing under the current Government.
Private members’ bills have also historically been used to raise awareness for issues and used as a way of spurring governments to legislate on their own terms.
The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill has gained widespread endorsement from high-profile organisations.
It was also seconded by the Member for Kooyong, former paediatric neurologist Dr Monique Ryan, who spoke in support on Monday.
‘Most children aged less than six can’t distinguish between programming and advertising,’ Dr Ryan told Parliament.
‘Children aged less than eight don’t understand the persuasive agenda of marketing. Advertising directed at children this young is by its very nature exploitative.
‘Marketing of food to children on the internet is even more complex since the boundaries between content and advertising are often even less clear than on television.
‘We’re not allowed tobacco advertising, and we won’t allow vaping to be advertised on our TVs or radios or online, but we are letting junk food harm our kids just as much as nicotine does.’
Dr South believes stronger legislation needs to be part of a wider approach to tackle the issue.
‘We need to act,’ she said. ‘And I think that it’s going to take action at multiple levels in our society, at the government and policy level, as well as at the community level [and] individual level as well.
‘It needs to be a multipronged coordinated approach; we need to help people living at risk of obesity or with obesity in multiple ways.’
Research carried out by the Australia Institute in 2022 suggested that the majority of Australians  (66%) would support legislation banning junk food advertising in children’s viewing hours, while 89% of respondents to a recent newsGP poll were in favour of restrictions on ‘harmful marketing’.
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Dr Philip Ian Dawson   20/06/2023 9:24:01 AM

banning these advertisements may not work, the companies will find a way around it, including the notorious use of advertorials, and product placement in movies, and the use of their own people to spruik it on social media. They have lots of options. What about the government spend some money to advertise healthy eating, and if necessary pass a law to prvent companies and individuals moutning court cases to ban governemnt advertising ( as has happened when this has been tire din the past)?

Dr Peter James Strickland   20/06/2023 11:43:44 AM

This is the sort of thing that the RACGP should NOT get involved here at all. It is important that there is not this advertising ban in any democracy. Obesity is NOT caused by so-called junk food, but rather lack of exercise in children. A visit to any KFC, McDonald's etc shows how popular these foods are with everyone, and it is not our right to recommend a ceasing of these foods to be eaten by children or adults. Our profession should be advising children and parents about the AMOUNT of high-fat, high salt etc foods consumed, and not banning them ---it simply does not work with the public, and makes us all "woke" along with ignorance seen in such people as Monique Ryan in these political matters. The secret to obesity is a massive increase in exercise -- my grandfather worked hard, and ate toast with salt & dripping for breakfast --and he was slim and fit from his work and activities! Advise, but don't legislate!