Changing ads on TV won’t tackle the obesity epidemic
Enforcing a blanket ban on advertising certain foods to children is not the answer to solving Australia’s obesity problem.
Activists and some politicians bleating for a ban on advertising high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) foods on all media before 9pm need to get real.
Arguing that television adverts for HFSS foods are almost totally responsible for making people overweight, especially children, is an extraordinary leap of logic.
Internationally, there’s no research demonstrating a definitive link between advertising and obesity, which has been confirmed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
So let’s use some common sense. The reason why the number of overweight people is increasing is we are eating more and exercising less.
Nowadays, children are spending more time indoors playing computer games, surfing the internet and blogging.
Parents ferry their children to and from school in the car rather than allowing them to walk.
Many schools don’t have regular sport and parents are too busy (or cash-strapped) to drive their children to weekend sporting events.
We are also spoilt for choice of foods available on supermarket shelves and the cost is much less as a percentage of weekly salaries than it was twenty years ago.
Banning adverts for HFSS foods will also mean that some healthy foods will be outlawed from the airwaves.
Imagine the “Nanny State” outrage if advertisements for foods like dried fruits, milk and cheese were banned. These foods could fall into HFSS categories BUT are very nutritious and important in a balanced daily diet.
In fact, all foods, eaten in moderation, can form part of a healthy diet.
When families watch television together, surely parents have a responsibility of ensuring that their kids understand the difference between core and occasional foods.
Advertising when children are watching television alone without supervision is a different matter.
During these programs, industry does have a responsibility to advertise healthy food and active lifestyles.
It has been good to see leading food manufacturers committing not to advertise to children under their Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative, unless they are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle consistent with scientific standards. Recently, Australia’s quick service food industry has announced a similar commitment.
I am sure these initiatives will be closely scrutinized and evaluated to assess their effectiveness.
Irrespective of the overzealous and misguided claims by activists, the pressure is now firmly back on Australia’s food industry to deliver responsible advertising to children.
There is no quick fix for the growing levels of obesity in this country – we will only reverse the trend with a comprehensive approach involving governments, business, the community and, dare I say it, individual responsibility for our personal health and that of our families.
Kate Carnell is Chief Executive of the Australian Food and Grocery Council
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