A clamp-down on unhealthy food marketing is needed to tackle childhood obesity, say researchers at the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health.
In an article published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, Dr Stefanie Vandevijvere and Professor Boyd Swinburn argue New Zealand needs to get serious about protecting children against sophisticated marketing for unhealthy foods.
The article reports previous studies in New Zealand have found food marketing targeted at children through television, the internet, magazines, sports, in and around schools, and on food packaging is predominantly for food products high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.
Dr Vandevijvere said the marketing of food products to children is powerful, pervasive and predatory. “This marketing influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption. And because brands are engaging with children across a range of integrated marketing it’s pervasive,” Dr Vandevijvere said.
Consumer NZ isn’t surprised by these findings. When we last looked at the marketing of food to children in 2013 we found some tricks of the trade included using licensed characters, free gifts and collectibles, and movie tie-ins.
In New Zealand, marketing is mainly self-regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority. But there’s international support for regulation. In 2010, the World Health Organization published recommendations on marketing food and non-alcoholic beverages to children. New Zealand public health experts and medical communities also want restrictions.
Despite this, action to reduce unhealthy food marketing to children here is almost non-existent. A study published by the University of Otago in 2012 concluded that New Zealand’s current system fails to adequately protect children’s right to health.
Internationally, controls on food marketing to children range from statutory regulations to voluntary self-regulatory initiatives led by industry. Quebec has the strongest restrictions on advertising: it bans all forms of marketing (not just food) to children under 13. The UK has statutory regulations and in Australia there’s a mixture of government regulation and voluntary self-regulation.
There’s evidence unhealthy food marketing influences children’s eating habits and this is happening when food preferences are being formed. Food marketing is also considered a significant contributor to childhood obesity, an increasing problem in New Zealand.