Reform to existing child-directed television advertising regulations in Australia is strongly advocated for by health organisations both nationally and globally. This is because rates of childhood obesity have reached concerning levels and unhealthy food and beverage television advertising contributes to the declining food environment children are exposed to.
The purpose of this document is to examine the existing co-regulatory system in Australia and evaluate it through current research from scholars and health organisations. The implications of the research suggest regulatory reform is necessary to reduce the exposure of children to unhealthy food and beverage advertising that shapes food preferences. Regulatory best practice in this area in the United Kingdom, United States of America and France provided practical examples of different regulator measures. They also highlighted the complexity of effectively addressing the issue.
The document produced the following considerations for policy and programs based on the research:
Children’s Television Standard’s 2009 regulations should be extended to ban unhealthy food and beverage advertising during peak viewing hours of children.
Breaches of regulations require mandatory sanctions and penalties to ensure compliance with government regulations.
Regular monitoring and evaluation of regulatory reforms is essential to ensure they are meeting intended objectives.
Reform to existing child-directed television advertising regulations in Australia is strongly advocated for by health organisations both nationally and globally. This is because rates of childhood obesity have reached concerning levels and unhealthy food and beverage television advertising contributes to the declining food environment children are exposed to. This document addresses the issue of childhood obesity and the impact television advertising directed at children has on this issue. It examines the existing regulatory framework that enables current levels of industry advertisement. It then discusses the research and its implications with regards to television food advertising directed at children including policy recommendations to improve existing regulations. The document then examines what other countries are doing with regards to this issue and the implications of their regulatory policy initiatives. Finally, the document concludes with three recommendations to enhance advertising regulations in Australia to improve child exposure to unhealthy food and beverage television advertising.
Why is this issue important?
Childhood obesity is an issue of growing significance in Australia with one quarter of all Australian children classified as overweight or obese. As adult obesity is becoming one of the main causes of preventable death in Australia, prevention of obesity in childhood has been highlighted as an area of priority by the Productivity Commission . Other health organisations and peak bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO), Obesity Policy Coalition, Nutrition Australia and the Australian Medical Association support these conclusions and provide recommendations for government consideration. Childhood obesity has many associated non-communicable health issues including type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, increased risk of adult obesity, asthma, sleep apnoea, and mental health conditions . Current policy interventions are yet to be successful in preventing childhood obesity and review and reform of these strategies is essential to ensure improvement in this area. Regulations that currently control television advertising of food products to children are an area that requires reform.
Advertising of food products to children influences their consumption preferences. Industry advertising of unhealthy food products that are classified as ‘energy-dense/nutrient-poor’ (EDNP) are in conflict with government health objectives to prevent obesity. Industry has a far greater fiscal capacity to promote their goods to consumers on television with greater regularity than government health promotion campaign advertisements . As such, the industry promotion of goods undermines the Government’s attempts to sway consumers away from unhealthy food choices . Consequently, current advertising regulations are inadequate in promoting Government health objectives in the area of childhood obesity prevention.
The following section examines the co-regulatory television advertising framework that exists in Australia including: government regulations, and industry self-regulations.
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