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Tony Abbott wrong on obesity?

Over at Crikey, Kaye Mehta, Chairperson of advocacy group the Coalition on Food Advertising to Children argues that Tony Abbott is is wrong when he explains why his government won’t ban junk food advertising directed at children.

‘Television programs are saturated with advertisements for junk food, yet research by Chapman and colleagues, released in July 2006, found that junk food advertising still accounts for 80% of all food advertisements. …Young children are a vulnerable audience because of their inexperience and innocence. They believe what they’re told and they are attracted by the competitions, giveaways and other sophisticated advertising techniques used to ‘rope them in’.

….the number of recent surveys done by Australian Consumer’s Association, Department of Health SA, and others, parents are very clearly saying that junk food advertisements are undermining their role in guiding children to make healthy food choices. They don’t want to abdicate their responsibility, as Mr Abbott would want to imply, they are simply asking the government to help them in their important role to combat childhood obesity.

Stopping the crises of childhood overweight and obesity, which now stands at about 30% of Australian children, needs strategies to focus on removing barriers to healthy food choices and physical activity, and introducing measures to encourage healthy choices.

As for proof that a ban on junk food advertising will of itself reduce childhood obesity, Tony Abbott should know this is not possible. Many factors contribute simultaneously to childhood obesity and indeed many of these occur in a child’s environment; it will be impossible to isolate the effects of television advertising over and above other factors’.

However Mehta cites evidence by Lobstein to show that in countries where TV advertising is more tightly restricted, such as in Sweden and Asian countries, childhood obesity is lower than it is in Australia. The argument that it is parents not children who make purchasing decisions is sound one the ‘nag factor’ as a driver of food choices is influential. Finding things that kids will eat when you are moving around is a non-trivial task and if kids have a mindset to eat junk food that can be difficult to shake.

5 comments to Tony Abbott wrong on obesity?

  • conrad

    The obvious argument against using the Lobstein data is that adults are also fatter in the countries where the children are fatter, and I presume that most adults are not watching a great amount of children’s TV.

    It therefore isn’t clear to what extent the junk food ads are causative in children being overweight. This is made worse since even in those countries that have banned junk-food ads, the adults still would have been exposed to them, yet the differences are still there.

  • Sam Ward

    “However Mehta cites evidence by Lobstein to show that in countries where TV advertising is more tightly restricted, such as in Sweden and Asian countries, childhood obesity is lower than it is in Australia.”

    This is the dumbest reasoning I have ever heard.

    Maybe the fact that countries like Sweden and particularly Asian countries have entirely different diets to Australia?

    They really are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

    Last time I looked, kids don’t do their own food shopping. When I was a kid if I wanted Coco Pops for breakfast I was told “tough shit, you’re getting Cornflakes”. Since I didn’t have my own income source I ate what I was given.

    The only people to blame for childhood obesity are parents. End of story.

  • hc

    Most studies of marketing (whether positive or negative) show very mixed results. I think the evidence is intrinsically hard to assess.

    I assume bans on marketing effort would have effects (the marketing itself presumably has positive effects otherwise vendors wouldn’t do it) but effects that are difficult to measure and isolate.

  • Anonymous

    In the U.K. bans have been put on junk food advertising however it is not a complete ban. On some programmes a ban has been introduced but on others there is no ban. How this will work I am unsure but hopefully it will make a difference.

    Michael Adams
    http://childhood–obesity.blogspot.com

  • Iron-Man

    Just about every TV program is full of food advertising. It is hard to avoid. I try not to watch TV because I know I will see dozens of ads for steaming hot and juicy cheese-burgers and similar foods that are unhealthy. Cartoons are full of ads for cereals and fruit roll-ups (these are all sugar and very little fruits).