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Ads for junk food – our kids are soaking in them

Press Release
14 July 2005

Ads for junk food – our kids are soaking in them

Seventy percent of the outdoor advertising for food displayed on billboards, signs of shops, bus shelters and the like within a kilometre of secondary schools portrayed “unhealthy food” according to a study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

The study was undertaken by medical student Anthony Maher and public health researchers at Wellington School of Medicine, and is the first of its kind to measure just how much advertising is in school neighbourhoods. It found an alarming number of advertisements for high-sugar, high-fat, high energy foods and alcohol. More than 60 percent of all ads close to the schools were for food, and of those 70 percent were for foods not recommended in the Ministry of Health’s “Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Adolescents”.

The Obesity Action Coalition is concerned that saturation advertising for high-sugar, high-fat foods encourages poor food choices especially among children and adolescents.

“Children and adolescents are constantly bombarded with advertising for high-sugar, high-fat foods” says Celia Murphy, Executive Director of the Obesity Action Coalition. “They are exposed to them on TV, radio, at the movies, in print media, on the internet, via cell phone texts, at their sport venues, even at school – everywhere. Just getting to and from school each day is an ad-assault course according to this study. There is good evidence that advertising influences children’s food choices. The number and persuasiveness of the ads is so hard for parents to counter. All this promotion of unhealthy food makes it so much harder for parents to make healthy choices for their kids.” says Celia Murphy of the Obesity Action Coalition.

“Teenagers have their own money and make their own decisions about how they spend it and what they eat. Inevitably the constant exposure to ads for soft drinks, confectionary, ice creams, snacks, alcohol and pies etc means that Mum’s best advice to buy healthy food gets overwhelmed by all the ads.”

“The ubiquitous nature of the ads, and ready availability of unhealthy food, makes kids think it is completely normal to eat these foods everyday. Even the most physically active people can’t afford to eat food high in fat and sugar on a daily basis.” says Ms Murphy

The Obesity Action Coalition recommends the Government consider regulations to restrict the advertising of high-sugar, high-fat foods.

In the USA the advertising of tobacco is banned around schools. Ms Murphy suggests this could be a model for unhealthy food advertising around schools.

“Less advertising of unhealthy foods would be an enormous help to parents and industry can’t be trusted to reduce advertising of these foods of its own accord. Perhaps an alternative could be to adopt the “polluter pays” policy recommended by the British Alcohol Addiction and Research Council” says Ms Murphy. “For every ad for an unhealthy food the advertiser has to pay for a public health message ad of equivalent value. It is not ideal as it would leave all the junk food ads still out there but it might add some balance to the messages our kids are getting about food.”


ENDS


The Obesity Action Coalition represents more than 70 organisations focused on health, nutrition and physical activity as well as Maori and Pacific health groups all interested in addressing the growing problem of obesity and its related health issues.

Its role is to advocate for a wide range of initiatives including government policy, regulations and legislation that will positively influence obesity rates.

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