1. Has this approach been taken anywhere else? Did it work?
Examples of mandatory restrictions on marketing to kids are rare-- thanks in part to strong resistance to these measures by the food industry (1)-- with the vast majority of countries adopting only self-regulatory approaches (2). The UK was the first jurisdiction to adopt regulatory restrictions of unhealthy food marketing to kids. While these restrictions seemed promising (3), later reviews suggest that unhealthy food marketing exposure may have actually increased (4) as food marketers potentially found loopholes to the restrictions or alternative methods of advertising foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
This doesn’t mean that mandatory regulations will fail to reduce the amount of unhealthy food advertising that our kids see. We want a regulation that will work, not regulation for the sake of regulation. This means that any action needs to realise the pervasiveness of marketing and respond with an equally comprehensive strategy.
We have over time developed good enforceable restrictions on the sale of alcohol and tobacco and expect that we can have similar success with marketing aimed at kids.
There is "strong agreement of experts within the public health and medical communities in New Zealand about the restriction of unhealthy food marketing as one of the top priorities to tackle childhood obesity” (5).
2. Don't we already have voluntary restrictions? Are they working?
Current ‘self-regulation’ is woefully inadequate on many counts. Don’t expect the fox to be an effective guard of the hen house.
Excerpt from NZMA Briefing: “The NZMA contends that the existing system of voluntary self-regulation in New Zealand is not adequately protecting children’s rights to health. A major limitation is that restrictions around the timing of advertising do not apply during children’s peak viewing times in the evenings. Furthermore, the system is reactive, not proactive, and relies on complaints being made before advertisements are scrutinised. Parents are often not even aware the ASA codes exist, let alone know how to make a complaint. Importantly, there are currently no regulations relating to on-packaging marketing to children which often feature games, puzzles, website links, promotional characters, gifts and collectibles.”
NZMA Policy Briefing: Tackling Obesity (Page 17)
3. Why not campaign for a sugar tax or to get GST taken off healthy foods?
Obviously there are multiple strategies that are needed to reduce childhood obesity but placing limits on marketing happens to be one of the most cost-effective interventions to achieve this. This is why we are focusing on this as a first step rather than a sugar tax – which is what public health experts say would be the next step after addressing the marketing issue.
This approach was reinforced by our membership survey - those who responded wanted us to prioritise restrictions on marketing to children in our campaign.
NZMA Policy Briefing: Tackling Obesity (Page 3)
4. Why not focus on better education of kids and parents to help them make healthy choices?
Parents have the most important role in ensuring their children have a healthy diet, but having powerful corporations spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year targeting children using exploitative marketing techniques, seriously undermines parents and makes their jobs much harder. By placing restrictions on marketing of junk food to kids, we are supporting the efforts of parents to encourage healthy eating habits in their children.
Excerpt from University of Otago Public Health Expert blog - “Education is certainly a necessary part of any comprehensive programme to improve diet and reduce obesity, but is far from sufficient on its own. Education alone only has very small effects on individual behaviour (ACE-Prevention Australia (1), and the NZ SHOP study (2)). Additional interventions are needed to create healthy food environments and to support individuals to make healthier choices. There are strong biological drivers to consume foods high in fat and sugar that made sense when humans commonly faced hunger in our evolutionary past – but now we need to consciously design a food environment that promotes healthier choices in a world of abundant and relatively cheap food.”
- Assessing cost-effectiveness in prevention (ACE-Prevention): Final report
- Effects of price discounts and tailored nutrition education on supermarket purchases: a randomized controlled trial (Pg736-747)
5. Why not campaign to get junk food out of schools?
Getting junk food out of schools is an important step towards achieving good health outcomes for our kids. When we surveyed ActionStation members, this was one of the options we included for what we would campaign on. It was a popular option and one which we may well continue on to campaign on in the future. However we needed to choose one option as a first step and placing limits on marketing junk food to children got the most support from ActionStation members as that first step.
6. Why not campaign for a complete ban on marketing junk food to children?
Experience tells us that a proposal like this would be rejected outright as “hysterical” and “over the top”, so we are choosing a more moderate stance as a foothold on the issue. But we won’t stop there. We will continue to add pressure as more and more evidence mounts.
7. Has it been proved that marketing causes health problems?
There is strong evidence that marketing significantly influences children’s food preferences, requests, and consumption . If marketing did not work to increase consumption why would companies continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on targeting children each year. Marketing works.
“Systematic reviews of the evidence on the nature, extent and effects of food marketing to children. A retrospective summary”(Page 213)
8. There are many causes of diabetes and dental decay - why single out one issue and put all the blame on that?
Multiple strategies will be needed to reduce childhood diabetes and dental decay. Restricting marketing happens to be one of the most cost-effective interventions to achieve this. There is no justification whatsoever for exempting restrictions on marketing from the mix of strategies needed.
If you do not feel as though your questions have been answered, please feel free to contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org