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Children fed too many junk food ads on TV

The food industry is failing to self-regulate junk food ads marketed at children, according to a new report.

New analysis conducted by Cancer Council NSW and the University of Sydney shows children are still being exposed to too many unhealthy food ads while they watch TV.

There’s been no reduction in junk food advertising on TV during children’s peak viewing times since 2011, says the Cancer Council NSW’s nutrition programs manager Wendy Watson

The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, found, on average, kids view three unhealthy food ads every hour they watch TV during 6-9am and 4-9pm on weekdays and 6am to noon and 4-9pm on weekends.

Researchers analysed advertisements broadcast during these peak children’s viewing times on the 3 major free-to-air commercial television channels in Sydney, over a 4-day period in 2015.

Nearly half – 44 per cent – of food advertisements were for unhealthy foods.

One in five were fast food ads, while chocolate and confectionary and sugary drinks were the other frequently advertised foods.

“These are low nutrient, high fat, high sugar foods,” says Watson.

In response to rising childhood obesity rates, the food industry brought in self-regulatory initiatives in 2009 where they said they wouldn’t advertise unhealthy foods to children. But they aren’t working because they are filled with loopholes, chides Watson.

The issue is that children are often watching TV shows in the evenings that aren’t defined as kids programs, like reality programs and sports.

“The percentage of children in the audience might be small but these are the top rating shows, so they have a huge audience and a huge children’s audience as well,” laments Watson. “That’s the loophole that is being exploited and that we are trying to highlight.”

The industry rejects the research.

“This report measures all food advertising, which is almost entirely directed at adults, not at children,” a spokesperson for doughnuts and hamburgers said. “The codes deliberately target programs when children are likely to be viewing TV on their own, without parental supervision, which is the rationale for removing promotion of non-core foods during these programs.”

Cancer Council NSW is now calling on government to step in to enforce tight regulation to ensure the future health of young Australians.

Once children are obese it’s most likely they will be overweight or obese adults putting them at greater risk of the 11 cancers linked to obesity, prognosticates Watson.

“Junk food marketers are influencing what children eat and they are more likely to put on weight then,” she preaches. “Controlling the unhealthy food marketing to children has been shown to be quite effective in influencing the diet.”

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