Self-regulation of unhealthy food marketing to children is a failure, so where to now? (#187)
The rationale for regulating the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children is clear and compelling. This includes: evidence on the influence and impact; protecting the rights of the child from commercial exploitation; the ethical responsibilities of society; action under the precautionary principle; the need for interventions by range of actors; and clear market failure requiring government intervention.
The Federal Government has given the responsibility for reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to the advertising and processed food industries. Self-regulatory codes of practice drawn up by food manufacturers and fast food restaurants are limited in scope and application, ill-defined and with many loopholes. There is no independent monitoring and there are regular breaches with no meaningful sanctions. Research has found that these initiatives have had no measurable impact on the amount or exposure of children to this marketing. The federal and/or state governments should now consider what action can be taken to reduce children’s exposure to this marketing.
Changes are required to adequately protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food. These include the tightening of the definition of marketing 'directed to children', applying controls to programs most popular with children; extending restrictions to children's sport sponsorship; including social media and the internet; ensuring adequate protection of children's privacy and using a single system to define unhealthy food using the FSANZ nutrient profiling criteria.
Allowing self-regulation to continue is a sign that commercial interests are being put before children’s health. Meaningful action to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy foods remains a key policy plank to address childhood obesity and this will not be achieved without government leadership.