Introduction by Croakey: Calls for the banning of unhealthy food and drink advertising on NSW Government owned or controlled assets were among topics discussed at a recent pre-election debate hosted by the Public Health Association of Australia NSW Branch.
As highlighted below by Amelia Berner from OzHarvest and Clare Hughes from Cancer Council NSW, community support for restrictions on this form of advertising is high, and will have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of Australian children.
“Research shows children’s exposure to food marketing influences their food decisions, brand awareness, preferences, eating habits, weight and health outcomes. Restrictions on food marketing is one of the most cost-effective interventions for obesity prevention in children,” they write.
The pre-election debate featured NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard, Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park, NSW Greens Health and Wellbeing spokesperson Cate Faehrmann and Independent candidate for Lane Cove, Victoria Davidson. You can read a full wrap of the event here.
Amelia Berner and Clare Hughes write:
Leading health organisations and experts including the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) NSW and Cancer Council NSW are actively urging the next NSW Government to remove unhealthy food advertising from property owned by or contracted to, the NSW Government, in particular public transport.
A recent 2022 audit of Sydney buses found that more than four in five (83%) food advertisements were for unhealthy foods. In addition, an audit of 90 school bus routes to suburban Sydney primary and secondary schools found children travelling to school would be exposed to up to 2,800 unhealthy food advertisements a year.
New research released by Cancer Council NSW in 2022 revealed the majority of the community (70%) supports restrictions on unhealthy food advertising that targets children and 60 percent indicated support for restrictions on unhealthy food and drink advertising on government-owned property.
Influence of advertising on children
All children in NSW deserve the best chance to grow into healthy adults. However, food marketing influences children’s eating habits, with advertising of unhealthy foods reaching a significant number of young people each day.
Research shows children’s exposure to food marketing influences their food decisions, brand awareness, preferences, eating habits, weight and health outcomes. Restrictions on food marketing is one of the most cost-effective interventions for obesity prevention in children.
In NSW, nearly 60 percent of adults and 23 percent of children (aged 5-16 years) experience being overweight or obese, placing unsustainable pressures on tertiary healthcare systems and heightening the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
In 2021, the Australian Medical Association estimated that “if no action is taken to stem the obesity crisis, by 2025 taxpayers will have footed a further $29.5 billion for direct healthcare costs of obesity (over four years in 2024-25)”.
Lessons from others
Reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing is recommended by both the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organization as a cost-effective wide-reaching obesity prevention strategy.
The good news is London, Amsterdam, and the Australian Capital Territory have successfully implemented legislative bans on the advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages on publicly owned assets. Transport for London’s policy change is estimated to have significantly decreased the amount of high fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks purchased by households each week.
For many years the Our Kids Our Call campaign led by Cancer Council NSW has been calling on the NSW Government to remove unhealthy food marketing from places they control like buses, trains and train stations. NSW is not alone; Cancer Council Victoria Food Fight campaign and Cancer Council WA joint statement continues to gain strong community support.
These policy changes are likely to have the biggest impact on groups who experience economic and social challenges and government revenue from food advertising on publicly owned assets is not likely to be impacted.
Next NSW Government must act
The National Obesity Strategy 2022-32 and National Preventative Health Strategy 2021-2030 have common goals to halt the rise, and reverse the trend, in the prevalence of obesity by 2030. The two national strategies identify reducing exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing as important obesity prevention strategies.
Despite the National Obesity Strategy highlighting unhealthy food advertising on government owned and managed settings as one area for action, the latest iteration of the NSW Healthy Eating and Active Living strategy has removed previous actions to reduce children’s exposure to food marketing.
Removing unhealthy food advertising from government-controlled property would complement the existing work to limit unhealthy foods in government settings like schools and hospitals. The recent independent Food Policy Index scorecard for NSW identified removing unhealthy food marketing from state-controlled property as a top obesity prevention priority for the NSW Government.
With growing community concern about unhealthy food marketing, it’s time for the next NSW government to put the health of NSW children first and end unhealthy food marketing on government owned and managed property, starting with public transport.
• Support the Cancer Council NSW Here for Change campaign.
About the authors
Amelia Berner is OzHarvest’s Food Education and Sustainability Training (FEAST) National Program Manager, which combines nutrition, food waste and sustainability in a curriculum ready package for Australian primary schools. She is a committee member of the NSW branch of the Public Health Association of Australia and Accredited Nutritionist with the Nutrition Society of Australia. Amelia’s passion for nutrition and environmental education stems from a decade of experience as a Food Technology teacher and working as a practicing nutritionist.
Clare Hughes manages the Nutrition Unit at Cancer Council NSW, which aims to prevent lifestyle-related cancers by raising awareness of the impact nutrition, physical activity and alcohol use on cancer risk, providing practical information to help the NSW community reduce their cancer risk, as well as advocating for policies that promote healthier food, physical and alcohol environments to support cancer prevention. Clare also chairs Cancer Council’s national Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee.
More election news from Twitter
Read APA media release here.
Read Lung Foundation’s NSW Election Priorities here.
See previous articles in this ongoing Croakey series, #NSWVotesHealth2023.