Introduction by Croakey: Health leaders are calling for urgent government action on junk food marketing ahead of a round table discussion held by Federal Member for MacKellar Dr Sophie Scamps this week.
According to a new report from the Cancer Council WA, “Junk food in sport: it’s just not cricket”, stronger advertising regulations are required to protect children from the harms of junk food marketing, particularly in relation to sports sponsorship and advertising.
Below, Ainslie Sartori, Jawaahir Alim and Emma Groves from the Cancer Council WA discuss key findings from the report, highlighting the prolific nature of junk food advertising in sport and community concern about the impact this has on attempts to model healthy eating behaviour.
The “insidious strategy [of junk food companies] aligning with Australian sport creates an uneven playing field, especially when it comes to children and our attempts to help them to eat well,” Sartori, Alim and Groves write.
Ainslie Sartori, Jawaahir Alim and Emma Groves write:
As cricket fans watched the highly anticipated 2022-23 Big Bash League (BBL) cricket final between the Perth Scorchers and Brisbane Heat on the weekend they were likely exposed to alarming amounts of KFC-branded advertising, if the 2021-22 BBL final is anything to go by.
Cancer Council WA has just released a new report, “Junk Food in Sport: it’s just not cricket”, highlighting the amount of KFC branding families were exposed to watching last year’s KFC BBL final, together with findings from their community survey “Junk Food in Sport: tell us what you think”.
Junk food and sports sponsorship
The exposure to junk food advertising highlighted in the report is a concern, as poor diets and living with overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for many serious health issues, including several types of cancers, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes; all of which are among the leading causes of disease in Australia.
Sponsoring of community events and sport, from junior clubs (which are often cash strapped) to professional leagues, is a strategy used by junk food companies to promote their brand, particularly to children.
By giving away rewards at sport or community workshops for a free meal full of fat, added salt and sugar, or providing money to junior clubs in exchange for their brand’s logo on children’s uniforms and equipment, sponsors are building early brand awareness and loyalty in children.
Cancer Council WA has previously called out the unhealthy relationship between sport and junk food companies at a local level, particularly in the school setting.
This insidious strategy of aligning with Australian sport creates an uneven playing field, especially when it comes to children and our attempts to help them to eat well.
Children are impressionable, look up to sports stars, do not yet have the capacity to distinguish advertising from programming, and are developing habits they will likely carry into adulthood.
Research has shown that children aged between 9 and 13 years consume 39 percent of their total energy intake from junk foods, and children aged 14-18 years consume 41 percent of their total energy intake from junk foods.
In Western Australia alone, overweight and obesity is expected to cost the health system $610.1 million by 2026 – an increase of 60 percent from 2016.
Overwhelming KFC brand advertising
Nationally, cricket is widely regarded as Australia’s favourite summer sport with unparalleled potential to positively influence our health: role modelling active living, camaraderie, and connection with fellow fans.
Cricket Australia’s KFC BBL competition draws huge TV audience numbers, with more than one million people on average watching the men’s BBL at any one time. However, tuning in to a televised broadcast or attending a live game also means being faced with an onslaught of junk food advertising.
Cancer Council WA put the 2021-22 Cricket Australia KFC BBL final under the microscope to find out how much of the broadcast featured KFC branding.
The analysis found 40 percent of the broadcast displayed KFC brand advertising, with over one-third of this from multiple advertising exposures on screen at one time.
Overall, KFC marketing and branding was visible 13 times more than healthy brand marketing and made up five percent of the commercial break advertisements.
As well as the amount of advertising highlighted, the various ways in which the KFC brand logo was visible was noted – including banners, branded uniform, logos on the pitch, as well as TV graphics.
These figures are alarming though not surprising given KFC holds the naming rights to the competition. It is estimated that 4.2 million Australians aged 14 and older associate KFC with men’s BBL demonstrating the effectiveness of this type of sponsorship.
As recently as last week, broadcasters were shown eating KFC as they commentated a game, introducing a new activation to the already saturated suite of sponsorship strategies employed by KFC.
Western Australian community perspectives
During the summer of 2021-22, Cancer Council WA also ran the ‘Let’s Get Junk Food Out of Cricket’ digital campaign which invited the Western Australian community to participate in an online survey regarding the sponsorship of sport by junk food companies.
Over 900 people participated in the survey, with 81 percent of respondents agreeing that “sport is no place for marketing junk food and drink to children.” Further findings indicated that:
- 87 percent of parents noticed junk food and drink brands marketed through sport
- Three quarters of parents reported junk food and drink marketing made it harder to feed their children a healthy diet
- 77 percent of parents think “the marketing of junk food and drink in sport makes it more likely that children will pester their parents for junk food and drink products”.
One survey participant wrote that junk food sponsorship in sport is inescapable:
You just can’t avoid the junk food adverts. You want your children to play sport and enjoy watching it, but then it’s in your face advertising on something that we are supporting and encouraging.”
Professional sports people are considered role models to many children, but their association with junk food companies is at the centre of criticism from many parents:
It’s very concerning how much children are exposed to this type of advertising and that their ‘role models’ aren’t recognising the consequences of their involvement.”
These findings replicate previous representative samples of the Western Australian population where 79 percent agreed that the government has a responsibility to replace sport sponsorship by junk food/drink brands with healthier sponsors.
The responses from our survey clearly show that junk food sponsorship in sport is undermining family and community endeavours to role model healthy eating patterns.
Stronger advertising regulations
Australia’s current advertising regulations are not effective in protecting children from junk food advertising. Currently the Australian Association of National Advertisers oversees a code of practice that was written by the processed food and advertising industry themselves.
Under this voluntary industry code, advertising of occasional food and beverage products must not target children, and sponsorship advertising that targets children must not show occasional food and beverage products or such product packaging.
This means that blanketing sport with junk food branding is acceptable under their own code with limited definition of what is considered targeting children and using master branding.
Cancer Council WA joins a united coalition of health, consumer and community groups calling on governments at all levels to set higher standards to protect children from junk food marketing.
Timely implementation of the strategies outlined in the National Obesity Strategy must include comprehensive regulations to protect children in all places where they live, learn and play. This must include being able to watch and play sport free from junk food advertising.
At a state level, Cancer Council WA and other public health organisations such as the Telethon Kids Institute continue to call on the WA Government to act within its remit and protect children from further junk food advertising exposure by removing junk food advertising from state owned and managed infrastructure, including sport stadiums and public transport.
Now is the time to listen to the community and ‘even the playing field’ when it comes to promoting a healthy diet to our children.
Ainslie Sartori is the Obesity Prevention Manager at Cancer Council WA; Jawaahir Alim is the Obesity Policy Project Officer at Cancer Council WA; and Emma Groves is the Obesity Policy Senior Coordinator at Cancer Council WA.
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