Attack on ‘junk food’ marketing to cut down on obesity

Amidst warnings of the obesity epidemic health authorities voicing their concern called for restrictions on fast non healthy food and alcohol advertising. Australia is one of the most overweight nations in the world, with more than 60% of adults and 25% children overweight or obese.

Public Health Association of Australia president Mike Daube commented on the codes of advertising saying on Sunday that they completely ignore forms of marketing like sports sponsorship through which children are exposed to alcohol and junk food promotion for hours on end…This is all the more disturbing at a time when the obesity epidemic is predicted to shorten the life spans of our children for the first time ever…The alcohol and food industries will never agree to effective controls on their irresponsible promotions…We urge all parties to make a commitment to legislation that will curb the ruthless way young people are being exposed to promotion of alcohol and junk food.”

He urges the government to make stricter laws on mandatory codes for advertising of fast and unhealthy foods and drinks. The thinking heads agree that a simple ban on junk foods is not the solution. Similar attempts to banning junk foods has caused the food industry to think of ways around the laws in Sweden earlier and the obesity rates there remain undiminished.

''To produce a detectable impact it is necessary to have a blanket prohibition on direct or incidental marketing … This must include a ban on oversized street signage and billboards; attribution of corporate philanthropy; television, radio, internet, mobile phone messages, newspaper and magazine advertising; as well as advertising through other existing and emerging technologies,” says a report published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Professor Daube went on to support a suggestion in the report that taxes by levied on alcohol and junk food advertising to help promotion of healthier products. VicHealth chief executive Todd Harper was one of the co-authors of the said paper. He said that these taxes could fund more public health messages on fast foods, drinks and their effects on health.

"The funding could also be used to provide alternatives to junk food and alcohol sponsorships and to inform consumers about healthier food and beverage products," Mr Harper said.

In yet another paper in the same journal’s latest issue, an "obesity intervention wish list" was planned. This involved banning of all junk food advertising, plus new taxes and a cap on the number of fast food restaurants. This also plans to ban all Energy-dense-nutrition-poor foods (EDNP) and introduce "kilojoule caps" for certain foods to control calorie intake in the population. ''For example, carbonated and juice drinks could be available only in quantities no greater than 250 millilitres,'' says the wish list. The ENDP food packaging needs to be less attractive says the wish list and demands more subsidies on fruits and vegetables. The taxes from the junk foods advertising can fuel these subsidies on healthy foods according to the plans.

Dr Bebe Loff, director of the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health at Melbourne's Monash University, said the approach to the obesity epidemic needs to be structured to be effective. On the taxes proposed she said, "Those concerned by our wish list's `nanny state' implications might helpfully redirect their focus to the many unseen measures intentionally adopted by the food industry to shape our behaviour… It seems that without our knowledge or consent we are subject to the pervasive ‘nannying’ activities of industry.” A total overhaul of the "vastly altered market in food that has developed over recent decades" is needed according to her.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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