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Speeches in Parliament
Bob Brown 4 Sep 2008


This Bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Schools Assistance (Learning Together - Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Act 2004 to encourage healthier eating habits among children and to prohibit the broadcasting of advertisements for junk food during certain times.

This Bill revises a bill by the same title first introduced by Senator Lyn Allison o f the Australian Democrats in 2006. This bill will ensure that the advertising of junk food and beverages on television during children's viewing times are disallowed as is the advertising of alcoholic drinks. The Bill allows for the exemption of food and beverages which are deemed by the Minister for Health to be beneficial to children's health, guided by the FSANZ nutrient profile of healthy foods and beverages. Additionally, it ensures that these standards will apply in all circumstances and will not be included in the exemptions under the provisions of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Act 2006.

The Bill also places restrictions on the advertising in schools of companies whose principal activity is the manufacture, distribution or sale of junk food.

Obesity is a significant problem in Australia. Studies show that between 1985 and 1997 the combined rate of overweight and obesity in Australia doubled and obesity among young Australians (7-15 years) trebled. Indications are that the trend to overweight and obese children is not merely increasing but accelerating. On current trends, the rate of childhood overweight and obesity is expected to double over the next 30 years, reaching around 60 percent.

Obesity is a problem that the parliamentt can no longer afford to ignore. According to the Australian Medical Association the rise in childhood obesity may, for the first time in Australian history, result in a decline in the life expectancy of newborns. Access Economics estimates the financial costs of obesity in 2008 at $8.2 billion. The report calculates the net cost of lost wellbeing (including the dollar value of the burden of disease on individuals) as a result of conditions associated with obesity like diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancer, as well as lost productivity, adds up to a total financial burden of $58 billion a year.

Childhood obesity is a complex issue with many causal factors. An advertsing ban alone will not eliminate the problem of obesity but it is a sensible first step step that has the support of health experts, including doctors, community groups and, most importantly, parents.

A study reported in the August issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health of parental awareness and attitudes found that there was widespread parental concern about food advertising aimed at children and strong support for tighter restrictions. Almost 80 percent of respondents were concerned about the volume of advertisements and 68 percent were concerned about the methods used to market unhealthy food to children. 87 percent supported a ban on unhealthy food advertising during children's viewing times. The 2007 survey commissioned by the Coalition on Junk Food Advertising to Children (CFAC) found that 90 percent of parents agreed that advertising food high in fat, sugar and salt directly to children was 'unconscionable'. In 2004 an Australia Institute study found that 86 percent of people wanted more limits on advertising to children.

The evidence showing that children are susceptible to what they see on television is growing. Food advertising directly influences children's choices and increases their requests for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. A 2003 review of the international literature on the impact of food advertising to children concluded that children under 12 did not have the cognitive ability to understand the concepts of marketing. The study further concluded that food promotion directly affects children's food preferences, purchases (or what they 'pester' their parents to buy) and what they eat.

It has been estimated that the average Australian child watches 96 food advertisements a week, 63 of which are for high fat or high sugar foods. In 2006 the NSW Cancer Council found that food advertisers were deliberately targeting children, with 194 separate breaches of the Children's Television Standards code of practice, involving mainly giveaways and prizes. It also found that 81 percent of food advertisements shown on commercial TV are for foods that are typically high in fat, sugar or salt and are of low nutritional value, like fast food, soft drinks and ice cream.

Many parents do not have the knowledge or the time or the energy to resist the constant 'pestering' by their children or the misinformation directed at children through junk food advertising. The parliament should regulate the junk food industry to protect the health of Australian children.

Restrictions on junk food advertising to children exist in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Denmark and Sweden, as well as in Quebec in Canada. The South Australian and Queensland governments have recently announced they will introduce bans on junk food during children's televisions shows.

It is remarkable that, in the face of alarming statistics on the increase in childhood obesity in Australia and the international trend to tightly regulate junk food advertising to children, the Australian Communications and Media Authority recently rejected calls for further restrictions in its draft review of the Children's Television Standards. ACMA's statement said "existing research does not clearly demonstrate a causal relationship between any of these factors [food and beverage advertising] and obesity". The failure of the ACMA to act on this critical issue was condemned by the Australian Medical Association and the community organisation, the Parents' Jury.

Schedule 2 of this Bill introduces a ban on junk food advertising in schools. It is important that healthy eating is promoted in schools as well as homes. The bill introduces a ban on advertising and sponsorship deals between schools and food and beverage manufacturers and distributors as a condition of financial assistance.

The measures in this Bill alone will not solve the terrible problem of childhood obesity but they are a critical component of the comprehensive plan that is required. The time for acquiescing to the interests of powerful lobby groups has passed.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

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