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Frank Walker
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Kids and junk food. They love it. The Christmas holiday period is notorious for unhealthy eating – ice cream to combat the heat, the post-BBQ pavlova, pudding, chocolate Santas in abundance. Add to that a tendency to increase the time spent in front of the telly or internet over the holidays and it can be a problem.

Our kids are bombarded with junk food ads at every turn – Maccas, KFC, coke, sugar-laden cereals, chocolate bars – you name it. And kids are easily influenced. Obesity in children is a growing problem in Australia, often leading to problems later in life, like diabetes and heart disease.

So what does the law say about junk food ads?

Industry self-regulation was introduced in 2009 by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. Companies that have signed the voluntary ‘Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative’ (RCMI), such as Coca-cola, Kelloggs and Nestle, have agreed to not place unhealthy food or drink ads during peak times when kids watch TV (specifically the under-12’s group), or feature unhealthy products in interactive games for kids that age. They’ve also agreed to make the content of their ads less kid-focused. For example, ads shouldn’t use popular kids’ personalities or cartoons.

But many would argue that self-regulation has changed little. For a start, it’s voluntary. And there are plenty of programs that kids watch that aren’t covered by the RCMI, such as Home and Away and The Simpsons, meaning there’s still exposure to junk food ads.

The food industry claims the initiative is working, and that for the government to step in and regulate would be akin to censorship.

In November the Greens introduced the Protecting Children from Junk Food Advertising (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Amendment) Bill 2011.

If passed, the Bill would basically ban all junk food ads on commercial TV between 6-9am and 4-9pm weekdays, and for longer periods on weekends and during holidays (also between 9am-12pm). Junk food ads on pay-TV channels aimed at kids would be prohibited, as would promoting unhealthy food on websites aimed at kids.

They introduced a similar Bill in 2010 which attempted to ban all unhealthy food ads on commercial TV between 6am and 9.30pm. It was blocked by both the Government and the Opposition, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to this latest version. The Greens have some big health authorities onside, including Diabetes Australia, the Cancer Council and the National Heart Foundation.

Let’s face it – ads or no ads our kids are going to demand junk food. Arguably, parents have a responsibility not to cave in to these demands. But surely being constantly reminded of the unhealthy food available doesn’t help. If I mention the word chocolate, you suddenly want some right? (Or perhaps that’s just me.)


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