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Advertising of fast food to children on Australian television: the impact of industry self-regulation

Lana A Hebden, Lesley King, Anne Grunseit, Bridget Kelly and Kathy Chapman
Med J Aust 2011; 195 (1): 20-24.

Summary

Objective: To assess the impact of the quick-service restaurant industry (QSRI) self-regulatory initiative on fast-food advertising to children on Australian commercial television.

Design and setting: Analysis of advertisements for foods on the three main free-to-air commercial television channels (channels 7, 9 and 10) in Sydney, Australia, over 4 days in both May 2009 and April 2010 in terms of: number of advertisements; types of food (coded core [healthy] foods, non-core [unhealthy] foods, miscellaneous foods; or fast foods); whether advertised meals were intended for children; whether advertisements were broadcast during children’s peak viewing times; and whether the company in question was a signatory to the QSRI initiative.

Main outcome measures: Change in the mean frequency and rate of food advertisements per hour from 2009 to 2010; change in the types of fast-food meals (healthier alternatives [at least one nutrient-dense, low-energy food considered part of a healthy diet for children], non-core [high in undesirable nutrients and not considered part of a healthy diet for children], and other) being advertised; and proportion of children’s energy requirements provided by fast-food meals.

Results: From 2009 to 2010, the mean frequency of fast-food advertisements increased from 1.1 to 1.5 per hour. While non-core fast foods comprised a lesser share of fast-food advertising in 2010 than 2009, the mean frequency at which they were advertised during times when the largest numbers of children were watching television remained the same (1.3 per hour in both 2009 and 2010). Family meals advertised for children’s consumption in 2010 provided energy far in excess of children’s requirements.

Conclusions: Children’s exposure to unhealthy fast-food advertising has not changed following the introduction of self-regulation, and some fast foods advertised for children’s consumption contain excessive energy. The limited impact of self-regulation suggests that governments should define the policy framework for regulating fast-food advertising to children.

  • Lana A Hebden1
  • Lesley King1
  • Anne Grunseit1
  • Bridget Kelly1
  • Kathy Chapman2

  • 1 Prevention Research Collaboration, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Health Strategies Division, Cancer Council New South Wales, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: lana.hebden@sydney.edu.au

Acknowledgements: 

We thank senior statistician Kamalesh Venugopal for informing aspects of the analysis.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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