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Bill to Ban Junk Food Advertising Introduced

7 September 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Food Act 2001. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill seeks to place restrictions on junk food advertising in South Australia. It seeks to prohibit junk food advertising within 500 metres of schools and it seeks to prevent junk food from being advertised on publicly owned buildings and properties, including bus stops, train stops, trams and the like.

Any parent knows the power that advertising has over children. Kids take ads at face value and they respond accordingly to bright colours, catchy jingles and the promise of free toys. It is often referred to as pester power, I believe. Studies have shown that children are more likely to request unhealthy food from their parents after exposure to junk food advertising and so parents are forced to either give in to unhealthy food or find themselves in a state of constant friction with their child.

Really, parents are pitched in a David and Goliath fight. Those who are seeking to ensure their children have healthy food are being pitched against multimillion dollar corporations that are intent on trying to sell junk food to their kids. We know these ads work. That is why advertising companies spend over $550 million every year on food and non-alcoholic drinks in Australia.

Advertisements are placed where kids are most likely to see them: near schools, near sporting arenas or on public transport. According to the National Obesity Strategy report, the majority of foods advertised are high in fat, high in sugar, high in salt and low in nutrition. Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world with one in four children being overweight or obese.

Being overweight or obese can affect a person's health and wellbeing, but it can also limit their economic and social opportunities. There are direct costs in terms of increased health costs both to the individual and the state, but there are increased indirect costs too. Absenteeism, reduced productivity and early retirement are just some of the examples that have been cited in the research, and we have all come to understand over recent years the importance of public health.

Young people are further at risk of weight-related discrimination. School-aged children with unhealthy weight are more likely to be bullied, which can trigger subsequent mental health issues. Children living with obesity have reported lower quality of life, and it has been shown that discrimination experienced at school can lead to lower quality of education, as learning can be impacted by prejudice, social rejection and bullying.

The World Health Organization has stated that preventative measures are the best approach to childhood obesity and can lead to reduced risk of subsequent adult obesity. The National Obesity Strategy of 2022 has set a target of reducing overweight and obesity in children and adolescents aged two to 17 years by at least 5 per cent by 2030. To achieve this target, they have set out several strategies, one of which is to reduce children's exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing, promotion and sponsorship.

Advertising plays a major part in childhood obesity. According to the Cancer Council, 53 per cent of students were prompted to try a new food or drink in response to advertising. Food advertising can have huge impacts on the emotional response of a child. A UK study demonstrated the emotional reaction of children after seeing junk food advertisements. The kids in the study reported feeling 'happy, excited, hungry and tempted to eat the advertised food immediately'.

Academic research from Western Australia looked at how marketing affects children, with research showing that children are vulnerable as they lack cognitive skills to understand the persuasive intent of marketing. In a New South Wales study, it was found that 83 per cent of food advertising was for unhealthy food, indicating that kids are exposed to a high proportion of unhealthy food ads.

A call to ban junk food advertising in certain places has come from the South Australian Public Health Association, the Cancer Council SA as well as the Australian Medical Association. This is not a radical green idea. It has widespread community support. Indeed, the AMA has called for advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children to be prohibited entirely. This initiative also has significant support among parents.

The Cancer Council of Victoria reports that 82 per cent of parents think that it is unethical for the processed food industry to market unhealthy food in places popular with kids. Just last week, the Australia Institute released a report on junk food advertising on television. Two in three Australians agreed that junk food ads should be banned during children's viewing hours.

In a federal government survey, 78 per cent of respondents agreed that 'strategies to reduce exposure to marketing and promotion of unhealthy food and drink were extremely or very helpful'. Additionally, participants in the study from the health and education sectors favoured 'stronger approaches to advertising' and restrictions on promoting unhealthy foods.

The bill we are considering today should make sure junk food advertising is prohibited in certain places frequented by children—that is, within 500 metres of any school, on buses, tram stops or railway stations, or on any state government property. These measures have been implemented in other jurisdictions. Indeed, South Australia is the odd man out. In Queensland, they have banned junk food advertising at more than 200 government-owned spaces, including train stations, bus stops and road corridors. Studies in other states have shown that between 61 per cent and 83 per cent of all advertisements on public transport are for unhealthy food.

In 2015, the ACT banned junk food advertising on public buses. In countries such as the UK, Amsterdam and Brazil, there are examples of bans of junk food advertising on government property and public transport. This is a very easy step that we can take to protect young people from the impact of junk food.

This bill goes one step further. It restricts unhealthy food advertising within 500 metres of schools. Kids on their way home from school are exposed to an increasing number of unhealthy food and drink advertisements. In Victoria, a study found that 62 per cent of food ads near Melbourne schools promoted unhealthy food and drinks. Hungry kids leaving school in the afternoon do not need to be enticed to make unhealthy food choices. Instead, we need to be promoting healthy lifestyles to set our young people up for success.

Banning junk food advertising near schools, on public transport and on government property is not a difficult thing for us to do to address obesity in South Australia. This is a proposal that is modest, but it is one that has widespread support—support amongst parents and support amongst public health advocates. I hope that all members of this place will get behind this simple reform.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.