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Children lured to unhealthy food

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Deborah Gough

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New media and the fight against junk food advertising

Restricted from advertising to children in print or on TV, makers of junk food are increasingly turning to new media to reach a young audience.

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CARTOON characters such as the Paddle Pop lion and Freddo Frog are increasingly being used across media platforms to lure children to unhealthy foods and should be banned, a health coalition says.

While falling short of calling for ''plain packaging'' on sugary and fatty foods, the Obesity Policy Coalition has said the federal government should ban marketers from using cartoon characters and giveaway toys to promote junk and unhealthy foods.

Spokesman Boyd Swinburn said cartoon characters were the common factor used to draw children to fattening foods and drinks but companies were now using free online games, apps, movies and other new media to promote unhealthy food.

Streets' Paddle Pop Lion.

Streets' Paddle Pop Lion.

''Cartoon characters and toy giveaways are certainly the hook used to draw children in,'' Dr Swinburn said. ''It is a huge battle akin to the battle with tobacco over plain packaging and no one would have believed that was possible even a few years ago.''

Dr Swinburn said self-regulation had failed because some companies refused to sign up to industry codes and loopholes often allowed companies to escape criticism.

Deakin University senior lecturer Paul Harrison said the food industry had allowed stricter rules on traditional advertising - whose power is on the wane - while developing online games, movies, product giveaways and health sponsorships. These platforms ''flew under the radar'' of regulators, Dr Harrison said.

In Advances in Communication Research to Reduce Childhood Obesity, Dr Harrison looked at the integrated marketing campaigns used for Nutri-Grain, Freddo Frogs and McDonald's Happy Meals and how they appealed to children. He said marketers often cleverly did not use logos, to avoid criticism, but instead used characters and colours associated with their products. ''Children are not stupid, they can work out the association between a character and a product from a very young age, even if they are not together at the time,'' he said.

In one website, children were encouraged to create their own avatar to interact with Freddo Frog, to play games, puzzles and do other activities. The company also used child-size displays in stores, Christmas stockings, party cakes and chocolate fund-raising drives through schools and childcare centres. ''These companies try to say that they are not advertising to children, but of course they are,'' Dr Harrison said.

He said advertising and industry code regulators were failing to keep up with technology and marketing changes. He said a single authority should look at whether marketing was designed to appeal to children regardless of the medium.

He said other examples included a free movie DVD giveaway featuring an adventure story with the Paddle Pop lion as the lead character, and Gatorade, which had been allowed to promote ''hydration'' to school children in Victoria.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council represents packaged food, drink and grocery products manufacturers. A spokesman said increased regulation overseas had not reduced childhood obesity.

''We're surprised the OPC hasn't also demanded a ban on Santa Claus, who generally looks suspiciously chubby,'' he said. ''But seriously there is a need for more positive, creative and collaborative approaches that will actually work, rather than blanket bans.''

34 comments

  • This is a debate we do need to have .The Australian food &grocery council successfully scuttled the very sensible traffic light food labelling system and given its sarcastic comments in this item , looks like it is still not a serious contributor to the debate. The Council needs to realise that in the absence of industry driven sensible solution, regulation will be inevitable. Less smart alec commentary, self interest and not invented here and more focus on being part of the solution.

    Commenter
    ken
    Date and time
    December 26, 2012, 7:05AM
    • Plain packaging hasn't reduced smoking, and I suspect freddo frog is one of the lesser sold chocolates.

      They're overlooking the source of the problem. The fact that children spend so much time in front of a screen. tv, internet, playstation... constantly bombarded with advertising in one way or another.

      Turn off the screens.

      Why isn't there a lobby group asking for that?

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 8:09AM
    • Poor thinking, or conflict of interest there sarajane?

      We've had plain packaging of cigarettes for less than a month. Evidence so far is that it already has reduced smoking. And f it's not going to, why would the cigarette companies fight it so desperately?

      And what's the popularity of Freddo Frogs got to do with the argument? The purpose of advertising is to increase popularity of a product.

      I agree that sitting in front of a screen for too long is part of the problem (not THE source of it). Must go now and take the dogs for a walk.

      Commenter
      HiLo
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 9:13AM
    • The lady at my corner shop says cigarette sales are exactly the same as before. The companies fought it because they were worried people would just opt for the cheapest brand, seeing as they all just look alike now. But it has made no difference at all.

      Perhaps your thinking is poor, hilo

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 9:26AM
    • Plain packaging whilst new is seen to be working.
      These marketing gurus know exactly how to capture the minds of kids with their selling techniques. of course cartoon characters work and assist in selling junk food, they wouldn't do it otherwise.
      These companies spend a fortune of budgeting on marketing, unlike healthier foods.
      Something has got to be done to curb child and adult obesity, it's getting so out of hand and normalised.
      By the way just had a small cold meat and salad, cherries, nuts and a few chocs for lunch. Yum sparkling Shiraz.
      For dinner was the plum pudd, brandy custard, cream and more cherries, more sparkling Shiraz.
      I bet the poll is incorrect on having too much to eat. A three course lunch and constant grazing is far too much to eat.

      Commenter
      A country gal
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 9:33AM
    • This is all about getting the issue right. The free market has exploited the vulnerabilities of consumers for too long whether they are smokers, drinkers, gamblers or children with sweet teeth. Unethical and unhealthy products should not be free reign for companies. On the other hand healthy foods such as fruit should be free to promote cartoon characters for their products.

      Commenter
      Dean Frenkel
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 9:42AM
    • @Sarajane: The main objective of plain packaging is to deter young teenagers from taking up smoking. How that can be determined by 'the lady at the corner shop' is beyond me.

      @Ken: traffic light labelling has some benefits, but it has some ludicrous elements too. Diet coke doesn't trigger any red lights, and a fruit salad doesn't contain any because it's home made. If people are seriously so deficient in skills at reading nutritional labels (and the vast amount of information on there wasn't there when obesity wasn't as much of an issue) then they need education, not pretty lights. That will just dumb them down further.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 9:48AM
    • I personally don't care what the packaging looks like, I don't smoke, and I don't think teenagers will care about it either, if anything, it may even make it a more desirable taboo.. I think the tv health campaign has possibly helped.

      With regards to junk food for kids, I just never bought it. It's not that hard.

      Commenter
      sarajane
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 10:03AM
  • Ever since the mindless food lobby has started pointing fingers at the fast-food industry, over the past two decades, the obesity problem has got worse. You can argue as much as you like but it is indeed as simple as that. This is despite rabid legislation demanding more and more 'nutritional information' be printed on all food wrapping and dire directives that demand that the poor customers be exposed to less promotion of these evil products. The end result is that the 'poor customer' now no longer feels responsible for the control of their own eating habits - they are being told, after all, that the blame lies squarely with the food producer. This has completely removed any remnant of responsibility on the part of the obese over-eater and the consequences are plain to see. The more the whip is cracked against the food suppliers and the more sympathy that is piled onto the 'victim,' the worse the problem is getting.
    I don't know about you, but the last time I had a burger at one of these evil outlets, it had a portion of chicken breast, a slice of tomato and lettuce, some fresh onion ring, and the bread roll. Junk in my food? I think not.

    Commenter
    Sylvia
    Date and time
    December 26, 2012, 7:49AM
    • You're exactly right. I no longer believe the food fascists are driven by concern for public health, it's simply about a list for power and more and more power for the government to interfere in th elves of individuals at the expense of individual personal responsibility.
      That's why they're focused on fighting Big Foood and not about teaching nutrition in schools (which would probably achieve a much better result). Note also there's no mention of things like fried dims sims and potato cakes sold by corner shops - again its more a war on Big Food than a concern for public health.

      Commenter
      Papachango
      Date and time
      December 26, 2012, 8:27AM

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