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Research Results

Curbs favoured on marketing unhealthy food to children

20 Jul 15

Curbs favoured on marketing unhealthy food to children
The New Zealand Herald covers the child marketing protection issue

A HorizonPoll finds a large majority of New Zealand adults support government action on restricting unhealthy food marketing to children.

The poll carried out in June this year, showed a majority of 73 percent in favour of Government action on restrictions.

The Horizon Research poll of 1620 New Zealanders’ attitudes to junk food marketing restrictions was commissioned by the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health, and funded by the Heart Foundation and Cancer Society Auckland.

It questioned adult New Zealanders (18 years plus) on whether Government actions were needed to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food to children.

The four main questions around marketing to children were;

  • Would you be in favour or against the Government introducing stronger restrictions to reduce the amount of unhealthy food and drink advertising and promotion to children? A total of 73 percent were in favour of government restrictions with 41 percent strongly in favour and 32 percent somewhat in favour of restrictions.

  • Do you think the government should not regulate, should restrict, or should stop …using advertising on TV to market unhealthy foods and drinks to children? A total of 80 percent of respondents agreed action was needed with 46 percent supporting restrictions and 34 per cent saying the government should stop this practice.

  • Do you think the government should not regulate, should restrict or should stop … featuring unhealthy food and drink brands in games and competitions on websites aimed at children? A total of 81 percent agreed action was needed with 43 percent saying stop this practice and 38 percent supporting restrictions.

  • Do you think the government should not regulate, should restrict or should stop … sponsoring children’s sporting activities? A total of 67 percent of respondents agreed action was needed with 42 percent supporting restrictions and 25 percent saying stop this practice.

“Clearly the public are very supportive of the government taking a much stronger lead in protecting children and supporting parents by restricting unhealthy food marketing that targets children,” says Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health.

In the survey, parents with children under 18 years were significantly more supportive of stronger government action on all questions on unhealthy food marketing to children.

“This is finding is not surprising,” says Professor Swinburn. “Parents do not like having to say ‘no’ to their children all the time. The pester power that the marketing to children creates really undermines parents’ efforts to give their children a healthy diet.”

In a statement, Auckland University said: At present, there are no government restrictions on marketing to children, only a variety of industry codes which are self-regulated.

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman is leading a World Health Organisation Commission to End Childhood Obesity and its interim report noted the ineffectiveness of such self-regulatory approaches, calling for much stronger government-led restrictions.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, stated in a recent speech at a Commission meeting that, “To be successful, efforts aimed at reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages need support from regulatory and statutory approaches.”

New Zealand has the third highest rate of childhood obesity among wealthy countries and many health and consumer groups are calling for strong government action on marketing to children.

“It’s usually one of the top cost-effective strategies recommended within a comprehensive approach to reduce childhood obesity, and it’s very clear that there is strong public backing for such government leadership,” says Professor Swinburn.

The cost of obesity in New Zealand amounts to an estimated $1 billion per year for healthcare and lost productivity caused by obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

The HorizonPoll study was conducted by Horizon Research and has an overall margin of error of ±2.5 percent. The sample is weighted to match demographics for the New Zealand population 18 years of age and over at the 2013 Census.

New Zealand Herald coverage of the poll result, including some comments on it from food retailing interests and some receiving or providing sponsorship from a fast food company are, along with a parent's views, are here.