The figures aren’t good
Could we mentally conjure up some soothing background violin music as we consider the following statement?
‘‘Food advertisements should not undermine food or nutritional policies of Government, the Ministry of Health, food and nutrition guidelines, nor the health and well being of children.’’
Such is the purring of the New and Improved code for advertising for children, agreed by our selfregulating advertising industry.
So that’s nice. Especially since as things stand (albeit wobbly) we’re the third fattest of 33 OECD countries, withobesity costing our health system about $600 million a year.
And tracking towards having almost one third of our under-18 year-olds classed as obese or overweight by 2025.
Hang on, say the voices of personal responsibility. This is bad but let’s not lazily blame the sellers of legal products for exercising their legitimate commercial freedoms. Especially since the problem is clearly one of poor parenting.
Granted, there is such a thing. But there’s also a massively resourced industry out there making it really hard for parents, particularly those on lower incomes.
The very products that nutritional watchdogs would most want us to regard as ‘‘sometimes’’ food are the ones that seem to be advertised ‘‘all the damned time’’ and ‘‘everywhere you turn’’. And they are so often so cheap.
The latest research suggests that some of our kids are encountering 27 junk food advertisements a day. Critics are reproachfully pointing out that the researchers counted product packaging as advertising.
The distinction between seeing a distinctive Coke label on a screen or a sign, and seeing it on the reallife product itself, is likely to be lost on the nearest onlooking kid, summoning up a hankering in any case.
Some examples can be put forward of less-unhealthy alternatives being pushed a little harder into the mix, it’s true.
Pressure mounts on our Government to tax sugary products punitively, regulate marketing more closely and - always preferred - improve public education.
But here’s the thing. Advertising of sufficient quantity, skill and slyness can subvert a great deal of educative intent. In Britain it’s been reported that junk food companies are spending 27 times more on advertising than the Government does promoting healthy eating.
We can look at signs of progress, like the star rating system, and take some encouragement. But the national health stats are alarming. We’re losing the sugar wars. Badly.