June 25 - July 15  2023: Issue 589


Dr Sophie Scamps introduces bill to ban junk food marketing in bid to tackle childhood obesity 

On Monday June 19 2023 Independent MP and former GP Sophie Scamps introduced a bill into federal parliament that would restrict junk food advertisements aimed at children and see a ban and time restrictions placed on junk food marketing on TV, radio, social media, and other online environments. 

The Healthy Kids Advertising Bill 2023 (the Bill) aims to protect children from junk food marketing by removing ads from TV and radio between the hours of 6am and 930pm. The Bill would also place an outright ban on junk food marketing on social media and other online environments. Under the regulations, substantial fines would be imposed on broadcasters, internet service providers, and food companies that fail to adhere to the guidelines.

Dr Scamps, a former GP and emergency room doctor, said she was compelled to act due to the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity and chronic disease, with obesity estimated to cost the health system $11.8 billion every year. Dr Scamps also said a large number of parents in her Mackellar electorate had raised concerns about the predatory targeting of their children by junk food companies.

“Right now a quarter of our children are already on the path to chronic disease because they are over the healthy weight range” said Dr Scamps MP.

“We know our children are exposed to over 800 junk food ads on TV alone every year1, and that there is a direct link between those ads and childhood obesity2. The current restrictions are not strong enough, and self-regulation is just not working.”

“If we continue to stand by while children are deluged by junk food advertising on social media and on TV, then we are failing them,” said Dr Scamps MP.

The Bill will be seconded by Independent MP and former paediatrician Dr Monique Ryan, and also has the support of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Dietitians Australia, Diabetes Australia, the Cancer Council, the Food for Health Alliance, the Public Health Association of Australia, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).

Research conducted by the Australia Institute earlier in late 20223  also shows strong public support for regulating unhealthy food marketing, with two-thirds (66%) backing a ban on junk food advertising.

“Approximately 40 countries around the world, including the UK, Ireland, Chile, Norway, Mexico, Thailand, and South Korea, already have or are planning to regulate junk food advertising. I want to see Australia join this list,” said Dr. Scamps MP.

“At a time when our health system is under strain, investing in preventative health measures to combat the rising cost of chronic disease is plain common sense. The National Obesity Strategy found obesity costs our health system $11.8 billion every year and this figure will only grow if nothing is done.”

“I’ve been heartened by conversations I’ve had with members of the Albanese Government as well as public comments made by the Communications Minister, and believe there is genuine political will to address this issue. Protecting our children from obesity and a potential future of chronic disease is something all sides of politics can get behind.”

“Regulating junk food adverts on our TV screens and in our social media feeds will have a direct impact on the dietary decisions of Australians – including our kids – and can help both reduce childhood obesity and the incidence of chronic diseases,” said Dr Scamps MP.

Dr Scamps’ Bill has been developed in consultation with public health and marketing experts from across the country. It does not cover print or outdoor advertising, sport sponsorship, nor content shared by food and beverage companies on their own websites and social media channels.

Professor Steve Robson, President – Australian Medical Association (AMA) has stated, 

“With about one half of all Australians having at least one chronic disease, it's time we took some preventative action. Banning junk food advertising on television is an important measure, one that will decrease the impact junk food advertisers have on impressionable young minds.”

Dr James Best, RACGP Specific Interests Chair Child and Young Person's Health, said,

“The RACGP supports stronger regulation on junk food marketing. Junk food contributes to serious health issues including obesity and chronic disease, but currently companies have free reign to market them to children and young people with zero regard for the long-term impacts on health and wellbeing.

Some 40 other countries have already implemented or are planning to implement regulations to protect children from pervasive junk food marketing, it’s time for Australia to put our children’s health first and do the same.”

djunct Professor Terry Slevin, CEO – Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) commented, 

“The Public Health Association welcomes Dr Scamps’ Prohibition of Unhealthy Food Marketing Bill because junk food companies don’t spend their marketing dollars lightly. This bill will help parents and carers who are trying to ensure the children in their lives see fewer junk food ads, and that’s why we support it.”

Jane Martin, Executive Manager – Food for Health Alliance said, 

"Our children deserve a healthier future, free from the constant bombardment of junk food marketing. Regulation to restrict unhealthy food marketing on TV and radio during set times and via online platforms is a critical first step towards safeguarding our children’s health and wellbeing now and into the future.

Our community also supports action, with seventy percent of Australians agreeing that government should protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food. It's time to put our kids' health ahead of the profits of the processed food and advertising industries.”

Professor Nitin Kapur, President – RACP Paediatrics and Child Health Division, said, 

“Children are exposed to predatory marketing of junk food and sugary drink across multiple mediums. Kids are being exposed to almost 200 junk food and drink promotions a week across TV and online platforms.

We need the Australian Government to intervene and regulate junk food advertising for the sake of our children’s health now and into the future. Childhood obesity can cause lifelong complications, including for the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, dental, and neurological systems.”

Clare Hughes, Chair of Cancer Council’s Nutrition, Alcohol and Physical Activity Committee stated, 

“Cancer Council applauds the proposed Bill for prioritising the future of our children’s health by addressing the impact of unhealthy food marketing. The evidence shows that children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing influences what foods and drinks they want to consume, and it can shape their perception of what a healthy diet looks like. Research shows that industry codes are full of loopholes that fail to protect children from the unhealthy influence of food marketing. Promotion drives consumption, and this can lead to obesity and increased risk of 13 different types of cancer and other serious disease later in life.

We all want our children to enjoy a healthy childhood and long life afterwards; Cancer Council hopes to see the Bill come to fruition so we can better protect our children from the harmful effects of unhealthy food marketing.”

Robert Hunt, CEO – Dietitians Australia said,

“It is incredibly challenging to make healthy and nutritious choices when you are being bombarded with junk food advertising across the airwaves. Australian families and their children deserve to live in a country that supports healthy nutritious choices around food.

This bill will go a long way towards achieving this. We need policies that protect the future of Australia’s most precious commodity – the health and wellbeing of our children. Good nutrition is the foundation for a high-quality life. Currently – 38 percent of the Australian diet is made up of discretionary choices – or “junk food”. We need to turn this around, we need to see whole, nutritious foods making up the bulk of what Australians eat.”

Jemma O’Hanlon, Senior Food and Nutrition Advisor – Heart Foundation, stated,

“Our kids are being influenced by junk food wherever they go, be that waiting at the bus stop, playing team sport or scrolling on their phones. We need to protect our kids and to do this we need tighter regulation.

Junk food ads influence our behaviour to eat more junk food, which increases our risk of heart disease. As heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, we must take urgent action to protect our kids.”

Rebecca Zosel, Executive Officer – Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA), said

“We commend Dr Sophie Scamps' leadership in putting forward the Healthy Kids Advertising Bill. Sophie’s draft Bill prioritises the health of children over the profits of unhealthy food industries. It will help to protect children from exposure to junk food advertising and create healthier environments for children to live, learn and play in."

Professor Simone Pettigrew, Program Head, Food Policy – The George Institute for Global Health, said

“We know that kids are increasingly exposed to junk food marketing online and via social media and have serious concerns about the lifelong impacts to health from unhealthy diets. In Australia, almost half the population suffers from chronic disease – a healthy diet is the foundation of preventing diseases such as obesity, heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. This Bill is an important step forward in regulating junk food advertising and we commend Dr Scamps for bringing it forward.”


1 Impact of unhealthy food marketing on children, Obesity Evidence Hub.

2 https://www.obesityevidencehub.org.au/collections/prevention/the-impact-of-food-marketing-on-children

3 https://australiainstitute.org.au/post/polling-research-give-junk-food-gambling-ads-the-punt


Dr. Sophie Scamps MP Signals Intent To Introduce Private Members Bill To Regulate Junk Food Advertising Impact On Our Children

Is it finally time to ban junk food advertising? A new bill could improve kids’ health

Peter Breadon, Grattan Institute

Today independent MP and former GP Sophie Scamps will introduce a bill into federal parliament that would restrict junk food advertisements aimed at children.

The bill would target advertising for unhealthy foods Australia’s health ministers have previously defined, including sugar-sweetened drinks, confectionary and unhealthy fast food meals. Advertising for these foods and drinks would be banned on television, radio and streaming services from 6am to 9.30pm, and banned altogether online and on social media. The proposal highlights one of our biggest health challenges and does something about it.

The share of Australian adults who are overweight or obese has tripled since 1980. Today, about a quarter of Australian children are overweight or obese. The consequences are serious. Obesity increases the risk of a range of illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, setting children up to develop chronic disease. The health care costs of obesity run into the billions of dollars each year, not to mention all the years of life lived with illness and disability, or lost to early death.

This isn’t the first time a ban on junk food advertising has been floated. But there is more reason than ever to make it happen.

Why now?

Unhealthy diets are the main cause of Australia’s obesity epidemic, and restricting advertising for unhealthy foods could help improve what we eat.

That’s why experts have been calling for advertising restrictions for years. Back in 2009, the Australian National Preventive Health Agency recommended them, and they have long been recommended by the World Health Organization. They’re supported by evidence that advertising influences children’s diets and preferences, driving cravings and feelings of hunger.

Even without this evidence, it would be a safe assumption that junk food advertising works. Otherwise, companies wouldn’t spend money on it, and they certainly do.

One study found Australian advertising on sugary drinks alone costs nearly five times more than government campaigns promoting healthy eating, physical activity and obesity prevention. And companies carefully design advertising to entice children. Their strategies include promotional characters, gifts, and games and shifting advertising online to follow changing viewing habits.

Most parents don’t need any persuading to know advertising works, having seen younger children employ “pester power” and older children spend their pocket money on unhealthy options. That’s probably one reason two thirds of Australians support bans on junk food advertising during children’s viewing hours.

What’s taking so long?

So why haven’t governments acted? When health bodies started calling for advertising restrictions nearly 15 years ago, the industry promptly came up with a plan of its own. Optional codes of conduct were drawn up for “responsible advertising and marketing to children”. But there are significant loopholes and gaps in these codes, which are voluntary, narrow, vague, and consequence-free.

Predictably, self-regulation hasn’t reduced junk food advertising to children. While countries with mandatory policies have seen junk food consumption fall, it has increased in countries where the industry sets the rules.

In the meantime, Australia and its children have been left behind. Since Quebec in Canada introduced the first ban back in 1980, more than a dozen countries around the world have followed and more are planning to. The proposals being debated in our parliament are modelled on policies adopted in the United Kingdom in 2021.

This isn’t the only area where Australia has fallen behind when it comes to setting sensible food rules. We are not among the 43 countries with rules to reduce trans-fats, which cause cardiovascular disease, or one of the 85 countries with a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which are linked to diabetes.

Our policies to reduce salt consumption and improve food labelling are weaker than those in leading countries too.

It’s time to make healthy choices easier

Unhealthy diets need to improve, but the simple answer of blaming the individual is the wrong one. Unhealthy food choices are shaped by things like time pressures, cost of living pressures, the availability of fresh food and the marketing adults and children are constantly bombarded with.

That’s why governments need to make healthy choices cheaper, more convenient and more appealing, so that they can compete with unhealthy options. Taking advertising aimed at children out of the equation would be a good first step.The Conversation

Peter Breadon, Program Director, Health and Aged Care, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.