Press Release – University of Auckland
Food marketing review ignores advice from 77 experts
Media Release – University of Auckland
Embargoed to NZMJ publication 6am Friday 17 February 2017
Government regulation is needed to reduce the advertising industry’s marketing of unhealthy foods to children and young people, according to 77 of New Zealand’s leading health professors.
“The industry has largely ignored a submission from these 77 experts on its recent review of self-regulatory codes,” says Professor Boyd Swinburn from the University of Auckland.
The submission made last year on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) review, proposed a revised single code, he says.
“The ASA pre-empted government by announcing a review ahead of the government launching its child obesity plan, so the success of the review for them is that it has bought another full government term of inaction on the issue.
“The 77 professors submitted on the review, but very little notice was taken of the submission from them, nor the submissions from other health groups,” says Professor Swinburn.
In a study published in the NZ Medical Journal today, Professor Swinburn evaluated the proposed new ASA code against eight criteria in the professors’ submission for an effective code.
“The evaluation found that the proposed code largely represents no change or uncertain change from the existing codes,” says Professor Swinburn. “It cannot be expected to provide substantial protection for children and young people from the marketing of unhealthy foods and there is no indication that independent monitoring will be implemented to assess the code’s effects.
“Government regulations will be needed to achieve this important outcome,” he says. “Reducing the exposure of children and young people to the marketing of unhealthy foods is a core strategy for reducing the high overweight and obesity prevalence in this population.”
He says the code reflects problems endemic to self-regulation where commercial interests conflict with public interests and it falls far below international best practice.
“While the proposed code appears to be a small step in the right direction, it does not provide adequate protection of children and young people’s interests.
“A further potentially serious downside is that the revised ASA code will be given as a reason by the Government for not implementing the regulations that would effectively reduce children and young people’s exposure to marketing of unhealthy foods,” he says.
“The Review Panel has missed a major opportunity to introduce meaningful changes that would help to reduce childhood obesity.”
Professor Swinburn says government regulation is urgently needed to create a policy framework which puts children’s health and well-being above commercial interests.
He says New Zealand has an unacceptably high prevalence of childhood obesity and the Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, has made it one of his priorities to reduce this rate through the government’s childhood obesity plan.
“Achieving this goal will require a significant reduction in the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children and young people,” says Professor Swinburn.
The World Health Organisation Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity, (co-chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman), had its report endorsed by all member states, including New Zealand, at the World Health Assembly in May last year.
That report also supported a strong regulatory approach to reduce unhealthy food marketing to children.
Professor Swinburn says the ASA Review Panel received 91 submissions – including 52 from public health and nutrition organisations that called for substantially strengthened codes, and 15 from the food and beverage industry sector, which largely opposed stronger codes.
“Although there is no evidence that industry-controlled, voluntary codes are effective in reducing marketing to children, public health groups actively participated in the ASA review in the hope of strong outcomes,” says Professor Swinburn.
• Proposed new industry code on unhealthy food marketing to children and young people: will it make a difference? by Boyd Swinburn and Stefanie Vandevijvere on behalf of health professors. Published in NZ Medical Journal on 17th February 2017.
• A list of the 77 health professionals who endorsed the ASA submission is available on request.