Ad ban on junk food no solution
A RECENT report from the Obesity Policy Coalition called for draconian restrictions on advertising so-called "junk food" on television at any time children might be watching.
They are asking that junk food advertising be treated like explicit adults-only television, which can only be broadcast on free-to-air networks after the children have gone to bed.
But while the television bans have generated the most headlines so far, that is not where the proposals end. The OPC has a much more ambitious agenda.
It argues for a legislative ban on advertising that is either directed at "or which children are likely to be exposed" to and that it should also include all forms of advertising, including radio, the internet, print publications, billboards and point-of-sale marketing.
Let's consider potentially how widespread these bans could be.
Want to market a new burger at your fast-food outlet to adults? No billboards for you, because children might see them.
Planning to advertise your new line of chocolate on news.com.au? Forget it - kids might see it.
Don't even think about marketing the virtues of your mint-fresh chewing gum at the supermarket checkout - what if little Johnny or Jenny sees it when shopping with Mum?
The report also argues for regulation to extend to "characters and personalities". Humphrey B. Bear might have to hit the treadmill before his next show, lest his ample proportions suggest to children that anything other than a trim physique is tolerable. Sesame Street's Cookie Monster doesn't exactly encourage children to live a healthy lifestyle. He might have to undergo a modern "rebranding", although "Vegetable Monster" doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
And how would we define what constitutes junk food and is therefore banned from advertising? Chocolate and hamburgers are easy; they would obviously be treated as pariah goods like cigarettes. But what about cereal that contains lots of sugar? Again, you might think this is easy - no Coco Pops. But what about "healthy" cereals such as Sultana Bran, which contains only marginally less sugar than Coco Pops?
Even assuming it is easy to define what constitutes junk food, that doesn't necessarily mean what ends up in kids' mouths is healthy. Weet-Bix contains practically no sugar. Yet we all know what most children do before eating it is add copious amounts of honey.
What's to stop this from happening? Parents. At the end of the day, a child's diet is controlled by Mum and Dad, not by advertisers or promotional campaigns.
Until children are able to drive to the supermarket on the weekend and purchase the week's groceries, only parents can control what their children eat, and how much they eat.
The fact that parents control how much and what they and their children eat is too often overlooked by the preventative health lobby in their quest to control what we put in our mouths.
For all the inconvenience and unintended consequences, there is no evidence oppressive advertising or other bans actually combat obesity. No one will lose weight or eat more healthily unless they want to.