New research reveals kids hit hard by junk food advertising

18 April 2018

Research led by the University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor Lisa Smithers and published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health reveals that Australian children are being exposed to twice as much unhealthy food advertising as healthy food advertising. 

Using a likely world-first bespoke TV monitoring system that captured a year's worth of television ads from one commercial network in South Australia – in contrast, most research of this kind is based on a few days of data - the study determined that children viewed more than 800 junk food ads a year, based on the assumption that they watched TV for at least 80 minutes a day. 

The study also revealed that these ads, which were for snack foods, crumbed/battered meats, takeaway/fast food and sugary drinks, were concentrated during peak viewing periods for children, with their frequency peaking in January at 71 per cent of all food advertising, falling to a low of 41 per cent in August. 

As A/Prof Smithers observes, this is a great cause for concern: 

"Diet-related problems are the leading cause of disease in Australia, and the World Health Organization has concluded that food marketing influences the types of foods that children prefer to eat, ask their parents for, and ultimately consume." 

Not only do these ads contribute to issues of obesity, they are also contributing to endemic tooth decay and other health issues among Australian kids. 

Current statistics from Australia's Oral Health Tracker show that 34.3% of 5-6 year-olds have experienced decay in their primary teeth while 2.35% of 6-14 year-olds have experienced it in their permanent teeth. 

The occurrence of untreated tooth decay is similarly troubling, being found in the primary teeth of just over 27% of children aged 5-10 years and in the permanent teeth of children aged 6-14 years. 

It is hoped that the TV monitoring system devised for the study might have ongoing use, allowing the evaluation of the impact of different policies, and leading to further protection of children from the oral and general health effects of junk food advertising.