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Back to News 22 January 2018

Taking a stand on junk food

Australian children are constantly exposed to junk food advertisements – on television, billboards and online. Children are particularly vulnerable to the influence of food marketing as they find it harder to distinguish advertising from regular program content and they are less aware of the selling and persuasive intent of advertising compared to adults. 

Junk food advertisers know this and target young children to encourage unhealthy eating habits, brand loyalty and a lifetime of future sales! Poor dietary habits put children at risk of a whole host of preventable health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.

Marketing trick #1 Advertisers have mastered the art of targeting children with slogans, logos, jingles, characters and packaging designed to encourage kids to pester. According to one Australian study, 69% of parents report that their children frequently pester them for food items at the supermarket, and 88% of these requests are for unhealthy foods.

Currently there is limited government regulation of food marketing to children in Australia. Instead the food industry has developed a voluntary self-regulation system. According to these regulations junk food adverts must not be directly targeted to children or be placed within programs or editorial content that are primarily directed at children. This voluntary system is not working! Recent research has revealed that since the regulations were introduced children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising has remained virtually unchanged.

Marketing trick #2 Next time you are at the supermarket take a closer look at the cartoon characters on cereals aimed at children. The eyes of the characters are often directed downward, focusing their gaze at the height of children. This technique can be seen in the pictured example of Kellogg’s Froot Loops. The aim of the eye contact is to make a connection with children and build brand trust.

Image source:

Two steps you can take to help protect our kids:

  1. Teach kids how to read between the lines of junk food adverts

Include classroom lessons that encourage children to assess the intent of marketing messages and identify the strategies that advertisers use. Relevant lesson plans mapped to the curriculum can be found online from Refresh.ED and Crunch&Sip.

  1. Make a complaint about a junk food advert.

The current regulations rely on the public to complain about ads that market unhealthy food to children! If you see an advert that you think breaches the codes you can jump online and make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau here.  

For more information about how you can help protect children from unhealthy food marketing visit