tary industry pledges and changes to food labelling, marketing and advertising to children. However, a sugar tax – implemented in Mexico and supported by a number of public health specialists and the Greens – is still a dream, rejected by the food industry. “Industry has long acknowledged it has a role to play,” NZ Food and Grocery Council head Katherine Rich says. “It is already doing a lot of work around reformulation of food and beverages, portion sizes, supporting education and physical activity programmes in schools and communities, and voluntarily restricting advertising www.foodtechnology.co.nz 13 and sales aimed at children.” TAKE ONE look at Professor Boyd Swinburn during a presentation at a symposium looking at food branding to children, and you instantly know he’s more than passionate about the topic. The marketing of unhealthy food products to children is, he says, powerful, pervasive and predatory because it influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests and consumption. As Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health at the University of Auckland, Swinburn is dedicated to changing policy options that can better formulate and monitor modern and integrated marketing. He says branding to Kiwi kids simply exploits the credulity of children for commercial gain. Studies in New Zealand show that food marketing targeted at children through television, internet, magazines, sports, in and around classrooms and on packaging is predominantly unhealthy. “Our child obesity rate is third in the world,” Swinburn says, “and this is a dismal failure that we should be ashamed. The big message – the important one – is that we need to reduce marketing of unhealthy food to children. You simply can’t get past that…but many people are just ignoring the obvious, and time is marching on for these children who are destined to illness and death before their time.” A New Zealand public opinion poll recently showed that the level of public support for not allowing advertisements of food products that contain a lot of sugar and salt to be shown on television before 9pm, was 3.7 on a scale from 1 to 5. In addition, the level of public support for not allowing fast food and soft drink companies to sponsor children’s sport was similar. But self-regulation of the industry will not work, Swinburn says. Studies have consistently demonstrated failure, “because the sector has too many vested interests in perpetuating the status quo. The voluntary controls on marketing unhealthy foods to children currently in place by the Advertising Standards Authority are narrow, weak and ineffectual, and their continuation in their current form is not a credible option for protecting children,” he says. What could work is: • Children should be defined as up to at least 16 years of age • Using nutrient profiling scoring or the Health Star Rating system for the healthiness of food could define unhealthy food products not to be marketed to children • Strengthening voluntary commitments by food companies and marketers • Clear policy goals, performance targets and monitoring by Government • The threat of more direct forms of regulation, should measurable improve- their marketing target to children 12-14 years of age. Reducing childhood obesity is now a Government problem, with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman recently announcing a new plan that will refer more than 4000 obese four-year-olds to experts of healthy eating and physical activity. The Advertising Standards Authority has also been told to review the code of advertising food to children, and food and drink industry leaders are discussing the possibility of volun FOOD AND DRINK COMPANIES ARE INTERESTED IN NOT ONLY SELLING PRODUCTS TO CHILDREN BUT ALSO CREATING BRAND LOYALTY THAT THEY WILL CARRY INTO ADULTHOOD. ACCORDING TO AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH, A LIFETIME CUSTOMER MAY BE WORTH $100,000 TO A RETAILER, MAKING EFFECTIVE ‘CRADLE TO GRAVE’ STRATEGIES EXTREMELY VALUABLE.
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