Leading independent public health agencies are calling for an immediate ban on unhealthy food and drink advertising on state-owned assets.
High visibility locations are being prioritised, including public transport and transport waiting areas.
The mandate for the proposed ban comes from a research project led by Telethon Kids Institute Health Promotion and Education research team deputy head Gina Trapp, which analysed outdoor food and drink advertisements within 500m of a number of Perth metropolitan schools.
The audit revealed there were nine times as many advertisements for unhealthy foods as healthy foods.
Dr Trapp said exposure to these advertisements directly influenced children’s eating behaviours and kilojoule consumption, contributing to the current obesity epidemic.
“It’s the only medium that you cannot ‘turn off’, so the regulation of its content is particularly important,” she said.
The proposed ban was presented to all state parliamentarians in the form of a joint statement on September 7.
Public Health Advocacy Institute of WA director Melissa Stoneham says young people are being bombarded by junk food advertising to such an extent they think it is normal.
“They see them every day. They see them when they’re waiting at the bus stop, when they’re on the bus, when they go past outdoor signage. The last thing we want is for these unhealthy messages to be reinforced,” she says.
By allowing unhealthy food and drink to be advertised on state-owned property, the government was essentially undermining its own preventative health initiatives, she said.
“I’m not sure they’re actually doing it on purpose, I think it’s just something that got away and sort of went underneath the radar.”
She says self-regulation within advertising standards needs to be scrutinised and amended in order to rectify issues like this.
Price Advertising owner Allyson Pedley says she believes the ban is prescriptive in nature and that we need to be looking at the bigger picture.
“I understand our primal need to protect children, and I understand the financial implications of obesity, but again are we dealing with the symptoms or are we trying to get to the root of the problem? If obesity is a problem in children, then why is it that almost every suburb has a McDonalds,” she says.
“People need to be responsible and accountable for their own actions.
“Our sedentary way of life, too much screen time and not enough physical activity is causing this, not the fact that McDonalds is running an outdoor campaign near to a school.”
Dr Stoneham says she does not expect the government will object to the ban given the anticipated concern of potential government revenue loss has been shown to be unsupportable.
“Just like when we banned tobacco advertising, that space was taken up with other types of advertising. I think it just opens it up for other sorts of business and commodities to advertise,” she says.
Dr Stoneham says she does not anticipate there will be a rapid decrease in unhealthy food consumption among adolescents overnight, but that this ban will result in one additional space where exposure can be decreased.