The next step in tackling childhood obesity: removing junk food advertising from the school trip

7 March 2019 | Wendy Watson

The next step in tackling childhood obesity: removing junk food advertising from the school trip

Each month children under the age of 15 in NSW make over 3.3 million bus trips and over 2 million train trips, and we know there are alarming numbers of junk food ads all around.  

We carried out a survey around Sydney schools to find out how many junk food ads kids are exposed to on the school trip. We took trips to schools just like kids would, on buses, trains and walking. We found that a staggering three quarters of food ads were for junk food, sugary drinks, pizza, fries, lollies, and chocolate.

We also looked at 90 designated school buses from around Sydney and found the same proportion of junk food ads on those school buses; just one ad was for fruit.

Protecting our kids

We know that 1 in 2 children eat an unhealthy snack every day and 45% regularly drink sweetened beverages. However, there are good things happening, we are teaching kids at school about healthy eating, educating them about the right food choices at the canteen, and guiding parents. But these efforts are being undermined by junk food advertising.

An overwhelming obstacle

We pack our kids a healthy lunch box, teach them about healthy food and send them to school on buses covered in junk food ads.  And it doesn’t stop there; there are junk food ads at train stations, on outdoor signs, and bus stops along main roads. Amounting to a pretty big impression on our kids, all before they’ve even arrived at school.

Kids are innocent and vulnerable. We know, through research, that children don’t understand advertising and it directly influences what they want to eat and what they do eat.  The ads they see are determined by food companies wanting to sell their product to gain profit, and the government has a role to play in preventing that. As it stands, the government is profiting from junk food advertisers and adding to an already overwhelming junk food marketing presence in children’s everyday lives.

Junk food marketing is all around

Advertising is all around and it makes it hard for parents to resist the pestering from kids. Family TV shows are sponsored by fast food companies, kids have TVs in their bedrooms, ads pop up while they are online watching shows and playing games, the end of each aisle at the supermarket bulges with multipacks of junk food and sugary drinks, digital signs on the street and in shopping centres have cameras fitted to collect information on who passes by and interacts with them, some even incorporate gaming.

Already one in five NSW kids are overweight or obese, and in pockets around the state it’s even higher.

We can’t lower the rates of childhood obesity overnight, we can’t solve it simply by protecting children from junk food ads. But we can make a difference, combined with other efforts we can set a better example to children of what healthy eating looks like; and it’s not what is currently on their trip to school.

A clear and simple solution

Parents have an important role in helping their children eat healthily but governments have a role too – to help parents by removing marketing of junk food from the overwhelming number of places children see it.

The ACT government has successfully removed junk food ads from their buses, and now it’s time for NSW to act.

We don’t need a review; we know that our public transport is covered in junk food ads and we know what to do. We know that the programs in place to tackle childhood obesity will not be enough to lower rates to the targets the government has set.

We need action to remove junk food advertising from state owned property.