Pressure is mounting on the NSW government to ban junk food advertisements on public transport, with new research showing children who catch the bus or train to school are exposed to 4.5 ads spruiking chips, donuts and ice cream per trip.
With 21 per cent, or 247,000 children, in NSW being overweight or obese, Cancer Council NSW is urging the government to remove junk food ads from state-owned property.
In its latest study, researchers mapped out trips taken by foot (average 600m), by bus (2-3km) and by train (one stop) to 21 schools across Sydney, from Fairfield to Freshwater.
Researchers then travelled the routes and found one-third of all ads were for food and drinks.
They found 75 per cent of the food and drink ads were for unhealthy, sugary, fatty or salty products.
“These statistics are extremely concerning,” Cancer Council NSW nutrition program manager Wendy Watson said.
“We know one in five are overweight or obese, and unhealthy habits developed now will carry into later life and can influence their risk of 12 different cancers.
“We want the government to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing by removing the ads from buses and trains.”
The study found children using public transport were exposed to 4.5 junk food ads on a one-way trip – double the number they would see if they walked to school.
In a sub-study, they focused on 90 designated school buses that serviced Sydney schools and found 72 per cent of the food ads were for junk.
“Parents have a responsibility but it’s so difficult when there’s a mass of advertising that is pushing something completely opposite to what they’re trying to do,” Ms Watson said.
She said the Berejiklian government risked missing its target of cutting childhood overweight and obesity rates by five percentage points by 2025, with government-funded modelling showing it needed to implement a “full suite of nine interventions” – including advertising bans – to get near it.
But NSW Health said “no single action will have sufficient impact to reverse the trend in overweight and obesity” and pointed to the government’s “comprehensive whole-of-government strategy” which includes “Live Life Well @ School” and “Munch and Move” programs.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the government was “investing $38 million of taxpayers’ money – $25 million of that specifically for children – to support a range of effective programs and services, including the establishment of several obesity clinics”.
Labor’s health spokesman Walt Secord said he supported an in-principle review, if elected in March, of ads on state-owned property, but not an outright ban.
“I want to take a middle-of-the-road approach,” he said.
“It must examine a wide-range of policies including portion control, exercise programs, access to fresh food, gaming apps and kids, parental responsibility and green space for recreation.”
The Outdoor Media Association (OMA), the peak national industry body that represents companies that display outdoor advertisements, said it wanted to partner with the Cancer Council to “help all Australians”.
Linda Tollis, mother of Charlotte, 15, and Chelsea, 11, from Gymea, said junk food ads had “saturated” their environment and the government needed to support parents’ efforts to instil healthy eating habits.
“The older the girls get, the harder they are to control. These ads are in your face everywhere and goes against you all the time,” she said.
“It’s more serious than what the government wants to think. The junk food marketers don’t care if we get obese or diabetes, they just want our money.”