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Why a Crackdown on Junk Food Advertising May be Just Around the Corner

You’ve likely heard that gambling advertising is one of the first targets for the Albanese government, but one minister says junk food ads may be next on the list. Here’s why and what it means for your health.

In the wake of an inquiry into online gambling advertising, Australia’s Minister for Communication, Michelle Rowland, has warned that the junk food industry won't be getting off scot-free.

“We are constantly being made aware of the various changes in community expectations that occur around products and services that can have the capacity to cause harm,” the minister said to The Australian Financial Review.

From obesity to type 2 diabetes, Australia’s junk food advertising is fuelling our chronic disease crisis – and children are one of its major targets. So, it’s a relief to many that this beast of an industry may finally be put under the microscope after years of reigning over our media – we’ve got an estimated $1.51 billion between 2020 and 2021 spent on video advertising for these ultra-processed foods. The fast-food industry is especially culpable, having spent a whopping $330 million last year on ads, according to the Standard Media Index – they even outdid gambling for total expenditure! Let’s dive into what the government has planned, plus what these ads are doing to our health.

What we know

So, despite these strong words from the Minister for Communication, what’s actually going to happen? Well, we know that MP Sophie Scamps has long been campaigning for a crackdown on junk food ads – and as a former GP, she’s well aware of the dangers ultra-processed foods pose to our health – with a number of major players standing in the way. Junk food is big business, after all. But with the backing of the Albanese government, hope has been reignited that we may be able to tackle the fast-food powers that be – but the question remains on whether the government will follow through. But with the recent changes to gambling advertising, which came into effect in April – you might have noticed the new taglines followed ads like “Imagine what you could be buying instead”, and “Chances are you’re about to lose” – many are hopeful that the dangers of junk food ads will finally be addressed by our leaders, with action to follow. Let’s unpack exactly what those dangers are.

The problem with junk food advertising

While many fast-food and confectionery companies may argue that their ads aren’t the problem, rather it’s our diets, this attitude fails to take into account the real, proven psychological effects of junk food advertising – on children and adults alike. These ads promote excess sugar consumption and drive people to make purchases that might not have otherwise made. And the results? Catastrophic. Australia has some of the most excessive advertising around the world – we also have some of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease. Is there a connection? Research suggests there is – and we’re all vulnerable, with children taking on the brunt of it. The average 5 to 8-year-old Aussie child consumes 830 junk food ads every year on TV alone. One study found half of the advertising slots during children’s TV were dedicated to food marketing, and we’re not talking about healthy food here! It’s not just young kids who are vulnerable either, with 15-year-olds spending around 2 hours online after school, teenagers are at even greater risk for ad exposure, particularly on phones and computers. The use of “advergames” on social media is a popular trick to get children to engage in a game loaded with marketing content.

Is it any wonder that childhood obesity is at an all-time high? A whopping 1 in 6 Aussie kids are living with this condition, with research showing targeted junk food marketing campaigns are partly responsible for these rising numbers. I mean, when you consider the fact that 4 to 6-year-olds reportedly think foods with a cartoon character on the box taste better, it’s hard to justify junk food marketing. Adults and children are both susceptible to these ads, with the latter even more at risk of addiction due to their developing brains and a lack of impulse control. That’s why it’s not always as simple as just eating healthier – excessive sugar intake can have long-term consequences like leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety to the brain, and without this, many are left with unregulated appetites. We also know that ultra-processed foods can land us in an addictive cycle that sugar consumption can create. It starts when dopamine is released in the brain in response to the sugar, triggering the reward system – which has been found to evoke a stronger reward response than drugs like cocaine. So, while the junk food industry may try to wipe their hands clean of blame, their ads are more than culpable for the chronic disease trends we’re seeing in the country.

What to do

While we wait for government-led change regarding junk food advertising, there are a few things we can do to wean ourselves off the sweet stuff. If you’re finding yourself struggling with a sugar habit, we’re here to help. We know how hard it can be to quit alone, especially when we’re surrounded by sugar everywhere we go – from the pantry to TV ads to the supermarket. Join us for the 8-Week Program and we’ll help you change the way you look at food – and that doesn’t mean you have to follow restrictive diets or miss out on your favourite foods; we believe you can still enjoy delicious food without jeopardising your health. With celebrity chef Sarah Glover on our panel of experts, you’ll have an array of fun recipes at your fingertips, along with our own exclusive armoury of simple, tasty and healthy recipes for everything from daily meals to impressive entertaining. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:

  1. 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
  2. 90+ member-only recipes.
  3. Community forums to share your journey.
  4. Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
  5. Exclusive content from our panel of experts.

So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!





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