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Why We Won’t be Getting Our Hopes up for Junk Food Ad Reform

We’ve all heard a lot of discussion around the possibility of junk food advertising being next on the chopping block for the Albanese government, but with some of the biggest industry players in the country to tackle, we’re not so sure the walk will follow the talk.

You’d think we’d be thrilled at the news here at IQS – after all, sugar addiction is our domain! – but the reasons for our disappointment are twofold. For starters, we’ve long heard about the plans to tackle the junk food industry and obesity, but we haven’t seen solid action to back those words up. There’s also the fact that the government profits from their relationship with a number of food industry giants – it would be something of an understatement to suggest the major players of the fast-food and confectionery worlds are powerful. So what’s changed? Well, it was the Minister for Communication, Michelle Rowland, who first suggested the Albanese government has junk food advertising in its sights. While the discussion on pervasive and dangerous advertising has mainly focused on gambling, many were intrigued and cautiously hopeful to hear junk food might be put under the microscope after so many years of evading ad regulation – while other major health-harming products like cigarettes and alcohol have faced regulatory changes, many of us thought sugar would go overlooked once again as gambling takes centre stage. 

But as Michelle told the Australian Financial Review, “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.”

And the minister confirmed that junk food was indeed one of these products and services harming Australians. While these words are affirming and certainly something we’ve been hoping to hear for a long time, we’re hesitant to call it a win until we actually see some action and a willingness to ruffle the feathers of some highly profitable industry players. Before we dive into the connections between the junk food industry and our government, let’s first unpack what we’re talking about when we talk about junk food. It encompasses “discretionary” foods, meaning the products that are not essential to our survival nor nutritionally-dense. Junk food is generally high in saturated or trans fats, added sugar, salt and preservatives, making them a popular option for a quick energy hit – but in the long term, people end up in energy slumps with imbalanced blood-sugars and a high risk for obesity. Chips, cakes, biscuits, frozen meals, fast food and even ultra-processed bread and cereals can come under this category, and here in Australia they make up a larger portion of our diets than ever before.

They’re easy to access and strategically placed in supermarkets in such a way that leaves many of us with packets of the stuff in our shopping trolleys. This is no coincidence – the marketing behind the junk food is one of the biggest drivers of these shopping and consumption trends. While the occasional snack won’t throw our health off track, we are seeing drastic shifts in the direction of processed food consumption in place of whole, nutrient-dense foods. The consequences of course include a rise in chronic disease, along with deficiencies in a number of micronutrients we would ideally be obtaining from whole foods – think iodine and folate, both of which we’re seeing an increase in deficiencies of in Australia. 

But why has it taken so long for our government to act on these ever-present ads that bombard us when we’re out through billboards, packaging and signs, and follow us home through our TV and phone screens? One word: money.

The power of the junk food industry

Completely in contrast to public health goals, you better believe that sugar and fast-food industries are heavily subsidised by the government. Both stand to gain a lot from this mutually beneficial relationship – but how? And why would the government do this? Well, the latter is fairly easily answered: money – isn’t is always about money? Of course, in the long term, it’s costing us billions in healthcare for those affected by junk food ads and consumption, but it’s that short-term – or short-sighted! – gain that fuels the government’s support of these industries. So, forgive us if we’re a little apprehensive of this new anti-junk food attitude from the government. For starters, the food and drink industry has a long history of lobbying the government to avoid any kind of regulations that reduce their profits – that includes advertising! – and this is no small body. These Australian food and drink industry is one of our biggest sectors, with the Australian Food and Grocery Council stating only the “minimum necessary regulations” ought to be imposed. We also know that government assets like bus stops and billboards are frequently used to advertise junk foods, while the junk food industry makes tens of billions of dollars each year – and that’s no small figure for the economy.

What we’re saying is that it’s going to take a bold move from the government and a willingness to reduce profitability of this industry if anything’s going to change. And trust us, we would love to be proven wrong here!

A silver lining

While we’re not getting our hopes up just yet, the actions taken to curb the influence of gambling advertising – while minimal so far – indicate that we might get some traction in reigning in junk food advertising, even if it’s only a small step in the right direction. We’ve seen the changes to gambling ads, which came into effect in April with a number of new compulsory taglines like “Imagine what you could be buying instead”, and “Chances are you’re about to lose”.

It still leaves much to be desired – after all, many of us were hoping for a total ban on these ads – but it’s still an action that has enraged gambling industry giants, and if the government is willing to damage these ties, perhaps they’re willing to do the same with the junk food industry. But until then, we’re on our own when it comes to staying healthy and fighting the influence of addictive and pervasive ultra-processed food. Need a little help? 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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