Australia's Food Environment Dashboard

There is substantial international evidence that the exposure of children and adolescents to marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks (and associated brands) is harmful to their diets. Accordingly, there have been strong global calls to action to protect children and adolescents (aged <18) from exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks. Australian researchers have conducted several studies to understand the extent to which children and adolescents are exposed to unhealthy food and drink marketing on television, online, in outdoor spaces and on product packaging.

See Supermarkets for data related to price promotions and the placement of healthy and less healthy food in high-traffic areas within stores.

Indicator Result Assessment* What was measured? Source

TV ads

 

Number of TV ads for unhealthy vs healthy food:

 

– in children’s peak viewing time**

– at all viewing times

2.3/hr  vs  1.0/hr

1.7/hr  vs  0.7/hr

Product type and frequency of television food advertisements on four Adelaide channels over 12 months (30,000 hours) (2017)

Smithers et al. (2018)

Duration of TV ads for unhealthy vs healthy food:

 

– in children’s peak viewing time**
– at all viewing times

41 sec/hr  vs  19 sec/hr

31 sec/hr  vs  15 sec/hr

Product type and duration of television food advertisements on four Adelaide channels over 12 months (30,000 hours) (2017)

Smithers et al. (2018)

Outdoor advertising

 

Sydney:

 

Average number of ads for unhealthy vs healthy food and drinks on a typical route to school in Greater Sydney by:

 

– Train
– Bus
– Walking

7.3 vs 1.4

2.7 vs 0.4

1.7 vs 0.1

Advertisements found at train stations (vending and billboards), on buses, bus shelters and telephone post that could be seen by children via train, bus and walking routes to school in Greater Sydney (2018)

Richmond et al. (2020)

Melbourne

 

Proportion of food and drink outdoor advertising that promoted unhealthy products:

 

– Within 750m of schools
– At train stations
– At bus stops
– At tram stops

62%
60%
77%
100%

Advertisements for food and drinks on government transport assets (train stations, bus stops, tram stops) and within walking distance of school areas in Melbourne (2019)

Obesity Policy Coalition (2019)

Perth

 

Proportion of food and drink outdoor advertising that promoted unhealthy products:

 

– within 500 metres of schools

74%

Advertisements for food and drinks (inc. billboards, posters, digital and merchandising) with 500m of 64 Perth schools (2019)

Trapp et al. (2020)

Digital marketing

 

Number of unhealthy food and drink promotions to which children are exposed online

10/hr

Children (aged 13-17yrs, n=95) were asked to record mobile device screen every time they went onto relevant online platforms or apps for two weekdays and one weekend day in 2018-2019

Kelly et al. (2021)

Proportion of online food promotions that are for unhealthy products

58%

Children (aged 13-17yrs, n=95) were asked to record mobile device screen every time they went onto relevant online platforms or apps for two weekdays and one weekend day in 2018-2019

Kelly et al. (2021)

Number of unhealthy food and drink promotions to which children are exposed on mobile devices

~100/week

 

Children (aged 13-17yrs, n=95) were asked to record mobile device screen every time they went onto relevant online platforms or apps for two weekdays and one weekend day in 2018-2019

Kelly et al. (2021)

Sports sponsorship

 

Proportion of community sports clubs that have unhealthy food sponsors

37%

Unhealthy food sponsorship agreements across 216 clubs from top eight Victorian junior sports codes (2019)

Martino et al (2021)

Product packaging

 

Proportion of unhealthy food products with product packaging that includes elements designed to appeal to children

47%

215 ultra-processed foods from five leading food manufacturers (2015)

Pulker et al (2017)

* Green = ‘Promotes health’; Amber = ‘Needs further improvement to promote health’; Red = ‘Unhealthy’. Refer to Indicator Assessment Criteria at the bottom of the page.

** Children’s peak viewing time was defined as being from 07:00 to 09:00 AND from 16:00 to 22:00, as this corresponds with peaks in child audiences of ≥200 000


Key Findings

Australian children are being bombarded by unhealthy food marketing in many parts of their lives: when they watch television, use social media, go to school or watch/attend sport. Supermarket shelves also contain numerous unhealthy products that use characters, celebrities, games and other marketing tactics that appeal to children. In Australia, a complex mix of statutory regulations, co-regulatory and self-regulatory codes has created a complex system that does not provide effective protection for children and adolescents from exposure to unhealthy food marketing.

Television Advertising

  • During children’s peak viewing times and over all times slots, television audiences are exposed to unhealthy food ads more than twice as often as healthy foods ads.
  • Ads for unhealthy foods and brands are more likely in children’s peak viewing times compared with all time slots combined.
  • Snack foods (e.g. chips, popcorn), crumbed/battered meats, fast foods/take away meals and sweetened drinks are the most frequently advertised foods.

Outdoor Advertising

  • Children are bombarded with unhealthy food marketing on public transport and around schools.
  • In Greater Sydney, it was estimated that children would be exposed to more than 2,800 ads for unhealthy food if travelling on trains, over 1,000 if travelling on buses, and almost 700 if they walked to school. Of all ads observed, 97% were on New South Wales (NSW) state government infrastructure (eg. buses, train stations).
  • In Melbourne, almost two thirds of food ads found on Melbourne’s public transport network (displayed in and around train stations, tram stops, bus stops and near schools) were found to promote unhealthy food and drinks. Unhealthy food ads have also been found to be more common in Melbourne’s most-disadvantaged compared to least disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
  • In Perth, almost three quarters of outdoor food advertising within 500 metres of schools is for unhealthy food and drinks. There were 9 times more ads for unhealthy food and drinks than healthy items. Schools located in low socio-economic areas had a significantly higher proportion of unhealthy food and drink ads within 250m of schools (compared to ads found 250‐500m from schools).
  • Fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and snack foods are the most commonly food and drinks advertised.

Sports Sponsorship

  • More than one-third of all junior community sports clubs accept unhealthy sponsors, including alcohol, gambling, and unhealthy food sponsors combined.
  • Unhealthy sports sponsorship differed across sport types with more than half of football clubs and over a third of netball, cricket, and soccer clubs identified as being affiliated with an alcohol or an unhealthy food sponsor.
  • Clubs in regional areas were 2-3 times more likely to be affiliated with an unhealthy food sponsor than clubs located metro areas.

Digital Marketing

  • On any given week, children could be exposed to almost 100 food promotions on their mobile devices, including almost 34 promotions per week for fast food restaurants or delivery services related to unhealthy food, 13 promotions for sugar-sweetened beverages and 12 promotions for chocolate and confectionery.
  • It is estimated that almost two-thirds of all online food promotions are ‘earned’ media impressions, meaning that they do not directly come from the brand but are shared by third parties through reviews, reposts, blogs, referrals and word-of-mouth. Most were from social media community or celebrity pages, such as meme pages or online influencers.

Key Recommendations

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘Set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic drinks to children’ states that settings where children (aged < 18 years) gather (such as schools, playgrounds, family and child clinics, and sporting and cultural activities) should be free from all forms of marketing of foods high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt. The WHO recommends governments adopt and implement effective measures to restrict exposure of children to unhealthy food marketing and establish systems to enforce implementation of legislation.

There have been consistent calls from major public health organisations for Australian governments to regulate the food advertising industry to reduce children’s exposure to advertising that promotes unhealthy food and drinks. Regulations should:

  • be government-led and legislated
  • clearly define terms such as ‘unhealthy food’ and ‘unhealthy food marketing’, classifying foods using the Australian Dietary guidelines, as recommended by the COAG Health Council,
  • clearly define ‘children’ as anyone under 18 years
  • define ‘marketing’ to include any activity that promotes a product, brand or organisation, including TV, radio and print advertising, digital marketing, sports sponsorship, point of sale, on-pack and in-store promotions, and outdoor advertising including in and on public institutions and assets
  • include independent and transparent monitoring for policy evaluation and enforcement

The Obesity Policy Coalition’s Brands Off Our Kids report outlines the four actions that will protect all Australian children from the food industry’s unhealthy food marketing.


For more information

Websites

Visit the Obesity Evidence Hub for key evidence on obesity trends, impacts, prevention & treatment in Australia. Access evidence related to unhealthy food marketing.

Journal Articles

Reports

The Obesity Policy Coalition: Brands Off Our Kids 2020

Press Releases

Indicator Assessment Criteria
Metric

Number / duration of unhealthy (discretionary) versus healthy food advertisements per hour

No discretionary food and drink ads

Healthy food ads > Discretionary food ads

Discretionary food ads > Healthy food ads

Proportion of all advertising that promoted unhealthy (discretionary) foods

0%

1-50%

51-100%

Proportion of all food and drink advertising that promoted discretionary foods

0%

1-50%

51-100%

Proportion of all online promotions for food and beverages that were for unhealthy (discretionary) products

0%

1-50%

51-100%

Mean rate per hour of online unhealthy (discretionary) food and beverage promotions on digital marketing platforms

0

1 advertisement

> 1 advertisement

Proportion of community sports clubs that accept unhealthy food sponsors

0%

1 – 10%

> 10%

Proportion of unhealthy food products with product packaging that includes elements designed to appeal to children

0%

1 -10%

> 10%