Calls for food regulation not backed by study

10 October 2017

Calls by researchers for more regulation on food and beverage are not backed by the findings of the study they use as evidence, says FGC.

Otago and Auckland university researchers say their study showed children were bombarded by junk food advertisements in schools, homes and on the streets, and the way to reduce exposure was to impose a sugary drinks tax and regulate ‘junk’ food marketing and what foods can be sold in schools.

But Katherine Rich says the study, which was drawn from 168 children wearing cameras around their necks to show what they were seeing, doesn’t back the calls for regulation.

“The research provides very little data that may be useful to inform policy or encourage change to reduce childhood obesity rates.

“The researchers have taken the widest possible definition of advertising by counting food wrappers, and have found, not surprisingly, that they are the main images captured by the cameras. They have deliberately led people to believe food packaging exists solely for marketing purposes. This is completely untrue.

“The main purpose of food packaging is to provide a safe and fresh product, as well as providing vital information such as allergen and nutrition labelling.

“It’s disappointing to see public money provided to support research being designed ujsing poor and inconsistent definitions.

“Most people would agree that the existence of a product in a dairy is not an advertisement. When the research concludes that most exposure took place in the home and was food wrapping, it’s unrealistic to think that any of the regulatory interventions they’ve called for will improve what food is provided at home.”

Katherine Rich's full response to a Fairfax Media inquiry on the study is below, followed by a link to the article published on Stuff.co.nz, and a link to the research study.

This group of academics have been campaigning for those regulatory interventions for some time and their views are well known. In this case, the paper doesn’t support their calls. Definitions matter. They have taken the widest possible definition of advertising by counting food wrappers, and have found, not surprisingly, that they are the main images captured.

Most New Zealanders understand that food wrappers have a practical purpose of holding the product and do not expect plain-wrapping. Most people would agree that the existence of a product in a dairy is not an advertisement. When the research concludes that most exposure took place in the home and was food wrapping, it’s unrealistic to think that any of the regulatory interventions they’ve called for will improve what food is provided at home. This work was done before the Advertising Standards Authority released the results of their review of advertising to children which resulted in the tightening of rules.

Food and Grocery Council members either have long-held policies of not advertising to children at all or keep strictly to the ASA rules. The Food and Grocery Council has advocated that improvements can be made to food served in school canteens and has raised this with the Ministry of Education as well as previously supporting school healthy food initiatives.

I note that the new Code for Advertising to Children came into effect last week, meaning that all advertising targeting children and young people must now comply with the new Children and Young People’s Advertising Code. For the first time, the Code includes rules that cover advertising to everyone under 18, including identifying commercial messaging, and restrictions around the depiction of anti-social behaviour, sexual imagery, unrealistic body images, and occasional food and beverage advertising. Like the previous version of the rules, Food and Grocery Council members will keep strictly to these.

Fairfax Media article

The full study findings