AMA calls for ban on marketing junk food, remove vending machines

Ban it: Port Macquarie dietitian Peter Clark supports calls for a sugar tax on sugary drinks in Australia.
Ban it: Port Macquarie dietitian Peter Clark supports calls for a sugar tax on sugary drinks in Australia.

The AMA is calling on a ban on advertising and marketing of junk food and sugary drinks to children, and a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages should be introduced as a matter of priority.

In a position statement on Nutrition 2018, which was released on Friday, AMA president, Dr Michael Gannon, said that eating habits and attitudes toward food are established in early childhood.

The boss of the peak body also said that improving the nutrition and eating habits of Australians must become a priority for all levels of government.

“The AMA is alarmed by the continued, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children,” he said.

“Children are easily influenced, and this marketing – which takes place across all media platforms, from radio and television to online, social media, and apps - undermines healthy food education and makes eating junk food seem normal.

“Advertising and marketing unhealthy food and drink to children should be prohibited altogether, and the loophole that allows children to be exposed to junk food and alcohol advertising during coverage of sporting events must be closed.

“The food industry claims to subscribe to a voluntary code, but the reality is that this kind of advertising is increasing. The AMA calls on the food industry to stop this practice immediately.”

Lyne MP and former assistant minister for health, Dr David Gillespie, says the federal government is already doing so much in this space.

He pointed to the Healthy Food Partnership, a collaboration between the food industry, public health and government, which is driving changes in food formulation, accentuating changes to formulation and portion control, and fast food restaurants, food processors, all people in the food industry have a say in it.

“We've developed the Health Star Rating system which is a front-of-pack labelling system that helps Australians make more nutritious choices and that Health Star Rating process is in its infancy.

“It’s got very broad industry buy-in. There’s 115 food companies that have signed up to it. There’s 5500 and climbing products on the shelves now that have put themselves through the Health Star Rating process, and that's out of 12,000 goods on the shelf.

“A lot of other countries are looking at the success of this program, and it is driving healthy and nutritious choices.”

The AMA is alarmed by the continued, targeted marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children

Dr Michael Gannon

Dr Gillespie said other initiatives including the ELF diet – Eat Less Food – and the DME program – Do More Exercise – were beneficial in better, overall health.

“You are what you eat, but it’s also a result of how often you eat and how much you eat. So you’ve got to make wise choices and that's what the Health Star Rating is trying to do.”

While acknowledging that obesity is a problem within Australia, he said the federal government’s $100 million boost for sporting schools funds was designed to get school children moving.

Dr Gannon said the AMA’s position statement also calls for increased nutrition education and support to be provided to new or expecting parents, and notes that good nutrition during pregnancy is also vital.

It recognises that eating habits can be affected by practices at institutions such as child care centres, schools, hospitals, and aged care homes.

“Whether people are admitted to hospital or just visiting a friend or family member, they can be very receptive to messages from doctors and other health workers about healthy eating,” Dr Gannon said.

“Hospitals and other health facilities must provide healthy food options for residents, visitors, and employees.

“Vending machines containing sugary drinks and unhealthy food options should be removed from all health care settings, and replaced with machines offering only healthy options.

“Water should be the default beverage option, including at fast food restaurants in combination meals where soft drinks are typically provided as the beverage.”

Key recommendations:

  • Advertising and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children to be prohibited.
  • Water to be provided as the default beverage option, and a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to be introduced.
  • Healthy foods to be provided in all health care settings, and vending machines containing unhealthy food and drinks to be removed.
  • Better food labelling to improve consumers’ ability to distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars.
  • Regular review and updating of national dietary guidelines and associated clinical guidelines to reflect new and emerging evidence.
  • Continued uptake of the Health Star Rating system, as well as refinement to ensure it provides shoppers with the most pertinent information.