Ban junk food ads on public transport and other WA Government property, health agencies say


Leading health agencies including the Telethon Kids Institute and the Cancer Council want the WA Government to immediately stop advertising junk food on government property like bus shelters, billboards and next to train stations.

The agencies have released a new report which says it will not only improve people’s health but will help save the Government hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade in the fight against obesity and other chronic diseases.

The Cancer Council’s director of cancer prevention, Melissa Ledger, said the ban would be easy for the State Government to put in place.

“We really want to see the Government stop allowing junk food industries to advertise on their property,” she said.

A KFC advertisement for fried chicken on the digital billboard in Yagan Square.
Yagan Square’s giant digital tower in Perth’s CBD is one Government asset used to advertise junk food.(ABC News: Nocilas Perpitch)

Parents like Cat Walker, from Parents’ Voice Australia, said it was hard enough getting her children to eat healthy food without the advertising they saw every day.

“We live on a street that has a bus go by every 15 minutes, and my seven-year-old now reads all the ads out to the other children and they look fun, and he’s like, ‘Why can’t we have slushies, why can’t we have that?'” Ms Walker said.

“I feel the Government needs to be more responsible for marketing to our children. We want a free, healthy environment for them to grow up.”

A head and shoulders shot of a woman with blonde hair and a black hat standing in front of bushland.
Cat Walker says it “doesn’t make any sense” to throw junk food ads at children.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

Quarter of WA kids overweight or obese

The report was compiled by Deakin University for the Cancer Council WA and the Telethon Kids Institute and has the support of other health agencies, including Healthways, the Australian Medical Association, the WA School Canteen Association and the Public Health Association WA.

It noted just over two in three adults and a quarter of all children in Western Australia were either overweight or obese.

Telethon Kids director Jonathan Carapetis said the social, health and economic implications were substantial if the trend continued.

“Yet in the next 10 years it will cost them more than $600 million a year to care for the chronic diseases that result from that sort of advertising that leads to kids eating and drinking junk foods.”

The Government’s own Sustainable Health Review, released in April 2019, called for a ban on unhealthy food and drink promotions on all state premises, as part of efforts to stop the rise in obesity in WA by July 2024.

The report pointed to four other jurisdictions which already had regulations in place banning advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages specifically on public-owned assets.

London, the Australian Capital Territory and Amsterdam target public transport, while Brazil focuses on the Ministry of Health and its property.

An overweight child holds his hands to his stomach
A junk food ad ban would help tacke obesity levels among children and adults, health agencies say.(Flickr: Kiril Pipo)

‘Profit above health’ a big obstacle

The report said common factors in those jurisdictions were effective partnerships across levels of government, academia and non-governmental organisations, backed by strong political leadership.

But it warned there could be opposition from the food, media and advertising industries.

An advertisement for Hungry Jacks drinks at a bus stop, with a woman riding a bike off to the right.
Parents say the Government should be more responsible for junk food advertisements.(ABC News: Jon Sambell)

“One of the big obstacles to this not happening is really the self-interests of the industries and putting profit above health,” Ms Ledger said.

Regardless, Ms Walker and the health agencies ultimately want tighter guidelines around marketing towards children overall.

“It doesn’t make any sense.”

No commitment from government

Health Minister Roger Cook did not say the Government would immediately implement the ban.

He instead pointed to a range of measures the Government was taking to encourage healthy eating among West Australians.

Mr Cook said the Government recently committed to phasing out alcohol advertising on public transport and “further restrictions on advertising may be considered in future as part of the Sustainable Health Review”.

A pile of junk food and snacks.
Junk food leads to chronic diseases and a massive public health cost, critics say.(Dave Hunt, file photo: AAP)



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