Cancer charity rates TV shows in terms of junk food advertising

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 03 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e883
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. 1Sydney

An Australian cancer charity has launched an interactive online tool so that parents can identify which television shows have the most and least advertising of junk food.

Cancer Council NSW has also designed the Fat Free TV Guide ( as an advocacy tool, encouraging users to send emails or videos to television station executives.

The website says: “Pick a program and you’ll not only find out how many junk food ads are in popular TV shows, you’ll also see how much energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium your kids would be getting if they ate one serve of everything they saw advertised in an average episode.”

It calculates that children watching the three unhealthiest programmes would be exposed to 26 advertisements of unhealthy foods and drinks over six hours of viewing.

If a child were to eat a serving of all the foods advertised during a single episode of a Saturday sporting match, they would consume seven times more saturated fat and four times more sugar than the recommended daily intake.

Clare Hughes, the council’s nutrition programme manager, who led the project, said that it used a nutrient profiling tool developed in the United Kingdom to assess foods being advertised over a 14 week period.

A research paper describing how the tool was used to assess food advertisements is being prepared for publication, she told the BMJ.

The initiative comes amid longstanding calls by Australian public health groups for tighter regulation of the marketing of junk food to children.

Ms Hughes said that the guide showed the need for regulation of advertising to limit children’s exposure to junk food advertisements.

She said that the project was unusual in targeting the television industry, as public health campaigns usually focused on food manufacturers. Members of the public had already sent more than 100 emails to television executives, she said.

Jane Martin, senior policy adviser at the Obesity Policy Coalition of Australia, said that self regulation by the industry was failing to protect children from marketing of unhealthy food.

“Despite this and high public support for regulation of marketing on television, there’s been a distinct lack of will from the government to act,” she said.

The Parents’ Jury, an advocacy group funded by health groups, welcomed the initiative. “Our members consistently tell us they are fed up with unhealthy food advertisements being shown during their kids’ favourite programmes,” said a spokeswoman, Corrina Langelaan.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e883

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