Lee Duffield

Edited by Lee Duffield
Freedom and Truth

Junk food as bad as heroin: ad producer

Photo: Ellen-Maree

One in four Australian children are overweight or obese. Photo: Ellen-Maree Elliot

A producer has defended an advertisement to highlight the problem of childhood obesity that equates parents giving their children junk food to injecting them with heroin.

Precinct ad agency managing director and producer Henry Motteram says his agency created the ad to “spark discussion” and was “happy to be the enemy”.

“I don’t think we would have got a quarter of a million hits in two weeks if we hadn’t done something shocking,” he said.

“I know the analogy towards heroin and junk food is very strong – but both kill.

“Junk food kills a lot more people than heroin does in this country every year.”

Mr Motteram says the Breaking the Habit ad was made for “purely philanthropic” reasons.

“What we’ve done is drawn attention to something that really needed attention drawn to it,” he said.


Cancer Council NSW nutrition program manager Colleen Glasson says the ad’s concept is “very hard-hitting” but she has “major problems” with it.

“We all need to eat – we don’t all need to take heroin,” she said.

“It’s okay to have a little bit of junk food – it’s not okay to have a little bit of heroin.”

She says one in four Australian children are overweight or obese.

“Many of those children will grow up to become obese adults, increasing their risk of chronic diseases, like certain cancers, heart diseases and diabetes.” she said.

“It’s a huge problem.”

Unhealthy food advertising

Junk food advertisements directed at children are self-regulated by two separate bodies, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and the Quick Service Restaurant Industry (QSRI).

Both bodies have voluntary “initiatives” that outline guidelines for responsible food advertising to children.

A report compiled by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council found there was a significant reduction in “non-core” food advertising to children by AFGC signatories between 2007 and 2009.

However, the report found the voluntary nature of the self-regulated codes limited their effectiveness and did not “adequately protect children”.

Ms Glasson says there “are a lot of loopholes”.

She says although parents need to be educated about the link between too much junk food and obesity, the “real problem is the environment and the volume and the nature of unhealthy food advertising for children”.

“Everywhere they turn, children are being confronted by junk food ads,” she said.

Stronger regulation needed

Ms Glasson says the Cancer Council believes self-regulation does not work.

“The government needs to impose stronger regulations on junk food marketing to children,” she said.

She says restrictions need to:

  • Be effective for children under 16 years old across all media;
  • Have a standard definition of unhealthy foods across the board;
  • Be effective for whenever children are watching television (for example, the children peak viewing time of 6-9pm);
  • Restrict pervasive marketing techniques (for example, no promotional characters, sporting figures or premiums);
  • Be monitored by an independent statutory body;
  • Have meaningful penalties for non-compliance.

However, a spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing says they take childhood obesity “very seriously” and are taking steps to address it.

“Food marketing is but one element of what is a complex challenge in addressing obesity,” the spokesperson said.

“Effectively tackling this issue in Australia will require collaboration across industry, the community, families and individuals.”

Education environment

University of Sydney Associate Professor Dr Margaret Allman-Farinelli says encouraging an environment where children can make good food choices is just one aspect of combating childhood obesity.

“One thing is always education, perhaps for parents and communities as a whole, as to what constitutes a healthy diet,” she said.

Dr Allman-Farinelli says healthy food needs to be more accessible to busy families.

“It might be difficult to get public transport to and from getting the source of fresh food, but it might be only a walk to get some form of takeaway food,” she said.

She says community and local councils can improve and implement infrastructure like parks, footpaths and cycle ways, that are safe for children to use.

Dr Allman-Farinelli says everyone needs to pitch in.

“It’s not just a health issue – it’s an issue that goes across society if we’re going to be really serious about addressing it,” she said.

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