29th March 2019, Volume 132 Number 1492

Louise N Signal, Gabrielle LS Jenkin, Michelle B Barr, Moira Smith, Tim J Chambers, Janet Hoek, Cliona Ni Mhurchu

Marketing of unhealthy food and beverages (junk food) shapes children’s dietary preferences and behaviours, and is a key contributor to childhood obesity.1 International estimates suggest that 60–90% of food marketing…

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Summary

If Kiwi kids had Jacinda’s job for a day, many would ban junk food marketing. Children are calling on the Prime Minister to ban junk food marketing because it makes them feel hungry and want the food, despite knowing that it is bad for them. “Junk food should not be marketed because then children could get like diabetes and stuff like that”, said one child. A range of 33 12-year-old children from the landmark Kids’Cam Study were interviewed about their views on junk food marketing to children. Their advice is consistent with policy agreed to by the world’s health ministers at a recent World Health Assembly.

Abstract

Aim

This study explored children’s awareness of and engagement with food marketing, and their views on action to address it.

Method

A purposeful sample of 33 children (11–13 years) from the Wellington region of New Zealand were interviewed.

Results

Children were knowledgeable about food marketing, although most were not aware of the extent to which they were exposed. Children did not distinguish ‘marketing to children’ from other marketing. According to the children, they were frequently exposed to food marketing, and persuaded, against their better judgement, to purchase food they knew to be harmful to their health. As many children recognised the unhealthy nature of the food marketed to them, they agreed they would take action to reduce junk food marketing if they were Prime Minister for a day. Interventions included making food marketing honest, providing nutrition information, removing billboards and increasing the promotion of healthy food.

Conclusion

These findings suggest children’s exposure to junk food marketing may cause them physical, mental and moral harm, in direct contradiction of the New Zealand self-regulatory code for marketing. The children’s views align with the World Health Assembly’s recent decision to endorse initiatives to end childhood obesity, including restricting marketing of unhealthy foods.

Author Information

Louise N Signal, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington;
Gabrielle LS Jenkin, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington; Michelle B Barr, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington;
Moira Smith, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington;
Tim J Chambers, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, University of Otago, Wellington;
Janet Hoek, Department of Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin;
Cliona Ni Mhurchu, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland, Auckland.

Acknowledgements

Our thanks go to the children who participated in this research and to their parents and schools for permitting us to work with them. We also thank our funders, the Health Research Council of NZ (Grant 13/724).

Correspondence

Professor Louise Signal, Health Promotion and Policy Research Unit, Department of Public Health, University of Otago, PO Box 7343, Wellington 6242.

Correspondence Email

louise.signal@otago.ac.nz

Competing Interests

Dr Ni Mhurchu and Dr Chambers report grants from Health Research Council of New Zealand during the conduct of the study.

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