I rise today to introduce the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Healthy Kids Advertising) Bill 2023.
Australian children see at least 15 ads for unhealthy food every day.
They see ads for unhealthy food when they watch the footy on telly with their family, they hear them on the radio in the car on the way to school and they are saturated with unhealthy food ads whenever they go on social media or online.
With Australians being bombarded with unhealthy food ads all day, every day, is it any wonder we are facing an epidemic of obesity in this country?
So what are the facts?
Two-thirds of adult Australians and one-quarter of our children are above the healthy weight range.
With such high proportions of our population affected, we know without doubt that obesity is a societal problem that needs a societal response.
We also know obesity is one of the leading causes of chronic disease in this country—including diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It also an important causal factor in several cancers, depression and dementia—and according to the National Obesity Strategy costs Australia nearly $12 billion a year.
With a national debt crisis and a hospital system stretched to its limits, it is an absolute no-brainer that we act to prevent this major cause of chronic disease.
On average, almost 40 per cent of an Australian child's daily energy intake is from so-called 'discretionary foods'—that is, unhealthy, highly processed foods with little or no nutritional value that are high in salt, sugar or trans fats.
These unhealthy foods and drinks are being pushed onto our children every day as they live, play and learn—and online it is being done via highly sophisticated and targeted marketing campaigns.
Instead of creating an environment that allows our children to flourish, we have allowed an environment that potentially harms our kids to flourish.
For too long, Australia has given the very industries that profit from the sale of these unhealthy foods the ability to set their own rules and to influence government policy.
It's clear industry self-regulation, as usual, has failed.
Research shows there are direct links between unhealthy food ads, the dietary decisions of children and families and childhood obesity.
And yet in Australia the average child aged five to eight years old is exposed to more than 820 unhealthy food advertisements on TV each year.
Children are also seeing at least 100 promotions for unhealthy food online every week.
Powerful algorithms are used to individually target our children.
Their online activity is mined—thousands of 'interest labels' attached to them, and this information is on-sold to thousands of companies.
As a result, our children are being saturated with unhealthy food marketing whenever they are online.
Then there is the influencer influence.
Junk food companies are paying influencers to post videos of themselves eating and gorging on their unhealthy products and challenging people to copy them.
Simply put, our children are being preyed upon every time they turn on the TV, listen to the radio or go online—by companies that seek to profit at the expense of their health.
So what can be done?
Well, the bill I am introducing today is not exactly ground-breaking, because already approximately 40 countries around the world—including the UK, Ireland, Chile and Norway—have regulated or are planning to regulate junk food marketing. In Chile, where junk food advertising is banned on TV from 6 am to 10 pm, there has been a 73 per cent drop in children's exposure to junk food ads.
And a study of grocery habits during the first year of the ban there found there was a 24 per cent decrease in calories purchased.
Quebec's restrictions on unhealthy food advertising have reduced fast food consumption there by 13 per cent.
In the UK, Boris Johnson's conservative government also recognised the problem and acted.
They passed legislation—to commence next year—which will prohibit all unhealthy food marketing on TV, radio and in cinemas between 6 am and 10 pm, and will ban all paid marketing for unhealthy food in online environments, including social media.
The National Obesity Strategy, the National Preventive Health Strategy, and the National Diabetes Strategy all recommend that the Australian government step in to protect our children from unhealthy food marketing.
As a parent, a GP and now as an MP, I am urging our government to do just that.
Our children are our greatest asset, and this parliament needs to step up to support parents to help their children live healthy, productive lives.
It is time Australia joined the 40 other countries that have already introduced regulations to protect their children from harmful food marketing.
And so to my bill.
Today I am proposing parliament amends the Broadcasting Services Act with the adoption of my Healthy Kids Advertising Bill.
The objective of the bill is to protect our greatest resource—our children—from the harmful impacts of junk food advertising.
This bill is not about telling people what they can and cannot buy or eat; it's about creating environments that support our kids' health as they live, play and learn.
If implemented, my bill would:
Restrict junk food advertising from appearing on TV, radio, and streaming services between the family viewing hours of 6 am to 9:30 pm and also ban paid junk food marketing on social media and on all online environments.
Under the terms of my bill, unhealthy food is defined as food and drink not recommended for promotion to children in the 2018 guide published by the Health Council of COAG.
It's important to remember this bill is just one part of a suite of measures that need to be implemented to tackle the obesity and chronic disease epidemics impacting our nation.
But with millions of Australian children on already on track for a lifetime of chronic disease, it is time for this parliament to act.
And so I urge all members of this House to support Australian parents and children by backing in this Healthy Kids Advertising Bill.