Food Marketing to Children

Are you concerned about food marketing to children

Supermarket PicMany parents are unhappy with the way unhealthy food is advertised. Parents Voice wants to give parents an opportunity to tell advertisers what they think about the way foods are advertised to children and the kind of advertisements children see.

Are you happy with having unhealthy food and drinks advertised when your children are likely to be watching TV? Or do you think bans or restrictions on them would be good? Although some TV channels restrict junk food advertising during children’s programmes, they don’t have restrictions in the early evenings – the time when the largest numbers of children watch.

Junk food marketers also reach children by using endorsements by celebrities and characters, collectable toys, cards and competitions, text messages and emails, online games, or school sponsorships.

Are you happy with these marketing tactics?

The only way this kind of marketing can be stopped is by changing the laws about advertising. The only way the government will change the law is if parents, grandparents and other concerned people make a big enough fuss about it and demand change.

Who sets the advertising rules?

Food and beverage marketing to children is governed by Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules. This body is funded by the advertising and media industries with no control or monitoring by government. ASA has a series of codes that all advertisements are supposed to comply with, but they are voluntary and there are no penalties for companies that don’t comply with them.

The Children’s Code for Advertising Food has rules about advertisements for food and drink that influence children. It was updated in 2010.

The code includes guidelines which say advertisements should not encourage children to;

  • To pester their parents to buy things for them
  • Eat lots of treat (foods with a lot of fat, sugar and salt) foods
  • Have unhealthy foods instead of meals
  • Eat huge amounts
  • Be inactive or do other unhealthy things.

and should;

  • Not trick children into believing unhealthy foods are healthy in some way
  • Not make claims about food that are exaggerated or misleading
  • Always be clear that an ad is an ad and not part of a story or programme
  • Ensure competitions and giveaways don’t encourage children to buy unhealthy foods often
  • Not use famous people, children’s heroes or cartoon characters to endorse unhealthy food.

Why we need stronger food and drink advertising rules

The current rules for managing food and drink marketing in New Zealand don’t adequately protect children’s health. The voluntary ASA rules only work if someone makes a complaint – and if the Advertising Standards Complaints Board agrees the complaint is valid.

Past experience shows the complaints process tends to favour advertisers rather children.

This kind of industry self-regulation hasn’t worked with other public health issues such as tobacco control either. This is because codes are administered by the industry - and industry always protects it own interests. Only stronger measures - including government regulation - and independent measurers will make a difference.

How to make a complaint

The Children’s Code for Advertising Food sets out the rules about advertisements for food and drink that influence children. Making a complaint about an advertisement is complicated because you need to refer to the code and the principles and guidelines in it and specifically how you believe it fails to meet the standards set out in it..

If you think an advertisement breaches this code, you can make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board.

The Advertising Standards Complaints Board has instructions on how to make a complaint.

Consumer NZ has information on how to make a complaint.

What to say in your complaint

There are a number of points you need to include in your letter to ensure your case is clear:

  • The name of the product and/or manufacturer/brand
  • As much detail about the advertisement as possible, including the length, the pictures and the script used. Companies can produce many variations of the same ad, so this helps identify the version you saw.
  • The date and time the ad was shown and where you saw it. For example, the TV station and programme, magazine name and edition, website, billboard, package, store or cinema.
  • The reason(s) for your complaint, including the part(s) of the code which you believe it has breached, as well as what you found to be offensive, misleading or unethical.

Be Inspired

Read a real life case study (PDF 210KB) of a complaint to the ASA on how two school girls took on big business and won! (NZ Herald, 27 March 2007)

E-mail us with a copy of any complaints or letters you send, and the replies so we can understand what issues concern you.

Other ways you can make a difference - advocacy and letter writing.

There are many ways you can help reduce children’s exposure to junk food advertising:

Join Parents Voice

Join Parents Voice and take part in forums, vote in polls and tell us your concerns.

Write letters

Write a letter about unhealthy food and beverage marketing to:

  • Your local Member of Parliament
  • Hon Tony Ryall, Minister of Health
  • Newspapers
  • Television stations
  • Celebrities who endorse unhealthy foods and drinks
  • Food manufacturers
  • The local council if there is advertising for unhealthy food at sports and recreation venues your children go to
  • Your school if it allows advertising for unhealthy food in its publications or elsewhere in the school
  • Local sports clubs if you are unhappy about advertising that reaches your child.

And remember to:

  • Back up your complaint. Refer to the ingredients in the product and explain why it is unhealthy.
  • Personalise your letter. Why is this issue important to you?
  • State what you want to happen. Ask for the advertisement to be removed from air immediately, or the council to change its advertising policy.

Always follow the 4Ps rule. Be:

  1. Polite - never be rude or condescending in your approach.
  2. Precise - get to the point, don't waffle.
  3. Practical - offer practical solutions.
  4. Prompt - don't leave it too long before writing your letter.

Talk to children about junk food advertising

  • Spend some time watching commercial children's television and monitor the food advertisements that are being shown when your children are viewing.
  • Discuss the power of advertising with your children and talk about the ways in which advertisers make them want to buy their products.
  • Play ‘spot the gimmick' and talk about the jingles, animations, catchy music and other attention-grabbing techniques used in advertisements.
  • Discuss the issues with friends, family, colleagues. Encourage others to become advocates for junk food free children's television, magazines, newsletters, internet sites and any other media directed at children.
  • Limit children’s ‘screen time’. Screen time is time spent in front of a computer, television or video game.

Download the 2006 Agencies for Nutrition Action report, Does Watching TV Contribute to Increased Body Weight and Obesity in Children? for more information on the link between TV viewing and body weight.

Children, TV and advertising: the facts

Television advertising

On average New Zealand children watch 2 hours of television a day. 1

Approximately three out of four TV food and drink advertisements in New Zealand are for foods counter to healthy eating. Children are a key target audience for food and drink manufacturers. 2

These advertisements use attention grabbing persuasive promotional techniques such as endorsements by characters and celebrities, promotional offers, appealing colours, pictures and jingles, and claims that misrepresent the true nutritional value of the food or drink. 3

Children under eight years old do not have the critical literacy skills to recognise the persuasive intention of advertising.3

Current regulations place restrictions on advertising certain types of foods during peak viewing periods for children. However analysis shows three of the four most popular children’s programmes do not fall within these periods. 4

Advertising influences children's food preferences which undermines parents' efforts to provide their children with a healthy diet.3

The balance of ads for healthy and unhealthy food groups is well out of proportion to healthy eating guidelines. This ‘advertised diet’ also causes obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers. 5

Overweight and obesity

Around one in three New Zealand children is either overweight or obese.

Overweight and obese children have a high risk (80 per cent) of becoming an overweight or obese adult. Social isolation, poor self-esteem and depression are linked to weight problems. Their chances of developing diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease are significantly increased. 3

Visit the Fight the Obesity Epidemic website for more information on the impact of junk food advertising to children.


These websites have information about regulating food marketing to children.

TV advertising and content regulators

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) 
ASA is an industry organisation designed to self-regulate advertising in New Zealand. They develop voluntary Advertising Codes of Practice which all media can choose to comply with or not.

Advertising Standards Complaints Board (ASCB)
The committee of the ASA which makes judgements on complaints received against the ASA Codes of Practice. Many of its members belong to industry groups.

The Children's Code for Advertising Food 
ASA says the Code aims to ensure all advertisements for food and beverages adhere to a high standard of social responsibility, do not mislead or deceive children and promote foods in such a way so as to undermine a healthy diet. 

Advertising on Television - Getting it Right for Children
A New Zealand Television Broadcasters Council voluntary code which places restricts on the advertising of certain foods in children's programming times on TV2, TVNZ7 and MediaWorksTV4.

The Consumer Guarantees Act 1993
An Act of Parliament, which requires suppliers to only market goods and services which are fit for the purpose for which they are intended. Part 1, Section 8, 1b is of most significance to the issue of food and beverage marketing to children.

The Fair Trading Act 1986
An Act of Parliament, prohibits misleading or deceptive conduct generally (section 9), conduct that is liable to mislead over "the nature, manufacturing process, characteristics and suitability for a purpose" of goods (section 10) and false or misleading representations as to the quality, composition, style or nature of products (section 13). 

Making complaints

Advertising Standards Complaints Board Guide
Consumer NZ
Members of Parliament - Current MPs

References to Children, TV and Advertising: the facts

1. A National Survey of Children and Young People’s Physical Activity and Dietary Behaviours in New Zealand: 2008/09

2. Does Watching TV Contribute to Increased Body Weight and Obesity in Children. Agencies for Nutrition Action Scientific Committee. 2006

3. Parents Jury Website

4. White J. Freedom of choice and the Public Health Bill. July 2008. P 14.

5. Wilson N, Quigley R, Mansoor O. Food ads on TV: a health hazard for children? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 1999; 23 (6): 647-50 5