New Zealand: Kids See Unhealthy Marketing Avalanche
Kids in New Zealand are exposed to an avalanche of unhealthy product marketing including alcohol while the government fails to act.
In New Zealand, alcohol contributes to an estimated 800 deaths and costs the society approximately NZ$7.85 billion each year. Further, unhealthy products – including junk food, alcohol and gambling – are leading causes of cancer, obesity, diabetes, mental illness and many social harms.
Two comprehensive reports, published by the Law Commission in 2010 and the Ministerial Forum on Advertising and Sponsorship in 2014, have recommended a complete overhaul of alcohol marketing regulations. But successive governments have failed to act.
Industry self-regulation is a failure
In New Zealand marketing for individual unhealthy products – alcohol, sugary drinks, fast food etc. – are regulated by the industries themselves which produce these products. This self-regulation is a failure.
According to recent research presented in The Conversation,
- children were exposed to an average of 46 ads for unhealthy products every day (27 junk food, 12 alcohol, and seven gambling ads), and
- children were frequently exposed to unhealthy marketing near schools and in supermarkets, and at times where they should be protected under the self-regulatory codes.
- Sports sponsorship was a key mechanism used by unhealthy product companies, which undermined their own self-regulatory codes and was a major contributor to children’s overall exposure.
There is strong evidence of the negative health impacts of marketing across a range of unhealthy products, such as alcohol, unhealthy food and gambling. Consequently, marketing is recognised as a key driver of consumption and contributor to the overall health burden.
While there are certain common policy recommendations which governments can follow to prevent and reduce the harms such as through the alcohol policy best buys, there is very little political leadership and action.
One factor for government inaction is industry interference. Companies selling unhealthy products have amassed overwhelming lobbying power to challenge, obstruct and derail meaningful public health policy making.
Addiction industries collaborate to undermine public health policy
Research has shown how individual unhealthy product companies adopt the same tactics to disrupt, distort and deflect meaningful regulation.
For example, tobacco and alcohol companies have produced public relation campaigns that stress the importance of individual accountability and education. But consumers are not made aware that consuming a bottle of wine a week has the same cancer risk as smoking ten cigarettes for women and five for men. These industries withhold information from consumers while stressing individual responsibility. Other than being a contradiction, this stacks the odds against policy makers as well as the consumers trying to live healthier lives.
Another problem is that policymakers and government departments often work on different unhealthy products, which fractures the collective effort for better health.
A solution may lie in the New Zealand government’s recently announced Public Services Act, which will see the creation of interdepartmental executive boards tasked with specific jobs like reducing child poverty or improving mental health. An executive board on unhealthy products could streamline the policy making process and, most importantly, reduce and prevent the social and health costs of unhealthy products.