by Clare O'Shea, Media and Communications Officer


The Obesity Policy Coalition has taken aim at the food industry for its failure to protect children from exposure to junk food marketing, despite introducing self-regulated codes in 2009 that promised to do that.

Mother of two, Nicole French, attended the launch of the Obesity Policy Coalition’s Overbranded, Underprotected report. I sat down with Nicole and asked her to explain the everyday pester power battle she faces as a result of the food industry manipulatively marketing unhealthy food to her children.

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Clare: How do your kids react to unhealthy food marketing?

Nicole: My kids are 2 and 3-and-a-half years old and they love anything animated. Packaging and promotion of anything related to their favourite animated characters always draws them in. No matter what the product is, they naturally want it because it associated with something they are already engaged with.

 Before I was a parent it wasn’t something that I paid much attention to, but now I clearly see that products which use bright, colourful packaging and popular animated characters are the same products with low nutritional value and high amounts of sugar and salt.

Clare: Do you think unhealthy food marketing to kids should be allowed?

Nicole: I don’t believe food manufacturers should be allowed to market unhealthy products directly at children. I believe that tougher government regulations should be put in place and should hold them to account. We need to start looking at what is best for the future health of our kids.

Clare: Do you do anything now to protect your kids from unhealthy food marketing?

Nicole: I know that I can’t completely shield my boys from unhealthy food marketing so I work on the principle that education in key. I simply try to explain to my boys that some foods contain too much sugar and if they eat too much of that food or if they eat the food too often it will make them sick. I also break food up into categories of everyday and sometimes food.

Although they are not direct consumers now, their relationship with food now will influence their buying habits later. I’d love to see them less exposed to unhealthy food marketing, but until that time my best weapon is education and celebrating with them when they make healthy choices.

Sometimes as a parent, we are faced with really challenging situations such as a supermarket shop. It feels like rationale and education just goes out the window with kids when they are in a supermarket, particularly at the end of a day when everyone is tired.

I have been known to skip aisles completely. I know that a challenge awaits us if we venture down the cereal aisle, faced with tigers, monkeys and Minions on packages, and especially if I know a particular cereal is offering a toy giveaway which is featured on their product.

Clare: What action would you like to see happen?

Nicole: Just like when smoking was identified as hazardous to our health, the government stepped in and heavily regulated marketing and sales, and included warnings on the products. I would like to see the same for nutritionally dense foods. Governments were clear with tobacco companies and retailers that if any of these regulations were breached there would be tough penalties. I believe the same thing should happen with junk food marketing to kids. Introduce tougher regulations and hold companies accountable to them. There’s just too much at stake not to.

For more information on the Obesity Policy Coalition’s new report, visit www.opc.org.au/overbrandedunderprotected or watch the below video to see how much junk food marketing Australian children see.