Study shows TV junk food ban a cost-effective way to address childhood obesity
Banning TV networks from advertising junk food to kids would cut Australia's health care costs and reduce childhood obesity, according to a new economic analysis from researchers at Deakin University.
Researchers from Deakin Health Economics and Deakin's Global Obesity Centre looked at the cost effectiveness of restricting TV advertising of food high in fat, salt and sugar until 9.30pm, outside of children's peak viewing hours.
They found that not only would the move be value for money, it would also have the greatest benefit for children from Australia’s most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.
Lead author Victoria Brown, a research fellow at Deakin Health Economics, will present the research at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna this week.
Dr Brown said restricting TV advertising to kids would cost an estimated $6 million to pass the legislation and pay for administration and compliance, but is likely to reduce the average child's body weight by 0.7kg.
"We calculated that these changes would see the average child, aged five to 15, consume 805 kJ less per week," she said.
"Our economic modelling showed that this would save more than $780 million in healthcare costs over the lifetime of these children, due to the prevention of obesity-related diseases."
Dr Brown said the study's most crucial finding was that the advertising ban would have 1.5 times higher health beneﬁts for the most disadvantaged socioeconomic group.
"This is because children from poorer areas have a higher exposure to TV advertising due to more time spent watching TV," she said.
"In 2015 an Australian study found that rates of junk food advertising during children's peak free-to-air viewing times was up to 6.5 advertisements per hour. And we know TV advertising influences children's food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns.
"Young people in lower socioeconomic groups are at a greater risk of overweight and obesity compared to their wealthier peers. So obesity prevention measures that reduce these inequities are critical.
"And what we've shown in this study is that restricting junk food advertising won't just reduce obesity prevalence in children, it will also reduce socioeconomic inequities in obesity rates."
Co-author Jaithri Ananthapavan, a Senior Research Fellow in Deakin Health Economics, said TV advertising restrictions had already been introduced in places like Quebec, Sweden and Norway, with plans to also introduce them in Canada, Ireland and Chile.
"Ideally this intervention would be combined with more comprehensive marketing restrictions across multiple forms of media," Ms Ananthapavan said.
"We know that a growing proportion of media viewing is moving away from TV broadcasts, and we don't want to see junk food advertising simply shift to different mediums or increase in other problematic areas like sport sponsorships.
"Ideally advertising restrictions should be introduced as part of a comprehensive obesity prevention strategy, joining other interventions like the proposed sugar sweetened beverage tax, also shown to be cost-effective, as well as being effective in addressing inequities in overweight and obesity rates."
This research was published recently in the journal Nutrients, with co-authors from Cancer Council NSW and Griffith University.