Healthy Auckland Together (HAT) is pleased its complaint against a BurgerFuel ‘Player of the Day’ award has been partially upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Complaints Board.

But it says the ruling doesn’t go far enough.

HAT spokesperson Dr Sally Mackay, a University of Auckland Senior Lecturer and Public Health Nutritionist, says the award - a type of voucher that targets children with a high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt kid’s meal - has no place in environments where kids play sport.

"It’s a complete contradiction to reward children who are learning healthy behaviours and being physically active, with unhealthy food marketing and unhealthy meals," she says.

International research shows that unhealthy food marketing in sport increases people’s awareness and preference for the sponsor’s products, with one Australian study finding the majority of children had received a voucher or certificate from a food or beverage company - 85% and 76% respectively - to reward their sports' performance.

The ASA agreed with HAT that the BurgerFuel award - which features a cartoon and folds into a trophy - breached the Children and Young People’s Advertising Code by targeting an ‘occasional food or beverage product’ at children in an appealing way, and in a place where children were likely to be the main audience. It also agreed that a high standard of social responsibility had not been exercised when placing the ad.

But the complaint was only partially upheld under the Children and Young People’s Advertising Code, and not upheld at all under the Advertising Standards Code.

"The ASA didn’t consider that the ad promoted an unhealthy lifestyle, or undermined health and wellbeing," Dr Mackay says. "It’s the kind of inconsistency we want to see urgently addressed."

As a member of Protect Kids from Junk Food Marketing, Healthy Auckland Together is calling for legislation to restrict junk food marketing from the places children frequent and play.

Currently New Zealand has no law to restrict the junk food advertising children are exposed to; the only way to call food manufacturers to account is via the industry self-regulated Advertising Standards Authority, and its voluntary code.

"That model hasn’t worked anywhere in the world, including Aotearoa. There are just too many vested interests," Dr Mackay says.

Healthy Auckland Together says the current system leaves children vulnerable; they’re unable to recognise marketing’s true purpose as advertising, yet are targeted as a lucrative pool of future consumers who already influence household spending.

And Dr Mackay says the toll that unhealthy food and drink is taking on our children’s health and wellbeing is devastatingly evident, with obesity climbing by more than three per cent between 2019/20 and 2020/21 alone.

"Aotearoa now has the second highest child obesity rates in the OECD and spends an estimated $2 billion a year on treating diseases attributable to excess weight and obesity.

"We simply can’t keep ignoring the implications of junk food for our tamariki, their whānau, our health system and the wider economy - the government must legislate to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food and drink marketing."

The BurgerFuel complaint is the 15th that Healthy Auckland Together has lodged with the Advertising Standards Authority. Of the previous complaints, only two have been upheld, reflecting the weaknesses of the voluntary Children and Young Person’s Advertising Code and the ASA as an industry-led body.

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