Trends in food advertising to children on free-to-air television in Australia


Correspondence to:
Ms Bridget Kelly, Cancer Council NSW, PO Box 572, Kings Cross, NSW 1340; e-mail:


Objective: The issue of marketing unhealthy food to children and its contribution to childhood obesity has become a highly politicised debate in Australia. The aim of this study was to compare recent television food advertising patterns in 2008 to previously published Australian research on television advertising from 2006 and 2007, to examine any changes following policy debates.

Methods: Television broadcasting was recorded for two weekdays and two weekend days between 6:00 and 22:00 in February 2008 for all three commercial television channels. Food advertisements were classified as core/healthy, non-core/unhealthy or miscellaneous. Television audience data were obtained to determine broadcast periods corresponding to children's peak viewing times.

Results: The overall rate of food advertising decreased over time: from seven food advertisements/hour/channel in 2006/07 to five in 2008. However, the relative contribution of non-core food advertising to overall food advertising remained stable. In 2008, the proportion of food advertisements for non-core foods was significantly higher during children's peak viewing times (p<0.01).

Conclusions and implications: Australian children remain exposed to a disproportionate volume of television advertisements for unhealthy foods on commercial television, which are shown during time periods when the highest numbers of children are watching. Regulations to limit unhealthy food advertising during the time periods when a significant number of children are watching are required.