Globally the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children is increasing. For effective population level dietary intervention comprehensive packages, including policy action across food environments, food supply chains and behaviour change communication are required to ensure that it is easy for both adults and children to make healthy food choices. The World Health Organization has called on governments to implement recommendations on the marketing of foods and beverages to children. Public support of government intervention is likely to influence government action in this area: thus this study aimed to explore public attitudes to government intervention in the area of unhealthy food marketing to children and related matters.
Methods: Data for this study were collected using a computer-assisted telephone interview. Households were randomly selected and the person aged ≥18 years with the most recent birthday was selected for interview. Respondents were asked to report their agreement on a five point Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree on questions relating to the role of government in: regulating food advertising to children, educating parents on healthy eating, and in requiring manufacturers to make food healthier, and their opinion on current food advertising practices. Data are presented as the proportion of respondents who agreed/strongly agreed with each statement.
Results: A total of 3911 adults responded to this survey (2008: n=1910, 2011: n=2001) and overall there was high agreement with most survey statements: 87.0% of respondents strongly agreed/agreed that governments should regulate the way food or drink is marketed to children; 92.9% strongly agreed/agreed that governments should help educate families on healthy eating; 85.7% strongly agreed/agreed that governments should require manufacturers to make children’s food healthier; and 75.9% strongly agreed/agreed that there is too much advertising of unhealthy food during children’s television viewing time. When asked how governments should intervene, 60.8% of respondents strongly agreed/agreed on a total ban on advertising unhealthy foods and 86.4% strongly agreed/agreed on a ban on advertising of unhealthy food at times when children watch television.
The results of this study demonstrate that there is high public support for governments to intervene to decrease unhealthy food marketing to children. Despite this, governments have been reluctant to act and more effort is needed to harness public opinion to influence and inform policy development.