Television advertising and children: lessons from policy development

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Abstract

Aim

To conduct a policy review of the regulations related to food advertising on television aimed at children.

Design

The study consisted of documentary analysis of relevant legislation and policy documents related to children's advertising from both industry and non-governmental organisations at a global level and in 20 countries. This was supported with semi-structured telephone interviews with individuals from 11 countries.

Results

The initial findings resulted in a listing of regulatory impacts from which we developed a taxonomy of regulatory schemes. There was a tension between the development of legislation to cover this area and the use of voluntary agreements and codes. This tension represents a food industry/civic society split. The food and advertising industries are still engaged in a process of denying the impact of advertising on food choice and children as well as commissioning their own research. Outright bans are unusual, with most countries addressing the situation through voluntary agreements and self-regulation. We found a deep division over the way forward and the role and place of legislation. Policy-makers expressed concerns that national legislation was increasingly less relevant in dealing with broadcast media transmitted from outside national boundaries and therefore not subject to the receiving countries' laws but to the laws of the country from which they were transmitted.

Conclusions

The options for the regulation of advertising targeted at children range from (1) a complete ban on advertising as in the case of Sweden, through (2) partial restrictions on advertising by type of food, target group or limits on the amount of advertisements or times shown, to (3) continuation of self-regulation by the advertising and food industries. There is a global dimension to regulation that needs to be built in, as national frontiers are no barriers to broadcast media and public health nutrition needs to ensure that its concerns are heard and addressed.

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