The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has sent a report to Australian officials on the country’s current self-regulatory system for food marketing, which OPC has described as “seriously flawed.” According to the coalition, the codes developed by the food industry to govern marketing to children “are extremely complex,” resulting in “a litany of loopholes” that companies have allegedly exploited “to promote their products despite childhood obesity sitting at record levels.”

In particular, the report claims that self-regulatory codes (i) do not apply to all food advertisers or all age-groups of children, (ii) “only cover advertising that is ‘directed primarily to children,’” (iii) fail to cover many forms of promotion and media, and (iv) rely on “unclear” criteria for determining what is healthy or unhealthy. It also finds the administration and enforcement of these codes “grossly inadequate” since “the scheme relies entirely on complaints from the public.” Faulting the Advertising Standards Board for issuing decisions that are purportedly “inconsistent with Australian Communications and Media Authority’s positions on brand promotions and giveaways,” the report concludes that self-regulation has “not reduced children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising,” in part because “there is an inherent conflict of interest in self-regulation which clearly works against effective codes.”

“The government must now call ‘time’ on the charade of self-regulation and legislate to give children meaningful protection from the influence of unhealthy food marketing,” said OPC Executive Manager Jane Martin in a November 12, 2012, press release. “Legislation to comprehensively restrict junk food marketing and advertising would be one of the most effective and cost-effective interventions to address the childhood overweight and obesity crisis.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has publicly disputed the findings, calling the report’s accusations “nonsense” given the low number of consumer complaints about food and beverage advertising. “Once again the OPC has produced a document with no new evidence or data to suggest that adverting contributes to unhealthy outcomes and conveniently matches its pre-determined agenda,” AANA Acting CEO Alina Bain said. “The AANA is working with the Australian Government through the Australian National Preventative Health Agency… to monitor food marketing to children. We’re determined to work with Government and stakeholders to help ensure that advertising does not contribute to unhealthy or unsafe outcomes, that’s in everyone’s best interest.” See AANA Press Release, November 12, 2012.