Kids will still be bombarded by junk food adverts under new rules
New rules are set to come into force that crack down on advertising to children, but experts say they do not go far enough.
The Advertising Standards Authority's new children and young people's advertising code comes into effect on July 3. It includes rules about identifying commercial messaging, and restrictions around the depiction of anti-social behaviour, sexual imagery and unrealistic body images and occasional food and beverage advertising.
But Jessica Wilson, a spokeswoman for Consumer NZ, said a major weakness was that it did not apply to product packaging, particularly in relation to junk food.
"[That's] despite the fact marketing targeted at children is widespread on food packaging and often on products high in fat, sugar or salt," she said.
"In our 2013 review, we found numerous examples of these types of food that were covered in games and puzzles to attract children."
Across the Tasman, Australian food manufacturers are coming under more pressure to remove imagery on their packaging that promotes unhealthy food to children
Researchers at Australia's Obesity Policy Coalition surveyed 186 packaged foods with cartoon characters designed to lure children, and found 52 per cent were classified as unhealthy, based on Food Standards' Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion.
They found 87 per cent of snack bars, 61 per cent of cheese snacks and 32 per cent of breakfast cereals featuring colourful cartoons were unhealthy, laden with fat, sugar and/or salt.
They pinpointed Nestle's sweet and sticky "fruit" straps Roll-Ups, Streets Paddle Pop and its Lion, and Kellogg's sugary Frosties, Coco Pops and Froot Loops breakfast cereals as some of the worst offenders.
University of Auckland marketing expert Bodo Lang said more could be done to protect children from junk food marketing.
"The vast majority of ads may not breach a code, but they will still aim to persuade a particularly vulnerable audience to want to have a product," he said.
"This is particularly damaging in the area of food marketing, where cartoon characters, games, and celebrities are being used to sell a product. None of this would be quite so troubling if these tactics were used to sell nutritionally valuable products. However, cartoon characters, games, and celebrities are often used for nutritionally poor products.
"New Zealand children are becoming sugar-coated because many foods and drinks contain more sugar than children should have in a whole day. The best way to make good choices in the supermarket is to look at the nutrition information panel on the back of the product and the list of ingredients.
"The health star rating can also be helpful, but it is still a voluntary standard so it is missing from many products."
His colleague, Mike Lee, said that in an ideal world, parents would educate their kids about how marketing worked and explain that a cute animal on a package did not make a product any better for them.
"Health statistics around the world are now clearly showing that a good proportion of people don't actually know what is best for them, much less their children. In some cases, there is even growing evidence that some people are simply genetically more prone to overeating and retaining calories," he said.
"So with this evidence, I think we do need to consider what messages are out there in the marketplace and whether or not they are 'misleading' to vulnerable populations.
"Having a Kangaroo on an airline symbolises that that particular airline is the national carrier of Australia, this is not misleading. However, having a healthy and energetic tiger on a box of sugary cereal does seem to deliberately link the symbolic imagery of health and vigour with that product. To some kids that may indeed be, arguably, slightly misleading," he said.
Lee said 80 per cent of decisions were made at the point of purchase, so packaging could have just as strong an influence as advertising campaigns.