Burgers, sugary drinks, fried chicken, pies; government controlled buses are giant junk food billboards picking our kids up and delivering them to school. That’s what it’s like if you stand at a bus stop for a while. Buses come and go. Some have ads for movies or events coming up but if they have an ad for food or drink, you can be sure that four out of five will be for a junk food.
Our team spent some time in early February monitoring ads on buses that stopped at five busy bus interchanges in suburban Sydney. We looked at over 600 ads on buses. About a quarter were for food and the types of food and drinks advertised is concerning.
Parents and teachers do their best to help children learn about healthy eating at home and in classrooms, and school canteen guidelines ensure they have healthy options on the menu. Yet when they step outside, they will see the opposite. Fast food and sugary drinks are the main images around them. What chance have they to develop healthy eating habits when all they see is unhealthy food?
We found 83% of the food ads on the buses were for unhealthy food. Previously we have looked at bus routes to school and found that a child could be bombarded with up to 2,800 unhealthy food ads per year, just on their school trip.
These ads on buses and at train stations are under NSW government control. The NSW government should adopt guidelines and commit to removing unhealthy food and drink ads on publicly owned or managed property, just as they did with cigarette ads around three decades ago. It doesn’t make sense that the government invest money to deliver a range of programs and services to address poor diet in children yet take money from unhealthy food advertisers to advertise their unhealthy products on government property, promoting the opposite of a healthy diet.
It’s easy to define unhealthy foods for such an advertising guideline. The Australian Dietary Guidelines does that; and in 2018 state and national government members of the Health Council developed simple guidelines for what foods and drinks should be excluded from advertising to protect kids from unhealthy food promotion.
It’s up to all of us to help our kids develop healthy eating habits. The NSW government has a role to play by removing unhealthy ads from property they control, starting with buses and train stations. Thirteen other health experts and organisations have joined us in this campaign. You can add your voice too by signing our petition.