Pandemic no barrier for unhealthy food marketing

Posted 8 Dec 2020.

Junk food advertising

Australian parents have taken a stand and are demanding that unhealthy food manufacturers distance themselves from advertising to children as part of the Parent's Voice Fame & Shame Awards. Now in its 16th year, the annual awards highlight the worst of unhealthy food marketing and celebrate those promoting a healthier lifestyle to kids instead.

In a clear example of the increasing amount of unhealthy food marketing targeting children, this year's Fame & Shame Awards feature a new shame category: Ad-demic. The Ad-demic award is given to a campaign that parents believe have shamelessly utilised the COVID-19 pandemic to sell their products to Australian children.

While Victoria celebrates its double zero ‘doughnut days', parents have called out this year's Ad-demic winner and doughnut heavy weight, Krispy Kreme, for using social media ads that encourage children to ‘multitask' by staying home, eating doughnuts and playing video games.

Parents' Voice Manager Alice Pryor said, "The COVID-19 pandemic is a time to be focussing on healthy behaviours, but companies continue to put profits ahead of children's health. In a digital world, targeting children in a pandemic is not hard, but it should be. The Australian Government needs to act to protect our children." 

After a year spent largely at home, there's been an increase in children using digital technology, but there's also been a rise in the amount of unhealthy marketing targeted towards children on digital platforms.

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio reflected on data from the organisation's new Under the Radar Report, "We found that an estimated 72 million data points, such as age, location and interests, will have been collected by companies on each and every child by the age of 13. This data can be sold to unhealthy marketers who can effectively target and attract your child."

Not only has the amount of marketing to children increased, but it has become more nuanced with the introduction of new ‘kid-friendly' platforms, such as Twitch and TikTok, and promotions by influencers which can make it hard for both kids and adults to identify marketing in disguise.

Our Obesity Prevention Manager Kelly Kennington said there's a huge amount of public support at the moment for the removal of unhealthy marketing on state owned assets, especially amongst parents.

"Parents can't be with their kids every moment of every day. Instead, they need policy change to ensure that environments frequented by their kids, like bus stops, train stations and shopping centres are free from unhealthy advertisements," Ms Kennington said.

McDonald's Australia has been awarded the Pester Power shame category in this year's awards, for their television commercial, ‘Denise', which was deemed by even the Advertising Standards Community Panel to have breached marketing to kids' codes.

Executive Manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition Jane Martin said, "We have industry setting their own rules on advertising to children, so it is no surprise they are not working. We need government to set higher standards with regulation to protect children from this pervasive and powerful marketing."

McDonald's Australia continued to be condemned, with parents giving them the Foul Sport shame award for their integrated AFL sponsorship program.

Ms Pryor concluded, "The link between unhealthy food marketing to children and one in four Australian children being above a healthy weight is clear. With even a pandemic unable to stop it, it's past time for the Government to step up and set higher regulatory standards for the packaging and marketing of food products to protect Aussie kids."

For more information

  • View the 2020 Parents' Voice Fame & Shame Awards.
  • We deliver the LiveLighter program, which aims to encourage Australian adults to lead healthier lifestyles - to make changes to what they eat and drink, and to be more active.
  • You can find lots of great tips, resources and information at

Found in:  News - 2020 | View all news