Kids bombarded with junk food ads before school


New South Wales schoolchildren are exposed to up to 2800 ads for junk food every year on their way to and from school and public transport has emerged as the key culprit.

Cancer Council NSW is calling for the state government to ban junk food ads on public transport after it emerged almost all of the ads (97.4 per cent) seen by students appeared on NSW State Government-owned infrastructure such as on buses and at train stations.

One in four NSW children are already overweight or obese and exposure to junk food ads is fuelling the problem, the council said.

The ban would mirror what is already in place in Queensland and the ACT.

Kids travelling to school by train saw the most junk food ads - four times as many as those who walked to school and more than twice as many as those who caught the bus.

The study by Cancer Council NSW also found train travellers saw 7.3 junk food ads per trip, those on the bus saw 2.7 per trip and kids who walked to school saw just 1.7.

Across the school year this amounted to 2800 discretionary food advertisements for train travellers, 1000 for those on buses and around 600 for kids who walked.


Schoolkids are being exposed to junk food ads on public transport. Picture: David Swift.
Schoolkids are being exposed to junk food ads on public transport. Picture: David Swift.


"Repeated exposure to unhealthy food advertising on school trips .... undermines efforts to develop healthy eating habits," authors of the report said.

Led by Clare Hughes, Manager of Cancer Council NSW's Nutrition Unit, researchers found banning junk food ads on government property "would demonstrate a commitment to creating environments that help children to develop healthy eating habits and would support other government initiatives to reduce childhood obesity."

Other state governments have already moved to restrict junk food advertising on public transport.

In 2015, the Australian Capital Territory Government banned discretionary food advertising on its buses.

Last year the Queensland Government announced that unhealthy marketing would be phased out of outdoor advertising spaces, including bus stops, train stations and road corridors.

The research published by the Sax Institute used Google Maps to plot typical train, bus and walking routes to 21 schools in the Sydney region, attended by 23,000 students.

The schools were selected from the 50 largest primary and secondary government schools in the Greater Sydney City area.


Junk food ads are fuelling the obesity crisis. Picture: iStock
Junk food ads are fuelling the obesity crisis. Picture: iStock


The study found one in three of the ads on buses, bus shelters, train stations and elsewhere were for food and beverages and three in four of them were for "discretionary" foods not needed in a healthy diet.

In total researchers identified 762 advertisements were observed across the 53 school routes sampled.

Fast foods such as burgers, chips and pizza were the most commonly advertised types of food and beverages (23 per cent), followed by sugary drinks (17 per cent) and snack foods (16 per cent).

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said it was supporting the recently announced Outdoor Media Association (OMA) National Health and Wellbeing Policy in relation to the placement of junk food advertising from 1 July 2020.

Under this policy:

•The advertising of discretionary food and drink products is restricted on Out of Home signs within a 150-metre sightline of a school

•Food and drink advertising is to be based on Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Health Star Rating system.

•$3 million of advertising space across Australia every year will be donated to feature targeted advertising campaigns supporting a healthy diet and lifestyle choices.