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Policy Area Under Investigation

Promoting healthy eating habits in childhood is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing issues like overweight, obesity, and related diseases (Kelly et al., 2021). Globally and within Australia, there is a growing emphasis on minimising children's exposure to the advertising of energy-dense, nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods and beverages (Gascoyne et al., 2021). Although several prominent Australian food companies have committed to voluntary self-regulation in marketing to children, our analysis indicates that the implementation has not been successful in effectively reducing children's exposure to EDNP food and beverage promotions. This is primarily attributed to limited constraints on television advertising schedules, the extent of covered marketing practices, and the definitions of 'unhealthy food' and 'marketing directed at children' (Chung et al., 2021). In the effort to combat lifestyle-related diseases, both the Commonwealth and state/territory governments are allocating resources to various public education campaigns like "Swap it, Don't Stop it" and "Go for 2 fruit and 5 vegetables®" (ANPHA, 2012). Moreover, they are instituting numerous initiatives within schools, workplaces, and communities. Despite these endeavours, the prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia has shown an upward trend from 25% in 2017-18, with Indigenous children showing an increase in obesity from 31% in 2012-13 to 38% in 2018-19 (AIHW, 2020).

The policy under examination concerns marketing food and beverages targeted towards the younger age group. This field explores the strategies and tactics used by food and beverage companies to market and provide their products to people who are younger than eighteen. This policy area's primary aim is to safeguard children's health and well-being by regulating the marketing practices that influence their dietary choices. The policy interventions in this area seek to balance promoting healthy eating habits among children and respecting the rights of companies to engage in commercial activities (UNICEF, 2021). This research addresses the policy domain concerning promoting and advertising EDNP food and beverages targeted at children. The study expands upon and strengthens the existing pledges within the present Australian self-regulatory programs. It also aligns with the guidance provided by national and international authorities and recommendations set forth by government bodies, professional organizations, and non-governmental sectors. The paper will delve into the research methodology, elucidating the rationale behind selecting the study design, the sources of data and the sampling frame. Additionally, the paper will outline the analysis plan and outcomes, which delineates how the data will be processed and interpreted.

Research Question

The impacts of regulatory strategies on food and beverage marketing to children significantly influence the prevalence of childhood obesity in Australia by shaping dietary habits and exposure to unhealthy products, ultimately contributing to long-term health outcomes. The research questions are:

“What is the impact of regulatory strategies on the marketing of foods and beverages, leading to the obesity provenance in Australian children?”

Literature Review

Globally, many children consume excessive amounts of processed foods and non-alcoholic drinks high in unhealthy components like saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, and salt (WHO, 2022). This dietary pattern has severe negative effects on their health and development. This trend is driven by the influential food industry and the globalization of food systems, making processed and unhealthy options more accessible, convenient, and affordable. Consequently, this shift in food environments has led to a worldwide surge in unhealthy eating habits, contributing significantly to obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases globally (Popkin & Ng, 2021).

Research has demonstrated how ubiquitous food marketing is that targets children through various media, including social media, television, the internet, and product packaging (Potvin Kent et al., 2019). Children exposed to marketing messages regularly may develop a preference for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drink more sugary beverages, contributing to childhood obesity (Austin et al., 2020). Children are especially susceptible to persuasive marketing strategies because studies have shown they may not have the cognitive capacity to analyze advertising messages critically. This has sparked questions about the moral ramifications of advertising strategies that take advantage of kids' impressionable minds and limited comprehension. Food preferences and brand perceptions of children's institutions are influenced by marketing strategies such as sponsored events, branded materials, and promotional partnerships (Dixon et al., 2019). This influences the decisions they make inside the organization and the way they consume in general. Furthermore, food marketing frequently incorporates product placements, sponsorships, and advertising tie-ins with kid-focused events like sports or festivals (Garton et al., 2022). This may influence what they eat both during and after these occasions, possibly resulting in the consumption of less wholesome foods.

Several studies have also examined the effectiveness of various regulatory approaches in mitigating the impact of food and beverage marketing on children (Sing et al., 2020; Kelly et al., 2021). For example, limitations on TV advertising during programs aimed at children have demonstrated a reduction in their exposure to adverts promoting unhealthy food and beverages (Lavriša et al., 2020). In Australia, there is no dedicated government regulation to protect children from such marketing. While some restrictions exist on children's TV advertising on free-to-air channels, they do not prioritize minimizing exposure to unhealthy food promotions leading to childhood obesity (Obesity Policy Coalition, 2018).The advertising industry enforces certain limitations on food marketing toward children, outlined in codes like the Food and Beverages Advertising Code and the Children's Advertising Code. The Australian Content and Children's Television Standards of 2020 offer some regulation about advertising during children's programming on free-to-air television (AANA, 2019). However, these standards do not specifically address the issue of unhealthy food marketing.

There are significant gaps in the body of research, notwithstanding the advancements in our knowledge of how marketing influences children's food preferences and the possible advantages of governmental interventions. More thorough research is specifically required to evaluate the long-term impacts of various regulatory strategies imposed by for example, Australian Association of National Advertisers on kids' eating habits and their influence on more general public health outcomes like childhood obesity. Furthermore, more research is necessary to fully understand how digital marketing is changing and how it may affect kids' exposure to advertisements for food and drink.

Research Methodology

Study design and data sources

This study employs a mixed-method approach to thoroughly investigate how regulatory strategies affect the promotion of foods and drinks to children and how this is related to the high rate of childhood obesity in Australia. In order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the problem, the mixed-method design integrates quantitative and qualitative methods (Dawadi et al., 2021). The quantitative component entails analysing already-published data sources, such as relevant scholarly studies, industry self-regulation initiatives, and government reports (Bloomfield & Fisher, 2019). This will make it possible to get a comprehensive picture of the regulatory environment, trends in the prevalence of childhood obesity, and the degree of exposure to child-targeted marketing of EDNP foods and beverages. In-depth interviews and questionnaires with schoolchildren, parents, and teachers are part of the qualitative component (Busetto et al., 2020). The results of these surveys and interviews will offer insightful information about how these important stakeholders view the efficacy of the regulatory strategies in place and possible areas for improvement.

Sampling Frame

The purposive sampling framework for the qualitative component will guarantee representation from various viewpoints (Andrade, 2021). This will entail choosing participants from various educational settings, such as public and private schools, and from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Data saturation will be used to calculate the sample size, guaranteeing that a wide variety of viewpoints are included. A systematic review of the literature, reports, and data sources on childhood obesity rates, marketing laws, and business initiatives will make up the sampling frame for the quantitative component. The inclusion criteria will be established to guarantee that the chosen studies and reports are pertinent to the research question (Patino & Ferreira, 2018).

Key variables

The following are the main variables of interest in this study:

  1. Exposure to EDNP food and beverage marketing: This includes exposure through various media, including social media, online sites, television, and product packaging (Taillie et al., 2019). It will be evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively using surveys, interviews with students, parents, and teachers, and current data sources.
  2. Efficacy of regulatory strategies: This entails assessing the results of government initiatives, industry self-regulation, and limitations on advertising, among other regulatory measures. A combination of quantitative data and qualitative information from stakeholders will be gathered to evaluate effectiveness (Cooksey, 2020; Guest et al., 2020).
  3. Prevalence of childhood obesity: Existing epidemiological data will be used to examine this variable, focusing on trends and rates of childhood obesity in Australia over time.
  4. Stakeholder perspectives: This qualitative aspect captures the viewpoints, experiences, and recommendations of schoolchildren, their parents, and their teachers regarding regulating food and beverage marketing targeted at children (Pfister & Pozas, 2023).
  5. Analysis Plan: For the quantitative component, the analysis plan commences with meticulous data preparation, involving the compilation, organization, and rigorous cleaning of all collected data from diverse sources. This encompasses both existing quantitative data and newly gathered information through surveys. The data will be subjected to a thorough verification process to ensure accuracy and completeness, with particular attention given to addressing any missing or erroneous information (Cooksey, 2020). Subsequently, descriptive statistics will be harnessed to provide a comprehensive overview of key trends, frequencies, and distributions pertaining to childhood obesity rates, marketing exposure, and the efficacy of government regulatory strategies. This will involve calculating summary statistics, including means, standard deviations, and percentages, to distil essential insights from the quantitative data (Cooksey, 2020). 

Simultaneously, the qualitative component adopts a distinct approach. Thematic coding will be applied to the rich dataset from interviews and surveys with school children, parents, and teachers (Guest et al., 2020). This process entails systematically identifying recurring themes, patterns, and critical insights that encapsulate stakeholder perspectives on regulatory strategies and their discernible impact on childhood obesity. The qualitative data synthesis will further facilitate a holistic comprehension of these key stakeholders' diverse range of perceptions, experiences, and recommendations (Guest et al., 2020). This multifaceted synthesis serves as a crucial foundation for triangulating the findings across quantitative and qualitative domains, enriching the overall understanding of the research question. This rigorous analytical framework culminates in the interpretation of combined findings, offering valuable conclusions regarding the effectiveness of current regulatory strategies in combatting childhood obesity in Australia (Guest et al., 2020).. 

Expected Outcomes and Impact

The proposed research study holds significant potential for positive outcomes and impact in addressing childhood obesity in Australia. By comprehensively examining the regulatory strategies governing the marketing of foods and beverages to children, the study aims to shed light on crucial areas of improvement. Expected outcomes include a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay between marketing practices and childhood obesity rates, providing a foundation for evidence-based policy recommendations (Kelly et al., 2021). Additionally, the research is poised to identify gaps in existing regulatory measures, paving the way for more effective industry self-regulation and government policies. The qualitative component promises to offer unique insights into stakeholder perspectives, fostering a more holistic approach to combating childhood obesity (Clarke et al., 2021). Ultimately, the study's impact is anticipated to extend beyond academia, influencing policy decisions, industry practices, and public health initiatives, thereby contributing to a healthier and more sustainable future for Australian children.

References

‌‌Andrade, C. (2021). The inconvenient truth about convenience and purposive samples. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 43(1), 86–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/0253717620977000

Austin, E. W., Austin, B., Kaiser, C. K., Edwards, Z., Parker, L., & Power, T. G. (2020). A media literacy-based nutrition program fosters parent–child food marketing discussions, improves home food environment, and youth consumption of fruits and vegetables. Childhood Obesity. https://doi.org/10.1089/chi.2019.0240

Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA). (2019). Food and beverages advertising code. https://aana.com.au/self-regulation/codes-guidelines/food-and-beverages-code/

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2020). Overweight and Obesity among Australian Children and Adolescents, Summary.https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/overweight-obesity/overweight-obesity-australian-children-adolescents/summary

Australian National Preventive Health Agency‌ (ANPHA). (2012). Administration of Commonwealth Responsibilities under the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health.https://www.anao.gov.au/sites/default/files/201213%20Audit%20Report%20No%2012.pdf

‌Bloomfield, J., & Fisher, M. J. (2019). Quantitative research design. Journal of the Australasian Rehabilitation Nurses Association, 22(2), 27–30. https://search.informit.org/doi/10.3316/informit.738299924514584

‌Busetto, L., Wick, W., & Gumbinger, C. (2020). How to use and assess qualitative research methods. Neurological Research and Practice, 2(1), 1–10. BMC. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42466-020-00059-z

Chung, A., Zorbas, C., Riesenberg, D., Sartori, A., Kennington, K., Ananthapavan, J., & Backholer, K. (2021). Policies to restrict unhealthy food and beverage advertising in outdoor spaces and on publicly owned assets: A scoping review of the literature. Obesity Reviews, 23(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13386

‌ Clarke, B., Kwon, J., Swinburn, B., & Sacks, G. (2021). Understanding the dynamics of obesity prevention policy decision-making using a systems perspective: A case study of Healthy Together Victoria. PLOS ONE, 16(1), e0245535. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245535 

Cooksey, R. W. (2020). Descriptive statistics for summarising data. Illustrating Statistical Procedures: Finding Meaning in Quantitative Data, 61–139. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-2537-7_5

Dawadi, S., Shrestha, S., & Giri, R. A. (2021). Mixed-methods research: A discussion on its types, challenges, and criticisms. Journal of Practical Studies in Education, 2(2), 25–36. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED611786.pdf

Dixon, H., Lee, A., & Scully, M. (2019). Sports sponsorship as a cause of obesity. Current Obesity Reports, 8(4), 480–494. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-019-00363-z

Garton, K., Gerritsen, S., Sing, F., Lin, K., & Mackay, S. (2022). Unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children on digital platforms in Aotearoa, New Zealand. BMC Public Health, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-022-14790-6

Gascoyne, C., Scully, M., Wakefield, M., & Morley, B. (2021). Food and drink marketing on social media and dietary intake in Australian adolescents: Findings from a cross-sectional survey. Appetite, 166, 105431. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2021.105431

‌Guest, G., Namey, E., & Chen, M. (2020). A simple method to assess and report thematic saturation in qualitative research. PLoS One, 15(5), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232076

‌Kelly, B., Bosward, R., & Freeman, B. (2021). Social online marketing engagement (SoMe) study of food and drink brands: Real time measurement of Australian children. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(7). https://doi.org/10.2196/28144

‌Lavriša, Ž., Hristov, H., Kelly, B., & Pravst, I. (2020). Regulating children’s exposure to food marketing on television: are the restrictions during children’s programmes enough? Appetite, 154, 104752. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2020.104752

 Obesity Policy Coalition (2018). Policy brief: Food advertising regulation in Australia. https://www.foodforhealthalliance.org.au/

‌ Patino, C. M., & Ferreira, J. C. (2018). Inclusion and exclusion criteria in research studies: definitions and why they matter. Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia, 44(2), 84. ncbi. https://doi.org/10.1590/S1806-37562018000000088 

Pfister, F., & Pozas, C. (2023). The influence of Chile’s food labeling and advertising law and other factors on dietary and physical activity behavior of elementary students in a peripheral region: a qualitative study. BMC Nutrition, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-023-00671-7 

Popkin, B. M., & Ng, S. W. (2021). The nutrition transition to a stage of high obesity and non-communicable disease prevalence dominated by ultra‐processed foods is not inevitable. Obesity Reviews, 23(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13366

Potvin Kent, M., Pauzé, E., Roy, E.-A., de Billy, N., & Czoli, C. (2019). Children and adolescents’ exposure to food and beverage marketing in social media apps. Pediatric Obesity, 14(6), e12508. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12508 ‌ 

Sing, F., Mackay, S., Culpin, A., Hughes, S., & Swinburn, B. (2020). Food Advertising to Children in New Zealand: A Critical Review of the Performance of a Self-Regulatory Complaints System Using a Public Health Law Framework. Nutrients, 12(5), 1278. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051278

Taillie, L. S., Busey, E., Stoltze, F. M., & Dillman Carpentier, F. R. (2019). Governmental policies to reduce unhealthy food marketing to children. Nutrition Reviews, 77(11), 787–816. https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/77/11/787/5536919?redirectedFrom=fulltext 

UNICEF. (2021). Policy brief: Marketing of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages to childre: Policy Brief.https://www.unicef.org/media/116691/file/Marketing%20restrictions.pdf

World Health Organization. (2022). Reformulation of food and beverage products for healthier diets: Policy brief. https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/9789240039919

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