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CBA, Govt intervention

Cutting junk food ads on TV 'will save $300m a year'

The Australian

RESTRICTING television advertisements for junk food aimed at children would be one of the most cost-effective public health measures governments could make, yielding huge savings from preventing fat kids turning into sickly adults.

In the first analysis of what costs and savings would accrue from restricting junk food TV advertising to children, Australian researchers found that a ban would cost just $3.70 for each extra year of disease-free life gained, as children avoided the chronic diseases of adulthood that are strongly linked to excess weight.

Even that modest cost would be vastly outweighed by the savings, eventually expected to reach $300million every year as pressure was taken off the health system, experts from Melbourne's Deakin University found.

The findings, published online by the International Journal of Obesity, are likely to irritate Australia's processed food industry and alarm broadcasters.

Food companies have been fighting hard to avoid some of the prescriptive regulations imposed in other countries -- including advertising restrictions and so-called "traffic light" nutrition information panels.

From the start of this year, the Australian Food and Grocery Council launched a "responsible children's marketing initiative", under which 16 food and drink manufacturers have committed not to advertise to children, "unless they promoted healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle consistent with scientific standards".

AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said she did not believe there was "any definitive evidence linking advertising with obesity".

"But there's a community expectation that advertising when children are likely to be watching TV on their own should be restricted to healthier food, and that's why the industry has removed ads for high-fat, sugar and salt products (during children's peak viewing times)," she said.

In June, a federal parliamentary committee inquiry into obesity warned the industry to make product ingredients healthier, label them more clearly and market them more responsibly or face mandatory regulation.

Boyd Swinburn, senior author of the new study and director of the WHO Collaborating Centre in Obesity Prevention based at Deakin University, said the industry's scheme had, "so many loopholes ... clever marketers would be able to drive a truck through them".

Although a ban was also opposed by those who feared a collapse in revenue for broadcasters, Professor Swinburn said ad revenues increased in the UK after British regulator Ofcom began phasing in restrictions on junk food advertising in 2007, despite the global financial crisis.

"This is far and away the most cost-effective intervention (for tackling childhood obesity) that we have modelled," Professor Swinburn said.