The University of Melbourne
Parker et al Unhealthy food advertising preprint (002) 8.7.24 final.pdf (1.49 MB)

Unhealthy food advertising on social media: Policy lessons from the Australian Ad Observatory

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Version 2 2024-07-08, 02:41
Version 1 2024-06-24, 11:34
posted on 2024-07-08, 02:41 authored by Tanita Rose NorthcottTanita Rose Northcott, Katherine Sievert, Cherie RussellCherie Russell, Abdul Karim Obeid, CHRISTINE PARKERCHRISTINE PARKER, Daniel Angus

This paper presents empirical evidence of the nature and characteristics of unhealthy food advertising online in Australia to inform policy development designed to promote a healthy digital food environment. International bodies, such as the World Health Organization, and public health experts are calling for urgent restrictions on the online marketing of unhealthy food. The harmful effects of incessant unhealthy food advertising, particularly to children, has prompted a proposed policy action in Australia to restrict children's exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods, including a strong, broad prohibition on all unhealthy food marketing online. We used a novel data donation infrastructure, the Australian Ad Observatory, to create a dataset of thousands of unhealthy food ads, from individual Australians’ Facebook feeds in order to investigate unhealthy food advertising on social media; identify any harmful targeting and marketing practices; and demonstrate how online advertising may be made observable and accountable. We find that there is evidence that young people, especially young men, are being targeted by unhealthy food, especially fast food, ads, and that unhealthy food ads use numerous potentially harmful marketing strategies to appeal to children, young people and the broader community, including cartoon characters, associations with popular sports and greenwashing. The policy implications of our findings are that a strong, broad prohibition on unhealthy food advertising that is not age-restricted and that prohibits all forms of unhealthy food advertising is needed to protect children, young people and the broader community, to address the digital determinants of health.


ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society

Australian Research Council

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