Bendigo's council has joined more than 10,000 people who are standing beside Cancer Council Victoria in their 'food fight' campaign to ditch junk food advertising from around schools and public transport.
The City of Greater Bendigo has been very supportive of the campaign and the calls for policy to restrict advertising of unhealthy food and drinks within 500 metres of schools, on public transport and infrastructure like stations, platforms, stops and shelters.
The City's senior planning and policy officer Julian Cleary said this built on past work the council has done including an audit of unhealthy food and drink ads on Bendigo's bus services.
"You've got loads and loads of really cheap, really unhealthy food, sort of being promoted and saturating the area where a lot of kids are using buses to get to school," he said.
"We're doing extra work with local facilities, with schools, with community health services and others around. The things that are within our control locally, but in terms of advertising around schools and around public transport - that's something that we can't address alone."
New data has revealed spending on outdoor advertising for unhealthy food and drinks in Victoria alone almost reached $10 million between April, 2021 and February, 2022, and this is part of the reason the Cancer Council's petition to remove unhealthy food and drink advertising has garnered support from organisations including VicHealth, Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Nutrition Australia, Parents' Voice and Murdoch Children's Research Institute.
Cancer Council Victoria's obesity program executive manager Jane Martin said the amount of spending highlighted the magnitude of the problem and called for governments to use their power to protect children from advertising.
"The processed food industry is spending millions of dollars on advertising in public places, so our kids are surrounded by this on their routes to school, on public transport and as they go about their lives," Ms Martin said.
"Every day they are bombarded with at least 25 ads for unhealthy food and drink.
"We know it has an impact on what they eat, want to eat and ask for, and we should be doing everything in our power to protect them from this influence."
Ms Martin said the Food Fight campaign is ultimately about protecting children on their way to school, and more broadly as they attend community and sporting events, and setting up positive habits for their future.
"If children have unhealthy diets they're developing their habits and tastes at an early age," she said.
"An unhealthy diet can put them at risk of 13 types of cancer and other serious diseases later in life."
"The community response to Food Fight is proof that thousands of Victorians feel the same and that protecting our kids from this harmful marketing should be a priority for government."
Advertising for unhealthy meals from fast food restaurants like KFC, Hungry Jack's and McDonald's are the top concern with $4.3 million spent on advertising, but desserts and sugary drinks are some other key foods of concern.
Many Australians are not aware of the link between obesity and cancer, but being above a healthy weight has been linked to the increased risk of thirteen different cancers in adults.
Globally the list of cancer cases attributable to being above a healthy weight is likely to increase alongside an increase in obesity - and healthier diets are a key way to begin to control one's risk.
Adolescents who are overweight are 80 per cent more likely to remain so as an adult, so getting healthy habits established as soon as possible is particularly important for children.
"It is a concern across the board but in those adolescent boys in particular, that's when you really see that increase in fast food and sugary drink [consumption]," Ms Martin said.
"Probably because they've got their own money as well ... so they can go out and buy food for themselves."
Children are concerned about advertising too, according to Mr Cleary.
"[Our] Greater Bendigo food system strategy outlines a whole lot of issues that impact on people's ability to access healthy food and all the issues that flow from that," he said.
"When we were developing our community vision and our four year strategic plan for council, we spoke to about 210 children across Greater Bendigo.
"A lot of them are raising things about high availability of unhealthy food versus healthy food just in general but some children very specifically talked about how much advertising there is."
The council worked with VicHealth and asked students to audit their local environments, and as part of those submissions, children were sending in photos of advertising for products like Coca Cola.
Mr Cleary said this "relentless barrage" of advertising does not give children the best chance to thrive.
"It undermines children's opportunities to live in a healthy food environment," he said.
"Affordability is certainly [another] issue and there's been a lot of media around that recently, but we know that people are struggling to make ends meet and we know that making delicious, fresh, healthy food readily available is a big priority.
"That's definitely something that children themselves are raising - that the easy options are the unhealthy options and often you've got all these promotions around really cheap deals and things that may not even in practice actually be cheaper, but they're so accessible and available that it's the path of least resistance."
The council are working locally with sporting clubs to offer healthier prizes instead of junk food vouchers, as well as supporting community gardens and school kitchens.
The council are also keen to continue supporting the Food Fight, with Victorians all invited to support the movement at cancervic.org.au
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