Background: Policies restricting the marketing of foods and beverages to children require clear definitions of the foods that are subject to restrictions. Since 2007 the UK has used a Nutrient Profiling Model developed by the Food Standards Agency. Food Standards Australia New Zealand adapted this model to develop criteria to determine the eligibility of foods to carry a health claim. These criteria have also been used as the starting point for the algorithm for the Health Star Rating System for front-of-pack labelling.
Aim: This study investigated the potential of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand nutrient profiling criterion to underpin restrictions on the advertising of ‘unhealthy’ foods to children by comparing it to other criteria established by food companies.
Methods: Two weeks of food advertising from 6am to 9pm on three Sydney television channels were categorised as passing or failing the nutrient profiling criterion. Results were compared to the criteria set by companies in the voluntary industry codes for marketing to children.
Results: Of the 116 unique food advertisements, 61% promoted foods that failed nutrient profiling and were considered ‘unhealthy’ foods. Thirty-seven percent of advertisements that met the nutrition criteria outlined in the grocery manufacturers’ company action plans failed nutrient profiling. Only one advertisement for fast food (4%) passed the fast food company criteria and nutrient profiling.
Conclusions: The Food Standards Australia New Zealand nutrient profiling criterion provides an independent assessment of the overall healthiness of a product and has potential to form the basis of nutrient criteria for regulating food marketing to children in Australia. Current criteria within voluntary self-regulatory initiatives are complex, lenient and fail to cover many foods advertised.