• Internal Code :
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  • University : Western Sydney University
  • Subject Name : law and ethics

Harmful Effects of Advertising on Eating Habits: Legal and Ethical Aspects


The paper seeks an answer as to how much ethical the advertisement of various junk foods are and to what extent the legal regulations can arrest the spread of harmful influence like obesity and similar types of eating disorders from such types of advertisements.

Various examples of advertisements for very popular junk foods like pizzas, burgers and various aerated drinks have been cited for better understanding of the problem. In this context the health guidelines of the Australian government shall also be referred to show that legally the authorities also want to put a break on such luring advertisements which causes serious health issues particularly among the young generation of the nation. As per the ethics of journalism it is the moral duty of any journalist is to bring such incidents in notice of the public and this paper is written to that end.

The paper clearly states the problem from three separate angles. The first angle would be the perspective of companies putting up such advertisements in spite of knowing the harmful effects of their food products, being driven by pure profit earning motives so ethics takes a backseat (Mehta et al., 2010). The second angle shows how the government has constantly been trying to ensure a healthy food habit by regulating food advertising and food safety norms mentioning to limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake and to restrict consumption of foods and beverages higher in these components to quantities that fit within healthy eating patterns and the legal punitive measures against such defaulters and the third angle is the consumers’ perspective who has to make the right choice- whether they would fall prey to such luring advertisements or would follow the health guidelines issued by the government for their own betterment (Nathan et al., 2005).

Impacts of Marketing Obesity

Health is the biggest asset of an individual. If the people in the economy will be healthy, then only the economy can prosper and flourish. Therefore, there should be strategies so that the population of the Australia is encouraged to adopt healthy eating habits (Baker et al., 2017). But in the current scenario, the ease in the availability and convenience of the packaged foods is driving the economy away from healthy food. The pre-packaged foods are high in fats, sugar, salt and oil. But still the population of Australia consumes these packaged foods.

According to a new analysis, six out of ten packaged foods in Australia is ultra processed. This means that the majority of the packaged foods are junk foods and according to the analysis, only one third is healthy food. This highly or ultra processed packaged foods are making the people in Australia fat and sick.

Based on the research, the researchers found out that 53 percent of the supermarket packaged foods were junk foods which are poor in nutrients and dense in energy. These includes biscuits, salty snacks, softened drinks, chocolate, butter. Others like pre prepared meals and sauces, processed meats, frozen meals and desserts come under ultra processed foods. Whereas, only 47 percent were core foods which includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, dairy products.

Childhood obesity is one of the serious concern all over the world. In Australia, around 8 percent of children were obese and 16 percent were overweight during 2007-08. These children who are overweight and obese are likely to be turned into obese or overweight adults. These adults will face chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease (Jancey et al., 2019). Therefore, to avoid heavy health costs for the treatment of these diseases, it is desirable that these unhealthy eating habits should be controlled at the right time.

Eating healthy has become a challenge in Australia. This challenge has also compounded by the bombardment of the advertisements of these packaged foods known as junk foods. These advertisements influence the consumption patterns and consumer preferences.

Moreover, the advertising which are made to address children are more controversial. Since, children are the most vulnerable audience, strict legal restrictions are required in this area to avoid the youth to practice bad eating habits. Advertisements lead to development of bad and unhealthy habits in children, especially in food habits (Udell & Mehta, 2008). This is very unethical on the part of advertisers. Also, sometimes advertisements address to girls and women and create a sense of body dissatisfaction, low self esteem, depression and bad eating habits.

According to a report by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), it has been found that Australians consume three times of junk foods as what has been recommended. Australians were consuming junk on a regular basis(everyday). It was found that on an average Australians consume 32 kg of chocolate per year. Also, in a Health Diet Score Survey, Australians were scored 61 out of 100 which was unflattering. The second highest contributor to disease in Australia is obesity. The obesity rates are increasing day by day in Australia. It is becoming a mainstream rather than only indulgence.

The advertisers and the producers of the pre packaged foods are maximizing profits from this business. Australians are having these cheap, easily available at all stores ultra processed foods also because of the influence of advertising of these foods.

The Government of Australia should take stringent measures to improve the eating habits of the population. While not affecting the business of the ultra processed foods, the government should strike a balance between supporting this food industry without deteriorating the health of the population (Mohr et al., 2007).

There are two aspects to look after this problem. First is the legal aspect which says, whether it is legally correct to show harmful food advertisements. The other is the ethical aspect which says, whether the producers should ethically show these harmful food advertisements.

There is regulation in the food advertising in Australia which is very limited in scope. In the Children’s Television Standards(2009), there is only one regulation related to food advertising. It says that the producers of foods cannot show wrong information of the nutritional value of foods. There are no more regulations and legal restrictions on food advertising which can reduce the quantity of advertisements of unhealthy foods. Even, there are no regulations for the unhealthy food advertisements seen by the children. Thus, there is lack of monitoring by the government.

The experts, researchers, health agencies all of them have an opinion that the government should restrict the unhealthy food advertising to the people. In 2012, two studies were conducted at national level in which three quarters of participants who were surveyed were in the favor that Government should put some restrictions on the harmful food advertising addressed to the children (Renzaho et al., 2018).

Therefore, a well comprehensive package of legislations against unhealthy food advertising is urgently required in Australia to curb all the problems of overweight and obesity crisis observed in the nation (Hoek & Gendall, 2006). There are studies done to evaluate the ways at which the advertisements persuade or manipulate the viewers. It was seen that the advertisements create a visual imagery in the minds of consumers. The advertisements of food do not contain information of the ingredients or the nutritional value of the food but it focuses on the social and symbolic uses of the product. Therefore, the advertisers try to link their products with some lifestyles, symbolic values or pleasures.

There are many subtle influences of advertising. Sometimes, the advertising also show images which does not equate to truth. The people are influence by the advertisements which appears to be truthful and they think that using that product can make them happy or look younger (Borges et al., 2017). Also, the repetition of advertisements which shows minor differences between two food products, for example between Pepsi and Coca Cola can lead to consumers making unconscious choices. There is a chance that even if the consumer didn’t like the particular harmful food product but by the continuous repetition to advertisements, people are influenced to consume that particular product.

Earlier, it was very unusual for the children to get influenced by the advertisements. But the rise in the entertainment channels in the television for children and the increasing use of social media by the youth has made them more prone to unhealthy food advertising. The advertising has also taken various forms like television, internet, peer to peer, films, viral marketing, video games, computer etc (Carter, 2006).

The children and youth are the future of the economy and they also influence the eating habits of their parents. Advertising has encouraged the practice of pester power. It is the persistence nagging by the children to their parents to purchase according to their wants. For the parents, there are only two choices that is to either purchase their children junk foods or to become the parents who do not fulfil the needs of their children. It has been found that even very young children are aware of the brand names and logos. They are aware of the aerated drinks, chocolates, snacks and many other junk foods.

Now even in the advertisements in the magazine does not cater to the interests of the readers, rather it aims to influence their eating habits by promoting luring pictures of junk foods like pizza and burgers (Henderson et al., 2009). This is very unethical on the part of the journalists that they are trying to capture the mind of the people with the unhealthy foods. It is the moral duty of the advertisers to portray the correct picture and reveal the nutritional value of the food products. For the sake of maximizing the profits of the organisation, the producers are not even pondering the consequences of the sale of these highly or ultra processed foods with high sugar, salt and fats.

Moreover, it has been noticed that the advertisers not only focus on the brands per se, but also focus on the category of unhealthy foods (Sainsbury et al., 2017). For example, McDonald’s does not promote its brand but also promote the hamburger along with it. Thus, the advertisers not only influence the brands but also the complete diet of the viewers making them vulnerable to energy dense, sugary and fatty eating products.


It is not only the simple advertising that influences the population but there are many factors which influences the purchasing choices like packaging of the products, colour and shape of the food, the celebrity which advertises the food product. All these factors together have an impact on the minds of the population of Australia.The advertisers should be responsible by revealing the nutritional value or the limits of the consumption of the product. For example, Cadbury introduces itself as a treat and advises to keep a balance diet unlike junk foods and tobacco. Also, the consumers on their part should be rational, aware and choose healthy heating habits to avoid various diseases.


Baker, P., Gill, T., Friel, S., Carey, G., & Kay, A. (2017). Generating political priority for regulatory interventions targeting obesity prevention: an Australian case study. Social science & medicine, 177, 141-149.

Borges, M. C., Louzada, M. L., de Sá, T. H., Laverty, A. A., Parra, D. C., Garzillo, J. M. F., ... & Millett, C. (2017). Artificially sweetened beverages and the response to the global obesity crisis. PLoS medicine, 14(1).

Carter, O. B. (2006). The weighty issue of Australian television food advertising and childhood obesity. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 17(1), 5-11.

Henderson, J., Coveney, J., Ward, P., & Taylor, A. (2009). Governing childhood obesity: Framing regulation of fast food advertising in the Australian print media. Social science & medicine, 69(9), 1402-1408.

Hoek, J., & Gendall, P. (2006). Advertising and obesity: a behavioral perspective. Journal of Health Communication, 11(4), 409-423.

Jancey, J., Leavy, J. E., Pollard, C., Riley, T., Szybiak, M., Milligan, M., ... & Blackford, K. (2019). Exploring network structure and the role of key stakeholders to understand the obesity prevention system in an Australian metropolitan health service: study protocol. BMJ open, 9(5), e027948.

Mehta, K., Coveney, J., Ward, P., Magarey, A., Spurrier, N., & Udell, T. (2010). Australian children's views about food advertising on television. Appetite, 55(1), 49-55.

Mohr, P., Wilson, C., Dunn, K., Brindal, E., & Wittert, G. (2007). Personal and lifestyle characteristics predictive of the consumption of fast foods in Australia. Public health nutrition, 10(12), 1456-1463.

Nathan, S. A., Zwi, A. B., Develin, E., & Grove, N. (2005). An Australian childhood obesity summit: the role of data and evidence in'public'policy making. Australia and New Zealand health policy, 2(1).

Renzaho, A. M., Green, J., Smith, B. J., & Polonsky, M. (2018). Exploring factors influencing childhood obesity prevention among migrant communities in Victoria, Australia: A qualitative study. Journal of immigrant and minority health, 20(4), 865-883.

Sainsbury, E., Colagiuri, S., & Magnusson, R. (2017). An audit of food and beverage advertising on the Sydney metropolitan train network: regulation and policy implications. BMC Public Health, 17(1), 490.

Udell, T., & Mehta, K. (2008). When two sides go to war: Newspaper reporting of ‘television food advertising restrictions’ as a solution to childhood obesity. Health, Risk & Society, 10(6), 535-548.

Remember, at the center of any academic work, lies clarity and evidence. Should you need further assistance, do look up to our Law and Ethics Assignment Help

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