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Ads for unhealthy fizzy drinks and chippies during children's television programmes are to be axed under a voluntary deal between the Government and broadcasters.

However, health campaigners say the move won't achieve what the Government hopes it will - a reduction in child obesity rates - because children do most of their television watching at prime time.

The Government hopes the plan will in place by August. Food advertisements during designated children's programming hours will have to pass a test to receive a new "children's food" rating, but which foods will make the grade is yet to be determined.

Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey said he expected products which were high in sugar, salt or fat would fall foul of the new regime.

Health Ministry officials said the food and beverage classification system developed as part of the Healthy Eating Healthy Action strategy would be a likely starting point.

That system divides food into three categories: every day, sometimes and occasionally.

Food companies were unconcerned by the move. A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said the company did not advertise during children's programming, and it pitched its marketing to 12s and over.

McDonald's country manager, Mark Hawthorn, said the company had made several health-focused menu alterations, including changing its cooking oil, reducing sugar in buns, taking sugar out of some drinks, and introducing a pasta meal. "We have a role in society to make sure we help in anything we can to help a balanced diet and active lifestyle for kids."

The company had also made a deliberate shift from advertising to children to advertising to parents, Mr Hawthorn said. "At the end of the day they end up making the decision to bring the child in, and I would say less than 5 per cent of our advertising spend is in kids' television time now."

Television network executives, who had faced the possibility of government regulating what ads could be shown in children's viewing time, yesterday said they supported the voluntary code.

"Food advertising is very important to our industry and represents about 20 per cent of all television revenues," CanWest TV Works chief operating officer Rick Friesen said.

"This new era in self-regulation will permit the socially responsible advertising of food, soft drinks, fast food, cereals and confectionery, while protecting children when they are watching their early morning and mid-afternoon programmes."

TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis said food advertisements would need to comply with the new code or they would not make the airwaves. While it would be in the best interest of food companies to buy into the code, Mr Ellis noted that in the last two years the number of food advertisements in those time zones had fallen.

Green MP Sue Kedgley said the code was too timid as it would cover only a small portion of the hours in which children watched television.

"New Zealand children watch 15 hours of television every week, and during this time they will see approximately 192 advertisements for unhealthy food."

Obesity Action Coalition executive director Leigh Sturgiss said the code would probably have no effect on the number of fast food ads children saw.

"According to research carried out in 2005 by the Broadcaster's Council, real world peak viewing time for children aged 5-13 is from 6.30pm-8.45pm on weekdays and from 6.30pm-9pm on weekends. The zones suggested in the new code finish at 5.30pm during the week on TV2 and 4.30pm on TV3."

Ad-free zones

Unhealthy food ads to be dropped at these times:
Mon-Fri, 7-8.35am, 3.30-5.30pm
Sat 7-10am
Total: 21hrs 5 mins a week

Mon-Fri, 7.10-8.25am, 3-4.30pm
Sat 7-9am
Total: 15 hrs 45 mins a week