How much does advertising affect our kids? It's possibly more than we might imagine, considering all the marketing messages that surround them, in the physical and online worlds.

A fair chunk of that is advertising for unhealthy food and drink. And it's hard to imagine this doesn't have any effect.

It is an issue that's in the spotlight globally, with the EU announcing a proposal to tighten up the rules about the advertising of unhealthy foods and alcohol to children.

Here in New Zealand, a new Children and Young People's Advertising Code will come into effect in early July. The code includes specific rules around the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages.

Advertisement

What are termed "occasional foods" are not to be promoted as everyday foods, and advertising promotions are not to be seen to encourage excessive consumption.

The location of ads targeting kids is also broadly limited, with the Code stating: "Advertisements (including sponsorship advertisements) for occasional food or beverage products must not target children or be placed in any media where children are likely to be a significant proportion of the expected average audience."

That's an interesting statement, given that advertising is defined as "any message, the content of which is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser, expressed in any language and communicated in any medium with the intent to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed".

That immediately makes me think of the corner dairy before and after school; these outlets are typically plastered with marketing for unhealthy foods. How the code might be enforced here will be interesting to observe.

The ubiquity of advertising in kids' lives is evident in research carried out by a team at Auckland University under the direction of the University of Otago's Professor Louise Signal.

The Kids'Cam study aimed to explore children's everyday environments by documenting what kids see throughout the day - while at home, at school and during most other activities.

To directly and objectively capture the environment surrounding them, children were asked to wear a GPS device and a camera around their necks for four days, which automatically took photographs every 10 seconds. This project was one of the first in the world to use this type of technology to explore children's environments.

The images captured by the kids' cameras show them living in a world saturated with food advertising, the vast majority of it for unhealthy foods and drinks. This ranges from signage at sports fields to in-store promotions to promotional clothing.

Advertisement

Given that the new code, like all ASA Codes, is the advertising industry's own self-regulation, rather than law, it seems unlikely the majority of the ad messages in kids' lives will get much attention.

Unless, of course, we do something.

Anyone can make an ASA complaint. There is an opportunity here for us to use our power as consumers to change the food environment for the better. Let's get our cameras out and make some noise.

• Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large of Healthy Food Guide.