Kiwi kids have made an unlikely plea to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: ban junk food marketing.
Why? Because it made them feel hungry and want the food, despite knowing it was bad for them, say the researchers who interviewed them.
Those were some of the messages that have come out of a kids-eye-view study into New Zealand's junk food advertising, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal.
Interviews were held with 33 children aged between 11 and 13 from the Wellington region about junk food advertising.
The children in the study were asked: "If you were Prime Minister for the day and could change anything you wanted about unhealthy food marketing, what would you change?"
Many said they would take action to reduce junk food marketing, including removing billboards, providing nutritional information and promoting healthy food.
Others suggested that advertisers be required to provide accurate nutritional information for their products, and that billboards and signs advertising unhealthy foods be removed.
Said one: "I'd get rid of all the billboards and big signs that everyone's forced to see."
Another responded: "Maybe make rules about advertising, so they just tell you the facts."
The children also spoke up for restricting the marketing of junk food on television and in sport.
When asked if Ardern and others should take notice of children's points of view, one commented, "the future is … where we're going to be living, and it needs to be a good place for us".
Yesterday, Ardern told the Herald that, given the context of the question, she wasn't surprised at what the kids asked for.
"The fact that there is an awareness building about children and healthy and unhealthy food, though, can only be a good thing – we all want our kids to make healthy choices."
The study's lead author, Professor Louise Signal of Otago University, said the kids' suggestions happened to be in line with policy agreed to by the world's health ministers at a recent World Health Assembly.
The children interviewed readily identified television as the most likely source of food marketing, but were less able to recall other media commonly used by advertisers.
When prompted, most of the children reported seeing food marketing in some or all of the places about which they were asked.
These included at home, at school, at sports venues, while in the car or outdoors in public places, in shops and supermarkets, on the internet, on billboards and signs and less often, in newspapers and magazines and on the radio.
Signal said most of the children reported buying unhealthy food and snacks such as chocolate, confectionary, fizzy drinks and chips – the foods that they were most likely to see advertisements for – despite knowing that such foods were unhealthy.
One child said: "I like to eat (takeaways) because I find (them) yum. But (they are) also pretty fattening … I just get the temptation of eating and feeling hungry whenever I see those ads."
The children interviewed were part of the landmark Kids' Cam study in which they were fitted with wearable cameras as a way of providing a window on their world to researchers.
By putting cameras on children and recording what they captured, researchers found Kiwi kids frequently see junk food and booze ads.
Signal said New Zealand had no laws to restrict junk food advertising to which children are exposed.
"There needs to be government leadership to ban junk food marketing to protect our children and promote their wellbeing.
"We know junk food marketing works; children are calling for action to ban it. Let's do it," she says.
The authors believed the study to be one of the first to explore children's views on food marketing through all media and in all settings.
It was also one of the first to explore their views on appropriate health promotion actions to reduce harm from food marketing.
Ministry of Health deputy director of public health Dr Harriette Carr said the Advertising Standards Authority had codes in place for marketing food to children.
They meant advertisements for occasional food or beverage products must not target children, or be placed in any media where children were likely to be a significant proportion of the expected average audience.
Carr said the ministry had also launched a childhood obesity plan with 22 measures, many of which had now been implemented.
Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said that speaking to a small group of children was a way to collect some interesting opinions, "but it's not a sample to base policy on".
Rich noted that some children talked about making advertising "true" and the provision of nutrition information.
"I don't expect them to be aware, but by law advertising in New Zealand must be truthful and accurate otherwise bodies like the Commerce Commission or ASA will step in."
Childhood obesity in New Zealand
• Around one in eight Kiwi children aged two to 14 are now considered obese.
• Seventeen per cent of Māori children and 30 per cent of Pacific children are considered obese.
• Children living in the most deprived areas were 2.1 times as likely to be obese as children living in the least deprived areas.
• Child obesity rates jumped from eight per cent in 2006/07 to 12 per cent in 2017/18.
- Source: Ministry of Health