Children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising contributes to childhood obesity by influencing food preferences and purchase requests, leading to poor dietary intake. For an individual, exposure to advertising on the school commute is largely unavoidable, unlike other advertising forms such as television, where exposure can be reduced by limiting screen time. This study aimed to examine the number and type of food advertisements to which children are exposed when using public transport or walking to school in Sydney, Australia.
A total of 762 advertisements were observed across the 53 school routes (bus, train and walking) sampled within the greater Sydney area. Advertisements on NSW State Government-owned infrastructure (such as on buses and at train stations) made up 97.4% of all advertisements observed.
Almost one-third (32%) of advertisements were for foods or beverages and of those, 75% promoted discretionary products. Core food and miscellaneous advertisements contributed to 11% and 14% of total food and beverage advertisements, respectively. Fast foods such as burgers, chips and pizza were the most frequently advertised food and beverage products (23%), followed by sugary drinks (17%) and snack foods (16%). Alcohol advertisements contributed 6% of all food and beverage advertisements.
This study estimates that depending on transport mode, children living in the Greater Sydney area were exposed to between 1.7 and 7.3 discretionary food advertisements per trip to school in May/June 2018. Therefore, travelling to and from school for one year, children would be exposed to more than 2800 discretionary food advertisements if travelling on trains and 1000 discretionary food advertisements if travelling on buses.
NSW and other state and territory governments have an opportunity to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising by banning advertising of discretionary foods on public transport infrastructure. This action would demonstrate a commitment to creating environments that help children to develop healthy eating habits and would support other government initiatives to reduce childhood obesity.