Is Advertising Energy-Dense, Nutrient-Poor Food to Children in New Zealand Ethical?


Food and beverage marketing significantly influences the eating habits of children, which include their food choices, food consumption amount, and food requests. The advertisement of food and beverages that are energy-dense, nutrient-poor have been found to have poor health effects, especially on children. It is regarded as a significant contributor to childhood obesity. In the last three decades, the population of overweight and obese children has increased by 47%. In New Zealand, child obesity has increased from 8% to 12% (“Obesity statistics,” n.d.). It has been determined that advertising of energy-dense nutrient-poor foods triggers this national and global increase. In New Zealand, these energy-dense nutrient-poor foods are advertised through television adverts, radio adverts, singing catchy songs, attaching free toys to products and printed advertisements on the products’ packages. Advertisement of such foods and beverages has raised ethical concerns. This paper will argue whether it is ethical to advertise energy-dense, nutrient-poor food to children in New Zealand.

Implications for wellbeing

Adherence to The Fair Trading Act 1986 as well as the Consumer Guarantee Act 1993 is the current legal practice in advertising food and beverage that are energy-dense and nutrient-poor.  This ethical issue is relevant to New Zealanders because of the increased childhood obesity puts the health of the younger population of New Zealand at risk. There are a lot of advertisements in New Zealand advertising these products which influence children’s eating habits (Kelly, Vandevijvere, Freeman, & Jenkin, 2015). At a personal level, consuming these types of food leads to obesity, and after a while, it can later result in other chronic health complications such as heart attack. Obese individuals also become a liability to other people around them and the society at large due to their reduced productivity. Since these foods and beverages are rich in energy, they also provide the body with energy, which is essential in undertaking metabolic processes.

Groups for and against the issue

For- New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (FGC).

New Zealand Food and Grocery Council is an association representing manufacturers as well as suppliers dealing in grocery, food, and beverage products. FGC argues that the advertisement of energy-dense nutrition-poor food to children is ethical. FGC claims that it is noble because advertising these foods acts as nutrition education to children. They believe that children have nutritional knowledge making them differentiate between healthy foods and treat foods (“Marketing to children,” 2019). They believe this based on the opinion they got from 33 children they interviewed. Moreover, they also believe that claims made that over advertisements of about 27 adverts on energy-dense nutrition-poof food targeting are just exaggerated. They claim that they are ethical since every manufacturer conducts advertisements according to the strict conditions provided by ASA Code (“Marketing to children,” 2019). Moreover, they assert that they are ethical because they are sincere in their advertisements. They openly classify their products as treat foods and not healthy foods. They also provide cautious information and other important health information.  

For- McDonald’s’s is a fast-food restaurant operating in New Zealand and other countries. Mcdonalds believe that advertising energy-dense nutrient-poor food to children so long as the advertisements are true and transparent. McDonald’s believes that value for children to choose their meals in the manner they prefer with the aid of their parents. McDonald’s believes that it is ethical to advertise to children, given that the Advertising Code of Practice is followed (“McDonald’s New Zealand,” n.d.). This company has its own set of children’s marketing guidelines. To remain ethical, McDonald’s seeks to sustain its self-regulatory framework. Moreover, McDonald’s takes responsibility in the manner they promote their products by strictly following the Advertising Code of Practice and as well as recommending parental guidance to children’s food choices.

Against – Public Health Experts.

This is a group of public health experts from the University of Otago. According to these experts, they believe that advertising potentially nutrient-poor food to children is very unethical. They consider this unethical because children are unable to apprehend and interpret appropriately the messages advertised and tend to be highly convinced by such advertisements. Due to children’s vulnerability to nutrient-poor food advertising and also probable harmful effects, the experts argue that this is considered exploitation. Children are minors who cannot control themselves (Sloane, 2016). Therefore these experts imply that as per the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, New Zealand among other countries, has the obligation of protecting children against any form of exploitation. To prove that this ethical issue is unethical, stated that despite the advertisement of these products regulated by the Code for Advertising to Children, the self-regulatory code has not shown any significant impact in ensuring that it protects children from exploitation. These experts suggest that to eliminate this unethical practice, the Code for Advertising to Children needs to be reviewed.

Against – University of Otago

The University of Otago is a learning institution. The 2014 Big Food Symposium chaired by Dr Gabrielle Jenkin, examined the impact of self-regulation of advertising in protecting children from unhealthy food. The group that participated arrived at a conclusive decision that the self-regulation of advertisements is not effective.  They believe that children still view adverts for nutrient-poor food even though there is a self-regulatory system in place. Children mostly get exposed to these adverts through televisions and the internet. This indicates that manufacturers are violating the self-regulatory codes ( Jenkin, 2014). To make the matter worse, most people, including children, spend most of their time on social media networks in New Zealand. Manufacturers tend to ignore that social media has various users, including children. They negligently, post their adverts on social media platforms such as Facebook. Children are part of these platforms, and therefore, they get exports to adverts advertising energy-dense and nutrient-poor food. This group strongly regard that it is unethical to violate the law and also to expose children to unhealthy food which compromises their wellbeing. They conclude that self-regulation is not practical and therefore, advertising all unhealthy food to children should be completely banned.

Implications, consequences, challenges if supported

If the issue of advertising unhealthy food and beverage to children is considered to be ethical, there would be more negative impacts than positive. Accepting this practice as an ethical practice will encourage a lot of advertisements for nutrition-poor food, thus increasing the likelihood of more children getting exposed to these adverts. An increased number of adverts means that more children will be influenced to consume these unhealthy foods. Unhealthy eating habits will increase among children. As a result, increased consumption of this nutrition-poor food will cause weight gain leading to childhood obesity. Childhood obesity will further make children vulnerable to other health complications such as heart diseases, diabetes, and osteoarthritis (Sloane, 2016). In the long-run, dependency will increase due to increased health complications that will arise. Medical treatment costs will strain parents to treat their children.

Moreover, the community will suffer a decline in the productive population. This is due to the declined productivity caused by obesity on individuals, making them unproductive in society and instead of increasing dependency. However, children will benefit more from identifying various treats they want. Since they will be exposed to adverts, they will be able to locate multiple treats of their preference (Kelly et al., 2015). In this situation, the sellers will be advantaged due to increased sales drawn from advertising. Advertising mediums such as televisions will also be advantaged as many companies will advertise with them. To achieve equitable outcomes, advertising should be allowed but controlled. Nutrition knowledge and information should also be included in the advertisement.

Implications, consequences, challenges if opposed

If the issue of advertising unhealthy food and beverage to children is regarded to be unethical, it will lead to the ban of advertisements for nutrition-poor children. One of the consequences is that a small number of children will be exposed to these unhealthy food leading to decreased consumption of these foods. Children will develop good and healthy eating habits. As a result, this will lead to a healthy population. In the future, due to the high healthy population, the productivity population will be high contributing to the economic development of the community (Kelly et al., 2015). In this instance, children will be the most advantaged because they will be less exposed to unhealthy foods leading to healthy living by feeding on healthy nutritious food. Society will also be advantaged to have a healthy population growing to replace the old population in the future. This will lead to an increased productive population that will lead to the economic development of the country (Sloane, 2016). The manufacturers and the advertising mediums will be disadvantaged since there will be decreased advertisements causing losses. To achieve equitable outcomes, a balance should advertising should be allowed but strictly controlled, accompanied by certain specific terms.


To sum up, the advertisement of energy-dense nutrient-poor food to children has been a big controversial issue in New Zealand. Some support that advertising such unhealthy food to children is ethical while some oppose it. Those who support claim that advertising such food to children is ethical because children have nutritional knowledge making them differentiate between healthy foods and treat foods. They also claim that it is ethical because it is true and transparent advertising which follows Children’s marketing guidelines through a self-regulatory framework. Those who oppose the claim that this form of advertising is unethical because children are unable to apprehend and interpret appropriately the messages advertised and tend to be highly convinced by such advertisements. They assert that it is unethical because it violates the self-regulatory system and also exposes children to unhealthy food which compromises their wellbeing.