Community Activism, Online Communication

Becoming Active in Online Social Change: The Campaign Against the Marketing of Unhealthy Foods to Children


Cartoon-free plain packaging has been one strategy suggested                    aimed to decrease exposure of food marketing to children.                    Photo Leonie Elizabeth 08 January 2018

One of the units in ALC708 is the potential and limitations of activists driving social change through social media. I will be writing a series of blogs over the next few weeks as I plan my own strategies working up to my video submission in February.

One social change I am passionate about is to improve the current food environment.
In many ways, it is an overwhelming campaign as the infiltration of unhealthy foods in our environment is happening on many fronts with causal effects of major concern.

Overweight and Obesity and have risen in Australia over the past decades and is now 63.4% of Australian adults (1). The current food environment is considered to be one of the drivers (2). The National Food Survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2012 highlighted that 35% of food intake in adults was of discretionary foods, and was highest in young people at 41% (3).

There have been various campaigns aimed at changing the availability of unhealthy foods including stopping marketing of unhealthy foods to children and other strategies such as imposing taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (4)(5). Some of these campaigns have been running for decades with varying degrees of success in other countries (6). Our current government or opposition do not agree with a sugar tax in Australia (7).

I attended a conference in November on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. I learned the difference between direct advertising (where companies openly advertise to increase sales) and marketing which is increasing the total reach of brand exposure, and gaining brand loyalty. Marketing strategies can be subtle and include sponsorship of sports; using cartoon characters in gamification, on packaging, and toys; charity drives; and gaining brand loyalty from one product to another, some less healthy.

I came away from that conference feeling quite negative. It seems we are facing a tsunami and it is impossible to swim against the raging current. I came away with many questions and not any answers. What could I do? I have only one voice. Could I do anything to make a difference? Is online media helping in any of the current campaigns? Is there any way I could use online media to become more active and engaged?

Today I listened to the podcast of another student who spoke of the use of online media as part of overall strategies for amnesty international. After listening to her podcast, I felt more inspired. Rather than thinking of the seemingly overwhelming unbeatable odds of the total aim, I thought of looking at overall strategies and how in some small way I could contribute and improve outcomes. I could become one cog in the wheel.

Thus I began looking at the overall picture of what is needed to create change, how social media may be used, and what I could do within that space as an individual.

Below is a list of strategies I came up with, of things I could do. I will choose some off this list and develop them over the next few weeks, and indeed months and years.

A. As an individual within my community

  1. Be an example in my own food choices.
  2. Research scholarly literature on marketing of foods and its impacts.
  3. Research current health professional and community activist campaigns.
  4. Contribute to current campaigns at my own level of expertise and availability.
  5. Research and contribute to current online campaigns.
  6. Become more active in social media sharing information and raising awareness.

B. As a Health Professional

  1. Develop my own food blog to educate, increase awareness, and share information.
  2. Write articles, produce podcasts and videos.
  3. Raise awareness of unhealthy effects and strategies of food marketing.
  4. Campaign to keep science and health organizations honest in transparent funding and affiliations of research and not-for-profit patient groups; and that these should be independent from companies producing ultra-processed foods and drinks.

C. Pressure the Government for legislative change

  1. Write to health ministers and government health departments.
  2. Become involved in campaigns aimed at changing government policy.
  3. Make a submission to working group on next revision of dietary guidelines.

I believe it is possible to drive social change and it begins with one voice that then becomes many voices. I can be one of those voices.


Thank you to Kay Broomfield for your inspiring podcast today.



(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics: 4364.0.55.001 – National Health Survey. First Results 2014-15.
(2) Did the Food Environment Cause the Obesity Epidemic? Kevin D Hall. Obesity Vol 26, Issue 1. Jan 2018. Pge 11-13
(3) Australian Bureau of Statistics: 4364.0.55.007 – National Health Survey. Nutrition First Results 2011-12
(4) Campaign by Parents Voice
(5) Position statement Australian Medical Association.
(6) Mexico sugar’s Tax leads to fall in Consumption. The Guardian. 23 February 2017.
(7) Malcolm Turnbull rejects joint calls for a sugar tax to counter Australia’s obesity crisis. 19 September 2017.






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