WELLINGTON: Parents in New Zealand would support a ban on 'junk' food advertising to children, according to a new survey commissioned by the country's Chronic Disease Prevention Peak Group.

The poll showed 82% of parents and grandparents agreed or strongly agreed that advertising of unhealthy products "using ads appealing to children" should be stopped.

However, a large minority (49%) of respondents wanted a ban on all food and drink products during youngsters' viewing hours.

The health lobby group estimates that one third of Kiwi children aged between five and fourteen are overweight or obese.

Declares spokesman Professor Norman Sharpe: "The current obesity epidemic places our children at greatly increased future risk of chronic diseases. 

"As a community, we have an ethical responsibility to create a safer and healthier environment for our children."

He believes food manufacturers and retailers are contributing to the problem by targeting ads at children.

Charges Sharpe: "This is advertising which is generally brightly packaged, which advertises energy-dense and nutrient-poor food, very often high in fat, sugar and salt, very often associated with cartoons or children's superheroes. By definition it catches the child's attention - it's marketing 101."

The advertising industry offers an alternative view. 

Argues David Walden, president of the Communications Agencies Association New Zealand: "Everyone agrees there's a problem with obesity; we're not burying our heads in the sand about it. But banning advertising is not a panacea, it's not going to solve the problem."

Nor is the nation's government rushing to immediate legislation, assures associate health minister Damien O'Conner. Instead it is looking at the whole issue of childhood obesity.

Data sourced from nzherald.co.nz; additional content by WARC staff