The Parents Jury – a grassroots approach to obesity prevention in Australia
In Australia, some non-government organisations (NGOs) have banded together to establish a very innovative program to address the prevention of obesity. The Parents Jury is a grass roots advocacy program where parents get to voice their opinions on the nutrition and physical activity environments that impact on their children, and collectively advocate for their improvement.
Unlike many health programs which focus on individual education and health promotion, the Parents Jury focuses on “upstream” issues to influence policy and environmental issues which impact the increasingly predominant obesogenic environment in Australia. It is grass roots activism in action. For example, parents may vote in a web poll about the need for supermarkets to provide checkouts which are free of confectionery and unhealthy snack foods. The views of parents on this issue are packaged into a media release, and used to inform the large supermarket chains of parental support for a more supportive environment when they visit the supermarket.
The Parents Jury in action
The Parents Jury (www.parentsjury.org.au) was launched in August 2004 with just 12 members and now has over 3300 members across Australia. It is an online network which keeps operational costs down and also allows for speedy surveying and mobilisation of its parent members. The program is funded and supported by Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia, Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society and VicHealth.
Parents Jury conducts its advocacy campaigns through a number of channels:
- Media advocacy
- Direct delegations and submissions to key decision makers (e.g. government bureaucrats, politicians, and the food industry) on behalf of its parent members
- Advocacy tools and resource kits available on the website for parents themselves to become grassroot champions
Parents Jury focuses on the following issues:
- Creating healthy school food environments
- Reducing the amount of food marketing to children including television advertising, food sponsorship and internet sites that promote junk foods
- Improving physical activity environments for children including active transport to school, physical activity within school and access to after school sports
- A reduction in the number of supermarket checkout counters displaying confectionery, snack foods and sweet drinks
A successful campaign targeting TV food ads
One of Parents Jury’s most successful campaigns has been the annual Television Food Advertising Awards. Parents nominate awards for food advertisements under the following categories: Pester Power Award (a food ad that uses premiums or cartoon characters to encourage children to pester their parents to buy the food); Smoke and Mirrors Award (a food ad that doesn’t tell the full story e.g. claims about high vitamin content and no mention of the food’s high sugar content); and the Parents Choice award for healthy television food advertisements.
Some past winners in the Parents Jury Television Food Advertising Awards have been Kellogg’s Coco Pops for its advertising Campaign which focuses on its vitamin and mineral content but fails to mention that it is high in sugar and low in fibre. McDonalds has won the pester power award for the last three years for its repeated advertising of McDonalds Happy Meals with the use of a toy premium. The Parents Choice Award has gone to government campaigns promoting fruit and vegetables, and high fibre cereals that use sport stars to promote healthier breakfast choices. The ad awards generate significant media coverage, which helps to raise awareness of the issue of food marketing targeted at children, as well as signal to key decision makers the need for policy and regulatory action on this issue.
New categories for the food marketing awards have been introduced this year, which will highlight food marketing campaigns across a broad range of media such as television, in-store promotions, internet sites, advergames and viral marketing. Some of the new award categories are the School Food Bully Award to highlight inappropriate food marketing partnerships in schools, and the Techno Hack Award for an internet food marketing campaign. Parents are offered media training so they can act as spokesperson in any media activity.
Parents Jury has an interactive website, where parents can find out about the latest campaigns and how to be involved. The website also contains a range of advocacy tool kits so that parents can be grass roots champions in their own communities. These tool kits contain sample letters so that parents can take action themselves. For example parents can write to their school principal recommending they introduce a healthy food policy for both the canteen and the wider school community.