Advertisers in Australia were breaching codes aimed at reducing children's exposure to junk food marketing by claiming their ads were targeting adults, according to an analysis.
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the industry ad watchdog dismissed complaints about ads for Oreo, Smarties and LCMs rice bars after accepting manufacturers' claims that their ads were aimed at adults, despite the presence of children in the television commercials.
Ads for chips, sweets or fizzy drinks are covered by industry guidelines only if their content is 'directed primarily at children'.
Health campaigners such as the Obesity Policy Coalition said the rulings by the Board of the Advertising Standards Bureau have made it uncertain what constitutes an ad for children.
Sarah MacKay, the coalition's legal adviser, said the lack of definition in the rules had allowed a loophole for advertisers to emerge.
The ads of Oreo and Smarties were pulled after they were found to have aired during children's programs, thus breaching the industry rule that says only ads for healthy foods can be shown in children's programs.
"It seems an absurd outcome that an ad that only features children playing a childlike game [as in the Oreo ad] that is shown in Dora the Explorer is not captured by the code," MacKay said.
"We are worried that it's going to set a precedent. If these aren't ads directed at children then I don't know what is," she added.
There are four industry codes governing the advertising of junk food to children, but not all agree on a single definition of a child or a children's program.
Health campaigners have consistently argued the industry's narrow definition of where junk food ads cannot appear - namely in children's programs - is meaningless because more children are watching popular early evening shows.