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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1048


Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (19:28): I am very pleased this evening to be able to speak on this resolution as proposed by the Member for Kingston, who I know has had a considerable and certainly ongoing interest in issues around the welfare of children, particularly in relation to issues around negative body image and the sexualisation of children. All of that is derived in the main from her previous profession as a psychologist. I commend her on her endeavours this evening.

I am particularly interested in two aspects of the resolution that is before us. The first relates to children and the considerable pressures that are on them to be consumers and the issues associated with negative body image, eating disorders and mental ill health that are referred to in the member for Kingston's resolution. The issue of consumerism amongst children is of particular concern to me, in part because I think it perpetuates a rift between the haves and have-nots. It creates an additional pressure in families in relation to their material wealth. In addition, I believe it fosters a particular degree of self-interest that is quite unhealthy amongst children. I think it really goes to perpetuating the idea of 'me' and not 'we' within society. So it is of particular concern to me. I know that, according to the Queensland commission for children and young people in some of its research around this issue of consumerism amongst children, the social research company AustraliaSCAN has estimated that the 'tween' market—which I believe covers seven- to 13-year-olds—is believed to be worth more than $10 billion in Australia alone. That is an extraordinary figure. Of course we know that children will have a limited capacity to actually purchase products and services, but they can certainly act as consumers nonetheless by asking parents or other adults to purchase products for them. For instance, the Australian Psychological Society's 2000 publication Media representations and responsibilities notes that a British study has estimated that 85 per cent of a sample of four- to 13-year-olds surveyed acknowledged that they had asked their parents to buy advertised products, and 66 per cent claimed that parents had met that request. The report goes on to state that:

… it is clear that the interests of children are targeted and, thereby, exploited by advertisers. Surveys of the content of advertising directed to children consistently demonstrate that it is dominated by advertisements for foods high in sugar, fat and salt and by advertisements for toys.

It makes conclusions about the influence of television advertising, which is certainly, in its view, significant in affecting the attitudes and consumption behaviour of children and, necessarily, their families. It particularly mentions that younger children may be more vulnerable than older children to being unable to differentiate between advertising and program content, which is particularly worrying.

I know that this government has made very significant investments in education, particularly early childhood education, to give young children the best opportunities for learning, development and resilience. It is particularly important that we set these foundations for better education amongst young children, and children who are heading into teenage years.

I particularly note, and will be interested to hear the results of, a conference being hosted by Macquarie University in March this year which will focus on what it calls 'The corporate takeover of childhood—who's paying the price?' I know that that will attract a range of eminent people focused on their concerns about the commercialisation of children.

The second issue that I mentioned at the outset that was of concern to me was the issue of negative body image, eating disorders and low self-esteem that is raised in this motion. In having a look at the motion this evening I referred to an article that was in the Biologist in October 2010 titled, 'A source of thinspiration'. It makes reference to a study by members of the Harvard Medical School of the effects of the introduction of TV on body image and eating disorders in adolescent girls. In particular, it looks at the effects of eating disorders in Fiji and notes that, in that society, where television had not been introduced for some time, the impact of television ultimately appears especially profound and that Western media imagery may have a profoundly negative impact on body image and disordered eating attitudes and behaviours, even in traditional societies in which eating disorders have been thought to be rare. My time is at an end, I am afraid, and I will conclude there.