Just Chew It:

Health policy analyst Jennifer Doggett writes: Re. “Just Chew It: Coca-Cola’s $2.5b broken promise not to target kids” (yesterday, item 3). Crikey criticises the marketing techniques of the fast food industry but is itself guilty of “supersizing” the facts about the influence of sports sponsorship and promotions on childhood obesity.

The increasing rate of overweight and obesity in our community is a significant health problem which will have long-term health, social and economic effects if not addressed. However, Crikey has not helped add clarity to this fraught debate by misleadingly reporting the results of research into the impact of advertising and promotion of food and drink products and drawing conclusions that are simply not supported by the evidence.

For example, Crikey‘s report states that the Cancer Council survey of secondary school students found “more than half these 12,000 children had tried a food or drink because they had seen it advertised …and we’re talking about junk food here, because that’s where the biggest food companies … spend their massive advertising budgets.”

In fact what the survey found was that just over half of all students had tried a new food or drink that had been advertised — NOT specifically a junk food and NOT specifically because of the advertising. Buying a product that has been advertised is not the same as buying it because of the advertising — the data does not support any conclusion about the impact of advertising on the food and drink purchases reported. There is also nothing in the survey data that allows a distinction to be made between students who buy junk food and those who purchase other products, for example, a bottle of spring water.

The Crikey report fails to mention other findings from the survey which found a much weaker link between common promotional practices and young people’s food choices. For example, only 15 per cent of young women reported buying a product linked to a movie or sports personality they liked and only 16 per cent of young men said that they had chosen a snack food or soft drink in order to enter a competition or win a prize.

Also misleading is Crikey’s reporting of a recent study on the impact of marketing techniques on parents’ food choices. Crikey claims that “Another recent survey showed parents are just as easily persuaded by ads and celebrity endorsements, being twice as likely to buy junk (and think it healthy) if a sports star … is smiling out from the packet or the TV screen.”

Rather than being ‘easily persuaded’ by advertising, this study actually found that 44% of parents read the nutritional label on the packet before making an assessment of the product’s nutritional value. The research finding that parents were more likely to choose a product endorsed by a celebrity or making a nutritional claim applied only to the 56% of parents who did not read the label.

Pointing out the flaws in Crikey‘s reporting of this research is not mere pedantry. Nor is it an apologia for the junk food industry which clearly has a role to play in combating childhood obesity. However, like all lifestyle-related health problems, overweight and obesity are the result of multiple and often inter-related causes. Overstating or misrepresenting the influence of food advertising and promotion risks obscuring other important causal factors and underplaying the relationship between individual and environmental influences which result in unhealthy food choices by young people.

In order to develop evidence-based policies we need to have an accurate understanding of the evidence. This is already difficult in the ideologically-charged arena of junk food advertising and childhood obesity. If Crikey‘s investigation is to make a positive contribution to the policy debate in this important area it needs to start by accurately reporting the data and not simply tilting at the Golden Arches.

Nicholas Cara, a Lecturer in Communication at the University of Queensland and author of “Pop Brands: branding, popular music and young people”, writes: In yesterday’s Crikey, Paul Barry reported on Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of Little Athletics and other sporting organizations. Sport is not the only cultural activity corporate brands engage with. Popular music culture is also used extensively by soft drink, alcohol and some cigarette brands. They create branded installations at music festivals and related social media promotions aimed at young people.

Coca-Cola has used popular music to target young Australians. Between 2004 and 2007 their Coke Live promotion had young music fans collect labels of Coca-Cola bottles and register detailed personal information online to get “free” tickets to an all-ages music festival. Coke Live was targeted at 13-18 year olds. It is no secret that these brands target under-18s because this is the best time to form long-lasting consumption habits.

As a researcher who examines social media, popular culture and branding one of the trends I track is how brands embed themselves in our popular culture and social pastimes. Over this summer, together with two research interns, I have examined the way alcohol brands in Australia use Facebook to dialogue with young Australians.

The Smirnoff Australia page has 119,090 “fans”. In the past two months Smirnoff has received 3027 “likes” and 1246 “comments” from young drinkers. To promote interaction with their brand through Facebook Smirnoff offered tickets to summer music festivals that music fans could find by following and responding to clues on the Smirnoff Facebook page. They also took pictures at the festivals and asked their fans to “tag themselves” in them. Each time a Smirnoff fan interacts with the brand on Facebook they distribute that brand within their peer network, and they connect the consumption of alcohol to their enjoyment of popular music.

Brands that are incorporated into our sporting clubs, music festivals and other social pastimes are both more valuable and more difficult to regulate. Significantly, the brands that get pushed out of traditional forms of advertising and promotion — either by regulation or community pressure — prove to be the innovators in experiential, culturally embedded, and below-the-line marketing approaches.


Michael Cejnar writes: Re. “Meet the brains behind the anti carbon tax rallies” (Monday, item 3). Regarding Andrew Crook’s story in Crikey on Monday, I’d like to clarify my relationship. I was involved in 2009 rallies, I am a supporter of the rallies and sell T-shirts, but I am not an organiser and certainly not a “brains” behind today’s anti-carbon tax rallies.

Human development trend indicators:

Robert Johnson writes: Re. “Lies, damned lies and human development indicators” (yesterday, item 16). Damien Kingsbury (Friday and yesterday) and I (Tuesday) agree on more than whatever it may be that we disagree on, and I’m not sure how interesting it is to the reader as to whether one looks at “hybrid” or “trend” data, but it doesn’t seem to be a reasonable basis for literary allusions to lies or deception or “nonsense” on my part.

As Kingsbury says, the human development trend indicators do allow Australia “to temporarily feel OK about [it]self”. The emphasis should be on “temporary” as the indicators move to more strongly emphasise national inequalities within the composite data, given increasing evidence of inequality as the primary impediment to human development, and that Australia lags behind many countries in this regard.

On Zimbabwe, to be brief: the Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite of three indicators, one of which is an income measure that, for Zimbabwe, is unbelievably appalling — it almost fell off the grid by 2008, but the subsequent two years’ slightly improving data suggest that it may have bottomed out (it’s still appalling). The other two relate to life expectancy (a health proxy) and education, both of which have slowly improved each year since 2004 and remain on or above par with neighbouring countries.

It is an example of what the HDI has demonstrated well over the years: the national economic situation may be important to ensuring human development but is not, on its own, a sufficient condition. Look at some of the wealthier Arabic states, especially in areas of women’s and girls’ development. In some respects, Zimbabwe’s work in the area of HIV prevention and response is regarded as regional good practice; similarly its progress on gender equality.

This is neither a defence of no excuse for the regime — Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis is catastrophic for its people — but it is an important reminder of the capacity  for progress under serious constraints.

This doesn’t have a lot to do with the aid/development industry that Kingsbury raises as a key part of the problem, which — as he says — also include governance and poverty. But global political and economic/trade factors are also not insignificant, and make it somewhat disingenuous to suggest that aid alone should’ve conquered poverty by now (it has, however, been significant in improving education and health standards and the saving of countless lives).


Victoria Collins writes: Re. “Feminists — the faceless women of the ALP” (yesterday, item 12). How refreshing it was to read Tanja Kovac’s piece yesterday which calmly stuck it to the tired old dinosauresses of the “Feminist Movement”, such as Eva Cox.

As an unreconstructed “Feminist”, I guess, or should I say, a true believer in all the original aims of the Feminist Movement, I used to read religiously any piece by Eva Cox in Crikey. Lately I have been preferring to skip over them as I have perceived that old Fems like Eva are morphing into some sort of conservative version of a Feminist, who steadfastly refuses to move away from an analysis of current female affairs that is other than through the prism of their life-long Shibboleths.

If a woman, who is a leader, doesn’t agree with her analysis then no matter what that woman in public life, like our very own first Female Prime Minister, does, then they are to be condemned vociferously. As Tanja Kovac said, with no acknowledgement that what has been achieved by these women, personally and as a result of the legislation that they have passed, is a monumental achievement really. And much more than Ms Cox will ever be capable of, just quietly.

So please, Eva, come down from your Ivory Tower where only Nirvana is acceptable, and get with the program that Tanja and others like her are putting into action now, building on your achievements, which were good, but which aren’t the be all and end all by which all other’s actions should be judged.

Richard Milroy writes: I’m a 41 year old man who runs my own business, and also looks after kids and home with my wife. My take on this is that feminism ignored men, and that is the problem.

Men, and the expectations placed on men, need to change. Men need to feel free to work at home, or to stay home and look after kids, not work at all, etc. In truth there is heaps of pressure on many men to do exactly what modern women are often also pressured into — i.e. to do everything.

Feminism has, for whatever reason, ended up focusing on women’s’ rights to have what men have historically had (pay, jobs, political power, etc) and not enough on men having what women have (close family relationships, domestic work, child care rights/duties). As a result men and women are both expected to do both things and its confusing.

I feel that in many cases men are offered less choice. That is, women are offered the choices of maternity leave, staying at home etc., or if they want staying at work. Men are not offered those choices and social expectations on men to bring home the bacon, do the DIY, fix the car, wash the dishes, bath and bed the kids, cook, etc etc are often overwhelming — for me anyway.

Personally I like — and am good at — working, cooking and looking after kids. I’m terrible at DIY, fixing things and washing things.

Quota’s for women on company boards:

Kate Burraston writes: Re. “Women in business: board quotas not the only answer” (yesterday, item 23). The time has come if not past to recognise that women have been overlooked and discriminated against in being promoted to the positions that lead to board appointments.

The number of women graduating from universities in Australia with degrees in commerce, law and accounting since 1980 has been approx 50% or more of total graduates, so why after 30years is female representation on boards almost negligible.

I find it sad reading the qualifications of most of the males on ASX 200 boards. (Sadly I read annual reports). Generally the male board members have no tertiary qualifications, and if so, almost rarely post-graduate qualifications.  While, those women on boards have both.

It is pathetic. It is also pathetic that those few woman who have had the doors opened for them — are against quotas.

Men have never been promoted on merit. They have been promoted because they are males, who willingly travel overseas to business meetings that could be dealt with on the phone or video conferencing, or any other obligation because someone else — usually a female is looking after their family and backup business commitments.

It is unbelievable that those few women who are on boards of leading corporations and all those men that are – never admit that they were either mentored, or had their paths smoothed and doors opened for them to board positions.

For Heather Ridout, Gail Kelly, Belinda Hutchinson, Gillian Broadbent to have fought to be where they are, with the knowledge they have and the assistance they would have received to not feel that possibly they are the “tokens”. Why do they not want to see equal  gender representation on boards? Why isn’t that question asked of all those that are there.

Australia is also a small pond, where everyone holds onto their positions. We have males who hold multiple, related board membership positions who argue that women must be promoted on merit — where they have never been. What hypocrisy! I doubt we will hear the shock jocks ranting about that.

White Australian male — name your school, name your uni, name your company — get on board.

If only David Williamson could script it. Or would Dame Edna be better?

Climate change and carbon pricing et al:

Stephen Darragh writes: Nicholas Adams (yesterday, comments) wrote a very strange letter concerning climate science and commentators on that science.

First, I would characterise Ian Plimer and Tamas Calderwood as antagonists in the public discussion rather than protagonists. Second, the idea that experimentation is the be all and end all of science is absurd. Science is about the testing of hypotheses with the available data. That data may come through either experimentation or observation (or, as Tamas Calderwood and Andrew Bolt are wont to do, it can be made up out of whole cloth).

There is nothing weak about observational studies in most fields. For example, we don’t doubt that the earth moves around the sun in an elliptical orbit just because we haven’t gone out and built an experimental solar system to gather the data. Observing the solar system we have and analysing the data from the observations (as Galileo did) — and having other people repeat the observations and analyses — is just as good as sitting around with mirrors, prisms and lenses to develop the science of optics (as Newton did).

Mr Adams claims (in relation to scientific evidence) “Multiple randomised trials (a form of experiment) constitute the highest level.”  The randomised controlled trial (RCT) is a specific experimental methodology which is useful when people or animals are part of the equation.  If you want to find out what drug or surgery works best, or whether a new teaching technique is better, the RCT is the gold standard. If you want to find out whether or not gravity waves exists, or whether or not the earth is warming up, an RCT is not going to help you in the slightest.

Finally, I agree that expert opinion by itself (the argument from authority) has no value.  But expert opinion which is backed up by the best available evidence may be ignored at our peril.

Andrew Davison writes: Nicholas Adams is wrong. For some time, we have been conducting a huge experiment called “The Effect of Enhanced Carbon Dioxide Emissions on Global Climate”. The results are in (have been for a while, but we kept going, just to be sure).

The “null hypothesis” that there is no measurable effect has been disproved. We have thousands of years worth of baseline data, we can correct for all the confounding effects of urban heat islands, solar activity, el Nino etc. So, erm, can we stop now?

As for his assertion that “not many physicists are weighing into the debate”, I refer him to the list in Wikipedia’s “Scientific opinion on climate change” entry for a long list of reputable scientific bodies including several institutes of physics which support the consensus view; there are several medical associations listed too — but for him this will count only just above the opinion of my taxi driver or mate down the pub…

Steve O’Connor writes: The lack of a second Earth to experiment with does vex climate scientists somewhat, but they do have another trick up their sleeves.

The whole field of paleoclimatology is devoted to studying climate changes over the Earth’s history, and is home to some of the most important insights into how the future climate may react to our love affair with fossil-fuels.

Although the past is not a perfect analogy for the future, we know from this field that the climate is probably much more sensitive to greenhouse gases than current modelling suggests (this is why many scientists are calling for urgent action.)

Nigel Brunel writes: Ok — I understand what Nicholas Adams  is saying — the fact everyone agrees doesn’t make it right — just popular and perhaps dangerously so. Those who disagree with the science must have an avenue of being able to present their evidence without fear of ridicule. It’s important that we continue to have a degree of scepticism in order to test the status quo. And yes — it’s difficult to prove the hypothesis other than using computer model which has its flaws.

However, I look at two simple facts which have been proved:

  1. There has been an increase of Co2 into the atmosphere and it is increasing towards dangerous levels. (Joseph Fourier in 1827 discovered the planet heating up just didn’t know why)
  2. In the 1850’s John Tyndall proved it was Co2 (and other GHGs) and that the molecules of these (greenhouse) gases oscillate in such a way that they interfere with the infra-red radiation reflected back by the earth — effectively trapping it. One only has to visit Venus or Mars to see the effect C02 has had on these planets. They are dead!

Scot Mcphee writes: Nicholas Adams: history is not a scientific discipline. It is a discipline of the humanities.

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “The Long View: communicating the science honestly” (yesterday, item 10). David Spratt states that “for two decades there has been a convenient consensus that global warming of up to 2 degrees would avoid dangerous climate change, without peer-reviewed literature to support this assertion.”

Surely not just this assertion though:  ask the IPCC about their assertions on Himalayan glaciers, Amazonian rainforests and the “hide the decline” hockey stick temperature re-construction. But David ignores all this and asserts that “events and new research identify a safe boundary of less than 1 degree” and that “the current warming of 0.8 degrees above pre-industrial levels” means there is “little or no cushion left … in the climate system.”

Really? The temperature range in the past 31 years was 1.27C (according to the UAH satellites). So, you know, I’m going to throw out a hypothesis that there is at least 0.27C of cushion above David’s 1C “boundary”. In fact, the difference in temperatures between January 2007 and January 2011 was 0.71C (with 2011 being cooler). Did you notice Earth on the precipice of disaster four years ago?

David also states Earth may be 4 degrees warmer by 2060. Well, since 1998 the trend warming has been 0.08C. To reach that apocalyptic 4C rise the rate of warming would need to be 14 times higher. Okay, okay — since satellite observations began in 1979 there has been trend warming of 0.45C. Thus to warm 4C by 2060 the rate of warming must be six times greater. And just so I can’t be accused of cherry picking, the trend warming since 1860 was 0.7C, so to hit 4C by 2060 the rate of warming would need to be 17 times the rate of the past 150 years.

So ironically enough when David says the “impacts of 4 degrees are almost unimaginable” he is quite correct, because there is no reason to bother imagining them

David Hand writes: I read David Spratt’s piece where Crikey is predicting under the headline “Communicating the science honestly”, that the world faces an apocalypse where the population will collapse to 1 billion. As someone who is quite worried about the impact of global warming, I couldn’t help noticing your “honest science” is being ignored by our global leaders. Why can’t the science community provide the “honest science” proving the coming apocalypse to world leaders for immediate action?

It’s all very well for a member of the Climate Action Centre to scare us all shitless by telling us we are all doomed in Crikey but I doubt that Hu Jintao and Barak Obama currently subscribe. This is the great failure of the climate scientific community. They don’t need to convince us. The only need to convince a few hundred global leaders to take action and they can’t do it.

An uninformed amateur like me might suspect that most of the publications of this nature are put out by extreme left wing activists like those who lead the Greens, who shifted their war on western civilisation from socialism to climate activism when the Berlin Wall came down but I wouldn’t know.

Ah well, at least we can all get behind Tony’s great revolt against Julia’s carbon tax because according to Crikey’s “Honest science”, such a measure is futile.