Overall, the regulation of television marketing of unhealthy food marketing to children was supported as a strategy for obesity prevention by those involved in state and territory policy-making processes in Australia. In general, participants commented that regulation should ideally occur at a Commonwealth level but there was some support for states/territories to regulate in the absence of Commonwealth action. The two other themes to emerge were the power of the food industry to block or find ways around regulatory approaches and the need for evidence to be presented to decision makers on the effects of marketing to children and the likely cost effectiveness of regulations to restrict such marketing. These findings are likely to have relevance to other countries which have a federal government system and a market driven economy similar to Australia as unhealthy food marketing to children is a global issue. The discussion below addresses each of the key themes that emerged from our research and considers the prospects for regulation of unhealthy food marketing in Australia.
Identification of regulation as a commonwealth, not state, responsibility
Our research found that policy makers favour a national approach to the regulation of unhealthy food marketing, with very few enablers or solutions to implementation of such regulation by states and territories identified by the study participants. In the context that both the state and territory governments and the Commonwealth government in Australia have the potential to act to regulate unhealthy food marketing to children
 this may imply a lack of political will due to the way policy-makers have framed the issue and suggests that a national approach to the regulation of unhealthy food marketing is more politically feasible.
The literature suggests Commonwealth-led regulation is likely to be the most efficient
 and in Australia, the Obesity Policy Coalition recently outlined a legislative proposal that argues for comprehensive, national regulation of unhealthy food advertising to children
. Calls for a national approach to the issue are not limited to Australia. In the United States there is pressure for a national commitment and government action to address food marketing to children through the nutrition guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group for Foods Marketed to Children
Beyond the preference for a national approach, the barriers to regulating television marketing of unhealthy food by states and territories, as identified by those involved in state and territory policy-making processes, do not appear to be intractable. Therefore, despite the evidence in favour of a national approach, should action not result at the Commonwealth level, willing states and territories could act independently. This could occur in collaboration or possibly through the actions of one particular state or territory, implementing regulation as a test case.
Food industry power
Our analysis demonstrates that any approach to regulating television marketing of unhealthy food requires acknowledgement of barriers posed by the counter lobbying by the food industry. The food industry was perceived by participants as powerful because of their access to resources and their political influence. Despite this perception, specific examples of food industry exercising power or influence were not provided by participants. Our findings are consistent with research around stakeholders' views influencing the policy making process
 and suggestions that stakeholders with business or economics interests tend to have the greatest influence over government
. Our findings suggest that food industry power is also likely to pose an issue in the case of Commonwealth-led regulation either by industry using their influence to inhibit the implementation of regulation, or by taking advantage of loopholes in regulation. Consequently, any regulation that is implemented needs to be comprehensive and expand on current self-regulatory codes which are limited in scope
 and effectiveness
[15, 16], and restrict unhealthy food marketing through media and other avenues including, but not limited to, television
Our research found that policy makers require scientific research evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of regulating unhealthy food marketing. However, given that there is a body of existing research evidence demonstrating (i) that unhealthy food marketing influences children′s food preferences, purchase requests, and consumption behaviour
[2, 3], (ii) that restricting television food advertising is likely to contribute towards a reduction in obesity
 and obesity prevalence
, (iii) that regulation of unhealthy food marketing is a cost-effective obesity prevention strategy
, and (iv) that self regulation has a minimal impact on the nutritional quality of television food advertisements targeted towards children
, the nature of evidence sought by policy makers is unclear. Stakeholders frame problems and solutions differently and evidence can be sought to support a particular view, rather than inform a rounded view of an issue
. Given the wealth and breadth of evidence that exists, further work in this area should explore the extent to which this evidence is not reaching the relevant policy makers and the extent to which it is not deemed relevant for informing policy.
Our research also identified that evidence of community support is an important factor in the policy process, making the point that scientific research is just one type of evidence considered in the policy making process
 and it is a broader view of evidence that comprises stakeholder views
. Organisational and community support for the regulation of unhealthy food marketing through advertising is evident. Numerous key public health agencies in Australia have expressed concern over marketing of unhealthy foods to children
[5, 6, 22–24] and argue that current controls are both ineffective and inadequate
[5, 22, 23]. Parents have expressed concern around unhealthy food marketing targeting children's vulnerabilities
. A recent national survey identified that 83% of consumers are in favour of government-led restrictions on television marketing of unhealthy food to children
. Once again, it will be important to explore whether this information is not reaching the relevant people, or whether the information itself is deemed not relevant.
While our study participants focussed on the Australian context, internationally there is increasing government support for action on unhealthy food marketing to children. Although self-regulation is still the favoured response by many governments, recent years have seen an increase in statutory regulation
. For example, in Norway and Sweden complete bans on food advertising to children under 12 years of age have been imposed
, in the United Kingdom measures are in place to limit marketing of high fat and high sugar foods during children’s peak television viewing times
, and in France food advertisements must include nutrition messages regardless of whether they are aimed at children or adults
. As governments around the world continue to respond to the issue of unhealthy food marketing to children, opportunities to study the impact of regulation arise, increasing the available evidence of the effect of regulation as a strategy for obesity prevention.
Strengths and limitations
A strength of this study is that researchers spoke directly with a broad range of senior people involved in the policy-making process. This allowed for analysis of a range of viewpoints across states and territories and various sectors and government departments. A limitation however is that the cohort of 47 survey participants provides insight into the views of only a sample of those involved in the policy making process. Furthermore, the initial sample selection and researchers' definition of content experts from this cohort may have unintentionally excluded others involved in the policy making process, limiting the depth of discussion. Finally, the data used for this discussion came from interview questions designed for a broader study exploring state government regulatory approaches for promoting healthy food system and physical activity environments, limiting the potential for in-depth discussions of the feasibility of regulating television marketing of unhealthy food to children.