Why your voice matters.

It has been an amazing few weeks for parents, grandparents and concerned citizens who have been finding their voices on issues where healthy environments are being increasingly threatened by food, beverage and gambling companies. Here are a handful of those stories that might just inspire you to join them.

Not in our Neighbourhood

First, there is the case of tranquil Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges resisting the construction of a McDonald’s franchise – positioned opposite a primary school and kindergarten in their small hamlet community. Such strategic positioning means perpetual advertising on the school community, from the waft of constant cooking to the high visibility, and research has shown that young people attending schools within a close proximity to fast-food premises have poorer diets than those more distant from such food outlets. Trouble was brewing for months prior, but reached boiling point when VCAT over-ruled the local council’s rejection of McDonald’s application for a permit, thus rendering the community’s own voices and processes all but redundant and powerless. Dissatisfied with the outcome and unhappy to let it go unnoticed, locals peacefully protested the decision and McDonald’s started to quietly roar back with legal action. What started as a local issue has become much larger, with an online petition on change.org achieving the largest reach ever and attracting over 90,000 signatures and a kick-starting a crowd-source fundraising drive to take the petition to McDonald’s headquarters and highlight the issue in international media.

Sick of unhealthy advertising in sport…

Then there is Aaron Schultz, a Tasmanian Dad who has increasingly found himself uncomfortable with the level of alcohol, junk food and gambling advertising in sports. Australian adults and children alike adore, participate in and watch sports recreationally and professionally, from the couch or the stadium. What started as a change.org petition has evolved into a national campaign to tackle unhealthy advertising in sport: ‘Game Changer’.  Now with a website, social media campaign, bumper stickers, ambassador and most recently an interview on ABC’s catalyst, Aaron has found his campaign attracting attention nationally and putting pressure on sports bodies and governments to clean up their advertising profiles and affiliations to better align with the healthy image that sports deserve.

Stop inundating our children with unhealthy products

In the past week, two change.org petitions have started to ask Little Athletics and Basketball Victoria to seek alternate sponsorship for their local sport programs. Glenn and Danielle’s petitions are examples of parents taking grumbles from the sidelines as children nag for a burger after a weekend game, to the next level. Petitions aren’t the only way to do this, but that they can expand in reach to thousands in only a few days speaks to the growing dissatisfaction among parents with partnerships between junk food advertisers and local sports.

Be part of the Grassroots Groundswell

What do these campaigns have in common, aside from passion and advocating for healthy environments for children?

People like you, who care about the children who are being targeted by multinational companies keen to sell them their products, promote brand awareness and inherently normalise products and activities that are inherently not healthy for children. Yes, children have a voice and have the right to share it, much like 9 year old Hannah Robertson from Canada who stood up to McDonald’s for trying to “trick kids into eating food that isn’t good for them”. Unfortunately, very few of children have the means and support to stand up for themselves against corporations fixated on profits. But you, as an adult, have the capacity to see through the marketing haze, and to find your voice on a topic you and your children are passionate about, and build momentum.

Use your voice

If you’re just getting your ideas together about what you could tackle locally it is easy to align yourself with a position and join the movement of adults advocating for healthy futures for their and our children. If you haven’t seen the campaigns started by Aaron, Garry, Glenn and Danielle, have a look on change.org and help spread the word about them.

If you’re almost ready to take your passion to the next level, start by by talking to friends and colleagues to grow some strength and confidence in your position, they can be your sounding boards as you refine your thoughts and ideas. The Parent’s Jury has resources to help you, should you want to encourage healthier school canteen menus, suggest healthier fundraisers for local sports clubs and schools, and spread the word about healthy eating and activity through newsletters, and there is plenty of information that you might like to share with local organisations and venues.

I am sure Garry, Aaron, Glenn and Danielle’s campaigns started as small seeds of ideas which have snowballed beyond expectations. Chances are you too are not alone, and someone out there is just waiting for you to find your voice and advocate for a healthier future for our children.

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