The Victorian arms of Diabetes Australia and The Cancer Council said in a joint statement issued on Sunday that they supported last week's decision by education minister Lynne Kosky to ban sugar-laden and carbonated drinks in Victorian schools later this year.
But they want to see this ban widened to other unhealthy products as well as further action from regional and state government to restrict the marketing of junk foods to children.
The call follows a growing campaign by parents and consumer groups to make the food industry accountable for the alarming rise in childhood obesity.
Approximately 10 per cent of Australian children were overweight or obese in 1985 but this figure has risen to around 30 per cent in 2005, show official statistics. And experts estimate that by 2025 nearly half of all children will be overweight or obese. Obesity significantly raises the risk of serious conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Yet the food industry says that responsibility should be taken by parents to educate their children about healthy eating. Many firms also follow a 'code of practice' that self-regulates the way certain foods are advertised.
The Australian Beverage Council says on its website that its members voluntarily adopted a policy not to market sugar sweetened carbonated beverages to primary schools. Council members also do not advertise these beverages during prime children's viewing time.
However Greg Johnson, chief executive of Diabetes Australia Victoria, says that the government "should accept that soft options like industry codes of practice are not working".
The organisation claims that 17 European countries have introduced various controls on advertising food to children over recent years and the Australian government needs to follow this example.
It cited a study by Deakin University showing that Australia has some of the highest levels of TV junk food advertising to children in the world, with an average 12 food ads per hour. This compares to 10 in the UK, eight in France and only four in the Netherlands.
Parents too want a ban on junk food advertising on television and sales of sugary soft drinks in schools across all states.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday said that the NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Association has voted to push for an advertising ban on TV and it will inform the Australian Communications and Media Authority of its concerns this week.
The association also wants the NSW government to ban, rather than merely limit, soft-drink sales in schools, as planned for Victoria's schools.
The debate that is taking place in an increasing number of countries around the world is being fuelled in Australia by a meeting scheduled for July between state and federal health ministers and the advertising industry with obesity the main topic on the menu.
The Australian Association of National Advertisers and the Food and Grocery Council is working on a new marketing code in a bid to head off the threat to food advertising.
Media reports have suggested that toys such as McDonald's Happy Meals and the use of celebrities could disappear from junk food advertising within a year under the new proposals but campaigners are likely to want tougher measures.
They will also be looking abroad to countries like the UK where the advertising regulator has recently proposed a ban on ads that air during programmes aimed at children, and in programmes of particular appeal to children up to nine years old.
Ofcom will also ban all food and drink advertising in programmes made for pre-school children, and limit such advertising when children are most likely to be watching.