Junk food firms exposedFood adverts secretly targeting children

30 January 2006

Children are being secretly targeted by junk food advertisers using underhand methods to push unhealthy food.

A new Which? report exposes marketing companies which use mobile phones and the internet to bombard youngsters with junk food adverts behind parents' backs.

We reveal the underhand and increasingly sophisticated techniques used to target children in the report (available online as a PDF document, see below) Childcatchers: the tricks used to push unhealthy food to your children.

Tricks uncovered

We uncovered more than 40 hi-tech and low-tech tricks which are making a mockery of efforts to encourage children to eat healthy food, including:

  • children's websites - Which? found a children's website where McDonalds's Happy Meals are promoted and children can play a Pepsi World game. The aim of the game is to serve customers 'delicious Pepsi in order to keep them happy'. Regular Pepsi contains 36g of sugar in every 330ml can which is the equivalent of nine teaspoons. Another website seemed to be an online magazine for children. It was full of 'mouthwatering' showbiz gossip - but was largely a front for pushing Starburst sweets
  • games - Cadbury's encourages children to use its Mini Rolls as a trading token to get out of doing chores such as homework and 'eating your greens'. Mini Rolls are almost half sugar. Versions of the popular video game 'The Sims' included a McDonald's kiosk where players get points for eating burgers.
  • text messaging - in 2003 a promotion for Fanta soft drinks offered the chance to text a special code in a competition to win a mobile phone. Fanta contains the equivalent of nearly nine teaspoons of sugar per can.

Constantly bombarded

Which? Chief Policy Adviser Sue Davies said: 'It can be incredibly difficult to protect your child. While at home, shopping, playing and even at school, children are constantly bombarded with calculated marketing messages encouraging them to eat more junk food. Such reckless marketing undermines efforts to improve children's diets.

'Irresponsible marketing of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children has to stop. This is crunch-time for the industry. If it fails to act, and current signs aren't promising, the government must stick to its pledge to legislate.'

A spokeswoman from industry body the Food and Drink Federation said:'UK food and drink manufacturers are committed to responsible marketing. There is nothing new in using competitions or games in raising awareness of food products whether they be in newspapers, magazines, on products, or more recently, on the internet.'

Which? is calling on parents to help stop irresponsible marketing by joining our campaign (see below) and telling us their views and experiences via our website.