Junk food companies 'target kids online'New report calls for tougher curbs

21 January 2008

boy eating doughnut

Most parents are unaware their children are being stalked online by junk food manufacturers, according to a new report.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says two thirds of parents aren't aware junk food manufacturers are using internet games to target children.

Similarly, half of parents aren't aware games and quizzes are used on food or drink labels to attract children, while a third of parents didn't know celebrities or cartoons are used to promote a food or drink to children.

The findings are part of a joint report put together by the BHF and the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC).

Non-broadcast marketing 

It argues that the current system of voluntary self-regulation of non-broadcast marketing has failed.

Now both the BHF and the CFC  want tough new rules to crack down on junk food marketing to kids.

BHF Director of Policy and Communications Betty McBride said: ‘Junk food manufacturers are laying a multi-million pound honey-trap for children.  They are luring kids into their online playgrounds or stalking them on food packaging at the breakfast table.

‘These regulations are a vital prerequisite to enable any government strategy on childhood obesity to be effective.  They have the potential to transform the supermarket experience for stressed parents and change the way future generations of children view food.’

Online petition

The BHF is urging parents to sign up to its Food4Thought online petition to stop junk food marketers targeting their children.

Which? Food Campaigner Colin Walker said the report reaffirmed Which? research into the ineffectiveness of current broadcast restrictions on the marketing of junk food to children.

He added: ‘Which? found that 18 of the 20 TV programmes most watched by children were not covered by these restrictions, and all of these feature adverts for junk food.

‘With promotions on food packaging, within computer games and on popular social networking and child-oriented websites, companies are targeting children from any angle they can.

‘The Food Products (Marketing to Children) Bill tabled by Nigel Griffiths MP is enormously important if we are to protect our children from this onslaught of junk food.  We are calling on all politicians - and indeed the public - to join our kids' food campaign, support the bill and help tackle childhood obesity head on.’

Robust restrictions

The Food Products (Marketing to Children) Bill is aimed at introducing a 9pm watershed on the advertising and promotion of foods that are deemed ‘less healthy’ under the Food Standards Agency's definition, across TV and radio. 

The bill would also introduce robust restrictions on ads and promotions for these foods across non-broadcast media, such as the internet, text messaging and food packaging.