Junk Foods Pushed to Kids Online

Article excerpt

Byline: MADELEINE BRINDLEY

A LEADING charity has fired the opening salvo in a battle against junk food brands using the internet to attract children.

Sugar Puffs, Cheestrings, Cadbury's Buttons and Nesquik Imagination have all been named and shamed by the British Heart Foundation as high sugar, salt or fat brands targeting young people through the internet.

The charity and the Children's Food Campaign released a report accusing the food industry of using "manipulative tactics" to hook children and called for a loophole allowing junk food to be marketed online to be closed. But the Food and Drink Federation hit back at the charities, saying they have been highly selective in their findings.

The report - The 21st Century Gingerbread House - details the ways food companies are marketing their products online.

And it states that a loophole in the law allows companies to freely market them online, when tough nutrient profiling tests mean they cannot be advertised on television during children's programmes.

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Like wolves in sheep's clothing, junk food manufacturers are preying on children and targeting them with fun and games they know will hold their attention.

"Regulation protects our children from these cynical marketing tactics while they're watching their favourite children's TV programmes but there is no protection when they're online.

"The marketers must be rubbing their hands with glee because this loophole gives them carte blanche to reach eight in 10 children behind their parents' backs.

"With around a third of children classified as overweight or obese today it's crucial the UK Government takes action.

"We want to see consistent advertising regulations across all forms of media to protect our children from the lure of junk food marketing, and help protect their future health."

The report highlights some of the online marketing tools used to promote foods high in sugar, salt and fat, including creating bespoke websites to specifically appeal to children and using brand characters, cartoons and animations.

Some companies offer free gifts including apps, downloads, ringtones and games while others used social networking sites like Facebook to appeal to children.

It has been suggest that children now spend almost as much time online as they do watching television.

At the same time experts are becoming increasingly concerned about childhood obesity - Wales has one of the highest rates in the world and a staggering 19% of children classed as obese and 36% either overweight or obese.

Charlie Powell, campaigns director for the Children's Food Campaign, said: "Companies are shamelessly exploiting gaps in marketing regulations by targeting children online with promotions for junk foods that cannot be advertised during children's TV.

"By its failure to protect children from online junk food marketing, the government is demonstrating complacency at a time when it should provide robust regulation to help reverse unacceptable levels of obesity in the UK. …