Food firms 'market to children online'

Girl using internet Most children use the internet at home

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Unhealthy food is being "shamelessly" promoted to children online to get around bans on television adverts, campaigners have claimed.

The British Heart Foundation cited websites by Cadbury's and Nestle as examples of "cynical marketing".

Sites used childish language, games and free gifts to appeal to children, according to the report.

But an Advertising Association spokesman insisted online promotion to children was strictly controlled.

The vast majority of UK children now use the internet at home, often in preference to television viewing.

The Advertising Standards Authority's broadcasting code prohibits adverts for unhealthy food within children's television programmes, or any programme which appeals to under-16s.

However, this code does not extend to material on websites aimed at children, although a separate regulation forbids any advert which might encourage "poor nutritional habits" or an "unhealthy lifestyle" in children.

Despite this, the BHF, alongside the Children's Food Campaign, says that this different approach gives firms more scope to promote unhealthy foods.

With a significant proportion of children overweight or obese, even at primary school age, they want the blanket ban on marketing extended to cover the web.

'Preying on children'

Examples of websites cited by the campaign was a site promoting Nesquik - a milkshake powder high in sugar.

Titled the "Imagination Station", the site is hosted by an animated rabbit character and including a quiz game and a guide to making a spacesuit.

Another site, for Cadbury's Buttons, which contain 6.2g of saturated fat per packet, was called "Buttons Furry Tales", and also involved animated characters, games and puzzles, although an "adult" year of birth had to be provided to gain entry.

A third, for Cheestrings, manufactured by Kerry Foods, involves a personal greeting from another cartoon character, and a list describing 101 things they can do before they are 11.5 years old.

Start Quote

Nobody wants a marketing free-for-all but demands for bans based on hyperbole threaten people's jobs, affordable media and a choice of foods we all enjoy”

End Quote Advertising Association spokesman

Cheestrings fall foul of the children's television ban because each portion contains a third more salt than an average pack of ready salted crisps.

Mubeen Bhutta, from the BHF, said: "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 television programmes but there is no protection when they are online."

Charlie Powell, from the Children's Food Campaign, said that the government was "demonstrating complacency" when it should be providing "robust regulation".

'Responsible marketing'

However, a government spokesman said that it did not have direct responsibility for setting advertising codes.

A spokesman for the Advertising Standards Authority, an independent body which regulates the advertising industry, said that if campaigners felt that a specific website breached the online code, it should complain.

"We rigorously administer strict advertising food rules that apply across media, including online, in the interests of the public.

"The rules are very clear: ads must not condone or encourage poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children."

A spokesman for Nestle, which makes Nesquik, said it did not market products directly to under-sixes, and would only market products to under-12s which met a "strict nutritional profile".

The "Imagination Station" site was aimed at parents, not children, she said.

A spokesman for Cadburys also said that the "Furry Tales" site was aimed at parents, but added that it did not meet the marketing policies of parent company Kraft Foods and was scheduled to be closed within weeks.

A spokesman for Kerry Foods, which makes Cheestrings, said that the product contained a similar amount of salt to cheddar cheese.

He said: "We are firm believers in responsible marketing and we ensure that everything we do is within the regulations set by the various governing bodies."

And the Advertising Association, an industry body, attacked the BHF's campaign, accusing it of "manipulating the facts" and ignoring those which did not support its case.

A spokesman said: "Nobody wants a marketing free-for-all but demands for bans based on hyperbole threaten people's jobs, affordable media and a choice of foods we all enjoy."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    As a parent myself, i too worry about child obesity. I dont think though a few adverts is going to encourage my children to eat unhealthy foods. I think the best way is to educate children on the dangers of unheathy foods, teach them that fast food is an occasional treat and not a staple food. Although its not easy, I believe parents educating their children is a big step in the right direction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The internet is NOT a child-minding service, and there's far worse than a few fast food ads out there. If you're worried about this sort of thing, the first step is to get some web filtering software installed on your computer and BLOCK IT! Oh, but that would require some parental responsibility, wouldn't it? Silly me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    For all the advantages the internet brings, there are a similar number of disadvantages. Children are a very vulnerable group whether it be viewing inappropriate content, stalking on social websites, or consumerism. Parents maybe able to control what they watch on TV, but its difficult to do this on the net. food companies must play fair game, if their products were healthier nobody would complain

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The government/ department of health are working hard to find new ways of tackling childhood - for the first time ever they released physical activity guidelines for under 6s! When you see food companies acting in this manner, you release why the situation hasn't or won't improve - they have a responsibility. There needs to be more laws passed against this behaviour. 'the children are our future'

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    More Nanny State nonsense, the Executive is rearing a generation of molycoddled individuals, child protection in the realms of fantasy and future adults (over 25 of course) citizen's of the future Orwellian State, run on Victorian lines but with the child having the whip hand, older people forced to toil until they die in harness sacrificed on the altar of child protection or State "brainwashing".


Comments 5 of 7


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