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 32.

    6.Indolent_Campaigner - before you get too carried away with the [why state the obvious] line consider how contradictory common sense actually is. The link below is to a fascinating, short, article from New Scientist earlier this year:

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Marketing = Lying, one way or another.
    I know, I used to do it!
    Children are prey and industry is the predator.
    What you do not know would terrify you.
    Children are not equipped to 'deal' with advertising.
    All advertising to children should be banned.
    We need help to combat this threat to our children but government will not legislate because it benefits, as it does in the financial sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    So what? These firms have always used targetted children in one way or another.

    Yet again the responsibility lies with the parent and yet again they're failing. How many parents allow unsupervised access to the internet for their kids, with no parental controls or website filtering? You might as well drop them in a strange city centre, at night, on their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Wait until Facebook floats next year! Everybody will be targeted by unscrupulous marketing agencies then.
    But my personal data is safe on Facebook! Yeah, sure it is!
    Watch this space ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    If it is so bad this food why not ban its sale same with alcohol tobacco and illegal drugs too easy to consider that the health police would be out of work and what about cars they pollute the air and all the other harmful things out there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @12....good point about free choice for children...and while we're at it, maybe we should lower the legal limit for smoking as well, or simply remove it altogether? I pray that you are only joking, as it's mentalities like that which make us the fatties of Europe....

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I am horrified reading this article, I have always tried to give my kids a healthy balanced diet, all meals are cooked from scratch etc. Their pack ups have sandwiches, fruit, yogourt, fruit juice and a cheestring. Thought I was being a good Mum, cheese is healthy etc. It is so hard to work out what are the good and bad things!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Saying "Nanny State Nonsense" or similar sound-bites show the triumph of presentation over content is almost complete: Of course it is the responsibility of parents to take more responsibility, but if they don't, do we want the state to be overwhelmed with health problems?. Are we happy to let their negligence destabilise us all? because that is what a slavish regard for free choice will do here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    21. Bibi
    Perhaps one of the solutions would be to ensure your children spend less time glued to the internet and to televison. It's lazy parenting.
    Agreed, but some children are more predisposed to eating rubbish than others, and there is too much advertising aimed at children. I work in advertising and I love it, but I find it comparable to soft-porn and should be limited to over 18's

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Think of it this way, if a ten year old sees an advert for McDonald's online, then proceeds to become overweight, who's fault is it? Well clearly not the child's they aren't the ones with the money.
    Quite simply unhealthy food is like alcohol, fine in moderation. If a child gets enough exercise and only eats 'unhealthy' foods sparingly there would be no problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Perhaps one of the solutions would be to ensure your children spend less time glued to the internet and to televison. It's lazy parenting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "The adventures of Charlie Ciggy and his best friend Rita Roll-up".


    That made me laugh out loud! Let's hope none picks up on it!

  • 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 18.

    Just imagine if cigarette companies tried the same thing - "The adventures of Charlie Ciggy and his best friend Rita Roll-up".
    A decision has to be made - does advertising influence children (why are tobacco adverts banned) or doesn't it (intrusion of nanny state)
    The decision is ours but remember it's your children's future at stake!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It's true. The problem without Government intervention is that non healthy eating leads to negative externalities (aka to the NHS) Since the marginal private cost for the companies are higher than the marginal social cost then it's simply market failure. Therefore NHS costs will be much higher than any positive benefit. So I say it's fine to use any means necessary especially in this economic time

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    greater controls of how many of these companies can adevrtise, often using the webb and its many social networking sites is only a start, sadly facebpook and it's drive to be seen as a world standard, is only making it worse.

  • 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 14.

    Why is it that the organisations tasked to regulate are always two steps behind those that they are supposed to regulate, and in this case it's our children who suffer?
    Profits come before regard for anything else unless there are repercussions when rules are borken, despite the rhetoric from these companies about being responsible.

  • Comment number 13.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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