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 72.

    70. Jan-Ann
    Even if my child saw what was on the net, I buy the grub.
    Haha! Very true, very true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    63. john33

    "There is far too much 'nanny state' already, we don't need more"

    Echoes of Ronald Reagan... look where it has brought us. There are many things which are bad about the "nanny state" but regulation over advertising to children who are incapable of recognising its intent is not amongst them. Watch the video I linked to in post #68.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Even if my child saw what was on the net, I buy the grub.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    65. sue
    "I think it is about time that these grown ups grew up!"
    Sounds to me I have done more growing up than you. My child should be able to surf the net without being exposed to this advertising rubbish. There is something sneaky and creepy about the way these ads are targeted. Remind of the man in the raincoat offering a child sweets outside the playground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    You need to watch this if this story concerns you at all:

    All about how kids are seen by marketers as consumer cattle from birth. It's not just food.

  • 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 66.

    @ 61. TimListfield
    I tire of people like you. A majority of parents buy healthy food for their
    children (myself included). I also want my children to handle the internet safely. They know about the dangers, don't talk to strangers etc, but now they are increasingly targeted by legitimate companies. It's obscene, creepy and slightly sinister.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Pester power has always been a marketing ploy - sweets positioned next to the check out etc for goodness sake are parents these days really so incapable of saying 'no' to their children? I think it is about time that these grown ups grew up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Dont blame the fast food people for doing what they are paid to do and that is make money! Parents should take more responsibility and control their kids eating habits, but then they dont have the time any more do they? Or thats what they say when they are challenged. Do your job parents and dont blame everyone else. Moderation is all thats needed in eating habits dont be frightened to do YOUR job

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    So there are web sites promoting chocolate, etc., to young children; haven't today's parents learned how to say no? Actually, probably not, it's easier to say yes than it is to take any responsibility and deal with the tantrums

    There is far too much 'nanny state' already, we don't need more..

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    My 7 year old is allowed to use the laptop but we have put strict parental controls (so much so we have to 'ok' the BBC skillswise page!) But it wouldn't matter much if she was exposed to all these adverts - I refuse to buy those kinds of products for her! We are about to bake cookies together (still not healthy but I know what's going in them and other meals will be balanced to take account).

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    One thing that unfortunately annoys me about this country is that people always walk away from responsibility.
    You can legislate all you want, but ultimately it is about whether a parent buys the goods these companies sell or not. It is entirely the parent's responsibility to say 'no' to their child.
    Better parenting, better children. Stop blaming companies for your inability to say 'no'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Kids have to learn that they cannot have everything they won't. It does not matter that if it good or bad for them. Stop blaming everyone ells but the parent. so what if they have a tantrum over it, that is part of been a parent. Kids are not a fashion item. If parents harm their kids or neglect them, take the kids away from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I'm not sure it's fair to say these companies are "Preying on children"... how many adults honestly eat cheestrings, milk chocolate buttons or drink Nesquik? My kid does, I don't. My kid is not in danger of being obese because she's a kid... she runs around, plays in the garden, eats apples, pears, tomatoes and chocolate. She's a kid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    They are there to make a profit, they are compelled to generate profits thus dividends for shareholders and furthermore create and sustain more jobs in order to do that they need to reduce cost...
    Focusing solely on income at the expense of the health of the vulnerable is disgusting.
    Which precisely why we need legislation to stop this type of abuse!
    “Editor’s Pick” indeed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    @ 54. JR:
    Bit of a simplistic sweeping statement. Nothing but healthy food in my basket with the occasional unhealthy treat. These ads undermine the responsibility that I try to impress on my children. It's a bit like that bird doing a poo on your car when you've just washed it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    @53 Real-Ale...

    My point is that there is little the government can do to control content unless it blocks all content from overseas sites. Parental settings and supervision are the only answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    I don't think it's fair to have a go at these companies with the products, they're selling products which children like and the parents are buying... it has all the information on the packet so technically they're doing nothing wrong. However, it does seem a tad sneaky, but surely it should be the parents controlling what the kids eat; we find it so easy to rely on the government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Weird story - hello parents? Hello? When you see the sort of junk parents fill their baskets with at supermarkets for themselves and their family it seems to me that it's adults who should be protected from crap food advertising, not children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @49. freejames:
    Parents' responsibility and control are undermined by this rubbish. Pester power is not education, free speech or access to information and can therefore be banned. It's like soft porn. I don't mind it myself but don't want it hurled in my children's faces. I like them to grow up handling TV, the Internet etc responsibly, and this interferes with it.


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