Facebook used to market junk food to children

Facebook used to market junk food to children

Food and drink manufacturers are switching their focus  from traditional to online media to promote unhealthy products to children and young people, an Irish report has found.

New research published by the Irish Heart Foundations Who’s feeding the kids online reveals that children are the focus of “subtle, sophisticated and surreptitious methods” by the food industry in an environment where parents can’t monitor what their child is seeing.

Researchers found that of the 73 companies analysed, many of the most successful food and drink brands are either no longer using websites or are using them far less to promote their products to children.

However, the food and drink brands with the greatest reach on Facebook among 13-14 year old users in Ireland feature products high in fat, salt or sugar, as defined by the World Health Organisation.

Junk food companies and sugary drinks manufacturers are using online data to target children more effectively. Dr. Mimi Tatlow-Golden, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, UCD School of Medicine and Medical Science, Dublin said:

“In the digital world, they can identify those who are most reactive to food and drink marketing and thus target the most vulnerable children. These brands actively seek to recruit Facebook users to spread their marketing – seeking likes, tags, comments and photos and providing many links and hashtags.”

Currently, Ireland restricts the advertising of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar to under-18s on TV and radio, but is yet to tackle regulating digital marketing. Now that digital media is so pervasive, Tatlow-Golden said there is “no option but to regulate”.

The report recommends:

  • Children’s rights to participation – but also to health and protection are recognised
  • Existing broadcast regulations are extended to all digital media
  • Identify options to end promotion of unhealthy foods
  • Close loopholes in current regulations
  • Disrupt the language of ‘choice’ and ‘responsibility’
  • Prohibit celebrities from endorsing unhealthy products
  • Inform young people, parents and policy makers about digital food marketing
  • Consider the potential of ‘social marketing’ for healthier habits
  • Equalise access to information about digital unhealthy food marketing

Dr. Mimi Tatlow-Golden will appear alongside Dr. Emma Boyland, Lecturer in Appetite and Obesity, University of Liverpool at Food Active’s latest event: The Marketing of Junk Food to Children, to be held at Lancashire County Council, Preston on Friday 15th July.

The event will be an opportunity to discuss further restrictions on food and drink advertising to children in non-broadcast media in the UK, in light of the current consultation put forward by the Committee on Advertising Practices.

Click the button below to register for the event.

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