A recent report issued by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and Children’s Food Campaign (CFC) has described online food marketing to children as “pervasive,” with more than 75 percent of Websites targeting children with high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products “linked to a corresponding product or brand page on a social networking site” such as Facebook or Twitter.
Titled “The 21st century gingerbread house: How companies are marketing junk food to children online,” the report concluded that 80 percent of 100 food brand Websites analyzed between April and July 2011 did not meet the Food Standard Agency’s nutrient profiling standards for advertising during children’s TV programming. In particular, the report highlighted the use of (i) “bespoke websites which appeal to children through the use of language intended for, spoken by or directly to children”; (ii) “brand characters, cartoons and animations which are enormously popular with children”; (iii) “free gifts including apps, downloads, ringtones and games of appeal to children”; and (iv) links to social networking sites “as a way to encourage children to share the brand with their friends.”
“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 favorite children’s TV programs but there is no protection when they’re online,” said BHF Policy Manager Mubeen Bhutta in a December 18, 2011, press release. “With around a third of children classified as overweight or obese today, it’s crucial that the UK Government takes action.”