Junk food firms targeting children with online games

A new report from two leading charities accuses big food firms of using online games and competitions to market junk foods to children.

The report — ‘The 21st century gingerbread house: How companies are marketing junk food to children online’ — is the work of the British Heart Foundation and the Children’s Food Campaign. It assesses how big brands bombard kids online in a bid to push products that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

All of the products featured in the report are outlawed from advertising during children’s television programmes. Tactics used by manufacturers include bespoke websites which appeal to children, free games, gifts and downloads and the use of fun characters. Many companies also use social networking sites like Facebook as a way to encourage children to share the sites with their friends.

The report dismisses food firm claims that some websites are age restricted,  saying they are easy to bypass by entering a different age or date of birth.

British Heart Foundation policy manager, Mubeen Bhutta said:

“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 favourite children’s TV programmes but there is no protection when they’re online.

“With around a third of children classified as overweight or obese today it’s crucial that the UK Government takes action.”

We know that in the UK, children’s diets tend to contain too much fat, salt and sugar and this could have serious implications for future levels of heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses.