Ban on marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children online supported reveals poll

More than three in four members of the Irish public are in favour of an outright ban on digital marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children, a new poll for Irish Heart has revealed.

 

The Ipsos MRBI study – carried out before the launch earlier this month of Irish Heart’s Stop Targeting Kids campaign – found that 76% of respondents support a ban on the marketing of unhealthy products to children on digital media.

 

It also showed that 80% of respondents believe that advertising and promotion is a very big or fairly big contributor to childhood obesity, whilst 87% rated childhood obesity as a very big or a fairly big concern in Ireland.

 

The Stop Targeting Kids campaign is being conducted amid growing concerns over how online marketing, that is being carried out behind parents’ backs, is fuelling Ireland’s childhood obesity problem. According to Irish Heart, it is very difficult for parents to have visibility of how junk brands are targeting their children on social networking sites like Facebook, which holds the highest account ownership for a social networking site in Ireland at 64%.

 

“This poll represents a clear message from the public that it wants action to halt the relentless targeting of children online by unhealthy food and drinks brands and that’s why we’re calling on Government to regulate digital marketing aimed at Irish children in this way,” said Irish Heart Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey.

 

Mr Macey continued: “There is conclusive and long-standing proof of a causal link between junk food marketing to children and child obesity. That’s why junk food ads on TV were restricted four years ago. But there’s still no regulation of digital marketing that’s more personalised, targeted, effective and therefore potentially much more damaging to children’s health.

 

“This is deeply worrying. We now have children as young as eight presenting with high blood pressure – an early sign of heart disease once mainly seen in middle-age.

 

“We know junk food marketing to children is rampant, we know it is fuelling obesity, we know this is damaging children’s health and we know the State is not doing enough to tackle the problem and is failing in its duty of care to protect children’s health.”

 

Irish Heart’s Stop Targeting Kids campaign is seeking public support through a petition at www.irishheart.ie/stoptargetingkids  which calls for action by the Government to regulate digital marketing aimed at Irish children and to close gaping loopholes in broadcast restrictions which mean that children still see over 1,000 junk food and drinks ads on television every year.

 

Irish Heart Dietitian and Health Promotion Manager Janis Morrissey said: “Junk food brands have achieved a wholly inappropriate proximity to our children online – pestering them relentlessly in school, at home and even in their bedrooms, mostly through their smart phones. It’s almost like each child has their own personal marketer following them around wherever they go.

“They get onto children’s newsfeeds and interact like real friends. They’re anything but. All these marketers really want to do is encourage children to consume as much junk as possible. Worse still this is being done behind parents’ backs. The vast majority of parents do not know that these brands are individually targeting their children.”

 

According to the World Health Organisation it is possible for individual States to compel digital platforms like Facebook to remove junk food marketing in the same way as they do with adverts for tobacco and alcohol products so they do not get onto children’s timelines. The WHO says successful efforts to protect individual privacy, enforce copyright protection and remove hate speech online shows that distribution and accessibility can be regulated. It insists, however, that high monetary penalties are required and references EU data protection laws allowing penalties of up to 4% of a worldwide turnover for companies in breach of the regulations.

 

“The need for action on junk food marketing is clear,” added Ms Morrissey. “The longer it takes to provide protection for our children, the greater the number that will be condemned to lives dominated by ill-health, chronic disease and quite possibly an early grave.

 

Notes:

 

The ban on digital marketing was heavily supported across all age groups, social classes and regions in Ireland.

 

  • 80% of all age groups over 45 years were in favour of an outright ban on digital marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children under 18 years – 80% of 45-54 year olds were in favour, for 55-64 year olds it was 82% and 83% of 65 years plus supported a ban.
  • 64% of young people aged between 15-24 years were in favour of the ban as did 73% of 25-44 year olds.
  • Three quarters of men and women were in favour of the ban but at 78%, women were slightly more likely to support it compared to 74% of men
  • There was strong support for the ban regionally, with highest support at 82% found in Connaught/Ulster, followed by 76% Munster, 75% Rest of Leinster and 73% in Dublin.

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