Companies using social media to target teenagers for junk food sales
The food and drink brands marketed online which are most likely to reach children aged 13 and 14 all feature highly processed products.
However, a new report has said the World Health Organisation has determined that such products are not recommended for marketing to young people.
A review of websites in the report 'Who's Feeding the Kids Online?', commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, has warned that companies making high-fat and high-sugar foods are using clever tactics on social media to market their products at youngsters.
It is calling for tough new regulations to protect children's health by restricting digital marketing to this age group of unhealthy food and drinks.
The review also found that parents were largely unaware of the marketing directed at their children on digital media.
It found that the McDonald's Happy Meal site is extremely child-oriented and engaging, with loud music on launch and many games, videos, sounds, music, ebooks and other activities that could keep a young child occupied for long periods.
The report said that the disclaimer on the home page - "Hey, kids, this is advertising" - on the very top left was in exceptionally small type and visually swamped.
Read more: Do your kids need a digital detox?
Websites for top food and drink retail items in Ireland frequently appealed to parents, rather than children, through family games and activities, competitions or free gifts.
The review found that companies such as Mars said their belief was that it is appropriate to market snacks and other foods to young people from 12 or 13 years of age as they can make informed choices about sensible snack consumption.
"Yet in Ireland, broadcast regulations do not permit advertising of high-fat, sugar and salt products to under-18s," said the report.
It argued that in the teen years, young people may be particularly vulnerable to developing unhealthy eating habits and to many marketing approaches employed online.
The research discovered that if children post a 'like' on food brands on Facebook, they are likely to receive a great deal of marketing for other high-fat, sugary and salty foods daily.
The report has been sent to Communications Minister Denis Naughten this week for his review.