Facebook 'being used to push junk food to kids'
Children are being deliberately targeted by high-fat and high-sugar food and drinks companies on social media, a major report reveals today.
The study 'Who's Feeding The Kids Online' shows how children are being manipulated with emotional and entertainment-based tactics.
The report, commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation, shows companies are using Facebook's likes, tags, comments and photos, links and hashtags to promote their products. "They use tactics with strong appeal to children and young people," it said.
"[They] feature bold graphics and strong visuals, competitions, a strong emphasis on humour, fun and special days, links to entertainment, festivals, sports and other events, and regularly featuring sports stars and celebrities popular with children."
An online survey of parents of 13-14 year olds, conducted as part of the report, showed that although parents had generally positive attitudes to marketing, they were initially indifferent to the idea of food marketing to children online.
However, their attitudes shifted when they were confronted with examples.
"Ultimately, three-quarters of the surveyed parents were strongly against digital marketing of unhealthy products to their children and terms they used to describe the tactics included 'immoral, dishonest and exploitative'."
The study was led by child psychologist and researcher Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden.
Dr Tatlow-Golden demonstrated the sophisticated digital marketing techniques directed at children by top food and beverage brands.
The report calls for tough new regulations to protect children's health by restricting digital marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to them.
She said: "Junk food companies and some of the world's best marketing brains are targeting children with subtle, sophisticated and surreptitious methods in an environment where parents don't know what's going on.
"We know that marketing of products high in fat, sugar or salt plays a causal role in obesity. That is why there are some restrictions on TV advertising to children - though children in Ireland still see thousands of food ads every year on TV.
"Parents were also very hostile to sports stars and other celebrities promoting unhealthy products."