Life Family

Saturday 17 August 2019

'Stop targeting my kids' - Irish cookbook author calls on parents to report 'sick joke' ads

"The government has stalled on this one," says Susan Jane White. Photo: Instagram/@susanjanekitchen
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Food writer Susan Jane White has called on parents to report any junk food advertising which they feel may be targeting their children to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI).

Ms White, who has written two cookbooks of gluten-free, dairy-free and cane sugar-free recipes, says the government needs to ban junk food advertising to kids outright.

The Department of Health launched a voluntary code last year to ensure that foods high in fat, salt and sugar are marketed in a responsible way in Ireland, and also to ensure that children are not exposed to inappropriate marketing, advertising or sponsorship associated with these kinds of food and drink products, and that healthier food choices are actively promoted.

Ms White says she lodged a complaint to the ASAI over a particular junk food ad that she felt targeted her two boys.

She describes junk food advertising as “a sick joke” which the government allows to happen.

“My boys are so vulnerable and impressionable - they are psychologically underdeveloped and ill-equipped to make judicious decisions about their own health.”

“It's the sheer volume of ads targeting my children that disturbs me... Every street corner we turn in Dublin city, every bus shelter, every shop, every magazine, even every play date and the branding on kid's t-shirts. My children are constantly nagging me for brands they see and for brands they recognise. It's pressure I don't welcome.”

She added: "When junk food ads directly target kids, I feel physically nauseous... What kind of democratic society allows unscrupulous, profit-driven marketing agencies direct access to our children's minds? Especially when these same agencies are trying to peddle food that ultimately makes children fat and sick in the long term.”

Sweden, Norway and Greece have already restricted advertising to children.

Last year, the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) said childhood obesity was the greatest single threat to the health of this generation of Irish children and young people.

Yet the voluntary code established by the Department of Health last year "remains completely unenforced", an IHF spokesperson told Independent.ie.

“This code is virtually worthless in any case because junk food companies don’t have to sign up and will face no penalties for breaking its terms.”

“What we need is an outright ban on junk food marketing to under-16s and we urge the Government to support the World Health Organisation’s position of tough mandatory regulation to protect children with penalties of up to four per cent of global turnover for companies in breach – similar to fines for breaking data protection laws,” the spokesperson said.

Some 85,000 Irish children will die prematurely due to obesity, while children as young as eight were presenting with high blood pressure, the IHF said. 

Young people were also showing up with levels of heart disease normally only found among the middle aged, it said, quoting state-funded research.

Yet four- and five-year-olds see over 1,000 junk food ads on TV every year, despite restrictions on broadcast ads.

"The government has stalled on this one," says Susan Jane White. Photo: Instagram/@susanjanekitchen

“But this pales into insignificance compared to estimates that teenagers are being subjected to over 100 junk ads a week on social media,” the IHF spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, in the past five years, nine per cent of complaints received by the ASAI related to food advertising. And these complaints related to misleadingness or offensive content.

It hasn't received any complaints about influencer marketing directed at children, a spokesperson told Independent.ie.

For children under 16, ads in Ireland, except those for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables, should not seem to encourage children to eat or drink a product for a promotional offer, and should not encourage children to eat more than they otherwise would.

Ms White said: “We need to band together to show our government that 'voluntary codes' are completely useless.”

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