Why we need to stop junk food advertisers targeting kids online

A campaign from the Irish Heart Foundation aims to highlight how children are being targeted by digital marketing tactics

A new campaign enlisting public support to force action restricting junk food marketing directed at children, particularly on social media, has been launched by Irish Heart.

 

Picture the scene. You’re sitting at home, having your breakfast. There is a knock on the front door. It’s a salesman, and he wants to talk to your kids. “No thanks,” you say, closing the door firmly. But he won’t go away.

In fact, he spends the rest of the day standing outside your house, shouting at your kids. At first you think he’s crazy. Then you realise he’s just immoral - because this creep wants your kids to buy stuff that was designed to make them sick.

This may sound wildly implausible, but it’s not at all. Children in Ireland now spend, on average, three hours a day online, where junk food companies peddle their wares all the time.

If a creep stood outside your door shouting at your kids for three hours, you would call the police. But when that same predator is inside your house all day – stalking your kids online – there is nothing you can do about it.

This is a serious problem, and it’s getting worse.

Irish people are starting to realise that we need to protect our kids online. That is why the Irish Heart Foundation’s Stop Targeting Kids campaign is so welcome. Slick and amusing, but also quite shocking, it exposes the sinister tactics that are used in digital marketing.

The link between the marketing of junk brands and childhood obesity is well-documented. One in four Irish school children is now overweight or obese. At this rate we will soon be one of the fattest countries in Europe.

The food industry are always going on about the personal responsibility of parents and children. While it’s true that everyone has a part to play in solving this problem, the food industry also bears some responsibility – at least, it should do. At the moment there is only the flimsiest voluntary self regulation around the marketing of junk food to kids.

This is what happens when an industry with no shame has far too much power over politicians. It’s time to take back some of that power.

I have signed the Irish Heart Foundation petition for more regulation around the marketing of junk food, and I hope that you do too, because it’s time to give these junk food creeps a message: leave our kids alone.

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