More than seven out of 10 adults in Ireland support a blanket ban on the advertising of unhealthy food and drink products to children, research for the Irish Heart Foundation suggests.
The charity published the Ipsos/MRBI findings in Dublin on Wednesday as a new parents’ campaign group was announced as part of its new “Stop Targeting Kids” initiative.
Some 71 per cent of respondents supported a blanket ban on advertising products such as sugary drinks, snack foods, chocolate bars and crisps to children under 16, with 26 per cent against and 3 per cent saying they did not know.
Seventy-nine of those polled believed that advertising was a very big or fairly big contributor to childhood obesity. Nearly nine out of 10 (89 per cent) rated childhood obesity a very big or fairly big concern in Ireland.
Just over one-third of respondents were aware of regulations relating to marketing of unhealthy food and drinks to children.
Tim Collins, chief executive of the Irish Heart Foundation, said there was "conclusive and long-standing proof of a causal link between junk food marketing to children and child obesity".
“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.”
The foundation said it had been almost nine months since the Department of Health announced a voluntary code on the marketing of food and beverages on non-broadcast media but "no guidelines for its implementation have been issued and its much-vaunted independent monitoring body has still not been established".
“This code is proving extremely useful in providing junk food brands with a mechanism to protect their profits, but to do little or nothing to protect children from unscrupulous marketing tactics,” Mr Collins said.
He said that Safefood, an all-island health promotion body, has predicted that 85,000 of today’s children would die prematurely due to being overweight or obese.
“We now have children as young as eight with high blood pressure and young people showing early signs of heart disease once only seen in middle-aged men,” he added.
Dan Parker, a former UK advertising executive, said junk food advertising had become "a monster, manipulating young people's emotions and their choices".
Mr Parker, founder of the charitable coalition Living Loud UK, said junk food marketers were gaining “deep psychological insights into young people, going to extraordinary lengths to influence food choices with potentially serious consequences for their long-term health”.
“Thanks to the explosion of digital marketing on top of loopholes in broadcast regulations being ruthlessly exploited by junk brands, children are being bombarded daily in a way that is impossible to resist. But there should be no circumstances where junk food marketing directed at children is acceptable.”
The “Stop Targeting Kids” petition on its website 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”.