Saturday, March 15, 2008

Time to dump junk food advertising aimed at children

March 15th is World Consumer Rights Day, obviously its a date that's a little less known that March 17th both here and abroad. This year the world body of consumer organisations, Consumers International decided to make the campaign against junk food advertising to children the theme for the day. Click here for more information on their international campaign.

I am really pleased that CAI were able to join forces with the Children's Rights Alliance in calling for action in Ireland and in issuing a joint press release. The Alliance represents 80 organisations working to protect and enhance children's' and young people's rights, so our joint statement was a natural coalition. This statement was covered by the Irish Times today.

The tricks used to enhance junk food in ads!!

And this is a big issue. The Taskforce on Obesity which reported in 2005 estimated that there were up to 327,000 children on the island of Ireland who were overweight and obese and that number was estimated to increase by about 11,000 each year. Obesity is putting the lives of children at risk and increasing the incidences of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and premature death. Obviously there are a number of reasons for this, but the aggressive marketing of junk food to children is part of the reason.

One of the key solutions then in my view would be to restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods before the 9pm watershed to provide adequate protection to children here in Ireland. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland are currently reviewing their Children’s Advertising Code and this presents Ireland with an excellent opportunity to take a lead on this issue. This of course will only deal with advertising from TV stations based here, so to address advertising from other jurisdictions we need the Irish Government to take a leading role at European and global level in calling for the World Health Organisation to introduce an international code on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, as recommended by Consumers International.

Advertising and marketing are designed to increase sales, no point in doing it if it didn't. In 2003 it was estimated that €132m was spent on advertising food and beverages in Ireland. Processed foods such as chocolate, crisps, fizzy drinks, pre-sugared breakfast cereals and fast food that are high in sugar, fat and salt are the most heavily promoted and marketed in ads even though dietary guidelines recommend they should be eaten the least. Children are primarily the target group for the advertising of these products because of their significant influence on the foods bought by their parents. Advertisers target young children because of the money they have to spend, the influence they have over their parents' spending and the desire to build brand loyalty.
Children, particularly those under 12 are vulnerable to advertising because they are not aware that the purpose of advertising is not to inform, but to persuade and ultimately to sell a product. While parents may ultimately be responsible for feeding their children, the aggressive marketing aimed at their children is undermining their efforts. On one hand parents are encouraging their children to eat healthy food but food company advertising is telling children that unhealthy food products are desirable to eat. A study by the Southern Health Board in 2004 reported in the Taskforce on Obesity found that 75% of parents of 7-8 year olds considered that food advertising promoted unhealthy foods and 50% of parents felt that their children pressurised them to buy certain foods or drinks as a direct result of advertising.

We know of course that the food multinationals and advertising agencies will strongly oppose this, they both make lots of money from selling unhealthy food to children. However its time the Irish Government, EU and WHO put the health and interests of children ahead of the profits of the junk food merchants and their marketing fellow travellers.

1 comment:

A.R.T. said...

Your position as the Chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland is clearly reflected throughout your post on this issue of junk food ads for children in the authority that you seem to have over the issue and the depth of knowledge that you display in the field. This is an issue that I wish was discussed more often in the United States and that actions such as these would be implemented as well because childhood obesity should be a concern of parents and the companies who are providing these foods on the market. Others have suggested that ads that are promoting junk foods and that are aimed at children should be banned from television and I believe that your suggestion to ban all junk food ads before 9pm is an equally valid proposal. Ideally companies would stop production on these products that are so high in fats, salts and sugars, but being that these products bring in high revenues for their respective companies and when eaten in moderation they don’t pose any severe health risk, it is improbable that it would be a legitimate suggestion for them to stop producing them. Getting rid of all junk food ads, at any time of the day, would be my suggestion because even after 9pm children can still see these ads, and not only are children at stake but adults too and these ads can promote bad health in households as a whole. I agree with your argument that parents play a role in childhood obesity because they have the majority of the buying power when it comes to the foods in their home and because of this power they should actively use it to provide foods that promote healthy lifestyles and not give in to what their children request to eat because children at a young age don’t have the ability to distinguish between healthy food and junk food. For parents, the health of their families should be a top priority and as you say, for the government the health of their people should take priority over profits made by big companies. This is an issue that is of concern especially to me because I plan to have a career in the field of advertising and getting myself involved in the issues of this market before starting my career has given me a bigger picture of the ethics of advertising and I look forward to returning to your blog in hopes of reading more on this topic.