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.