London: Major firms are “shamelessly” enticing children to eat unhealthy food by promoting their products online using childish language, games and free gifts.
According to the British Heart Foundation, websites by Cadbury’s and Nestle are examples of “cynical marketing” to get around bans on television adverts.
However, an Advertising Association spokesman insisted that online promotion to children was strictly controlled.
The vast majority of UK children now use Internet at home, often in preference to television viewing.
The Advertising Standards Authority’s broadcasting code prohibits adverts for unhealthy food within children’s television programmes, or any programme that appeals to under-16s.
However, this code does not extend to material on websites aimed at children, although a separate regulation forbids any advert, which might encourage “poor nutritional habits” or an “unhealthy lifestyle” in children.
Despite this, the BHF, alongside the Children’s Food Campaign, says that this different approach gives firms more scope to promote unhealthy foods.
With a significant proportion of children overweight or obese, even at primary school age, they want the blanket ban on marketing extended to cover the web.
The site for Cadbury’s Buttons, which contain 6.2g of saturated fat per packet, was called “Buttons Furry Tales”, and also involved animated characters, games and puzzles, although an “adult” year of birth had to be provided to gain entry.
“Junk food manufacturers are preying on children and targeting them with fun and games they know will hold their attention,” the Daily Mail quoted Mubeen Bhutta, from the BHF as saying.
“Regulation protects our children from these cynical marketing tactics while they’re watching their favourite television programmes but there is no protection when they are online,” she said.