Inaction on junk food marketing ‘deeply disappointing’

By June Shannon Policy News   |   11th Feb 2019

12 months since its introduction, voluntary code to protect children from junk food marketing remains unenforced

The State has failed to protect children from online junk food marketing which is fueling childhood obesity, the Irish Heart Foundation has said.

This week marks the first anniversary of the introduction of the Department of Health’s voluntary code of practice to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing. However, one year on it remains entirely unenforced.

On 14 February 2018, Minister of State at the Department of Health, Catherine Byrne launched the ‘Non-Broadcast Media Advertising and Marketing of Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages, including Sponsorship and Retail Product Placement: Voluntary Codes of Practice,’ however, since then, nothing has been done to protect children, according to the Irish Heart Foundation.

“We know that junk food marketing is fueling obesity and that obesity is damaging children’s health.

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy , Irish Heart Foundation

Head of Advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation, Mr Chris Macey, said, the inaction in tackling the daily bombardment of children by unhealthy food and drink marketers on digital media represented a dereliction of duty that children would pay for heavily through lives dominated by chronic disease, long-term ill health and ultimately premature death.

“The Department of Health is well aware that junk marketing is a key driver of our obesity crisis and State funded research estimates that it will cause the premature deaths of 85,000 of this generation of children on the island. Yet nothing has been done to safeguard children from marketers since Minister of State Catherine Byrne launched the non-broadcast media code on Valentine’s Day last year – and that vacuum stretches back almost three and a half years to when work on the code began.”

Because of the absence of any other proper mechanism, parents from the Irish Heart Foundation’s Stop Targeting Kids campaign delivered a file today detailing complaints against specific junk food and beverage ads for Minister Byrne’s attention to the Department of Health.

Mr Macey said the code represented weak regulation that was doomed to failure because junk food companies were not obliged to sign up and even if they did, faced no penalties for non-compliance. But failing to implement it was further delaying proper statutory regulation with monetary penalties that will stop junk marketers targeting kids and play a huge role in tackling our child obesity crisis.

“We know that junk food marketing is fueling obesity and that obesity is damaging children’s health. So, it’s deeply disappointing that the Department hasn’t shown more urgency around this threat to our children’s health. Why on earth would they launch a code of conduct without being ready to implement it, except perhaps as a publicity stunt?”

"There is a partial ban on broadcast advertising, but no urgency at all to tackle the free for all on digital media,"

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy , Irish Heart Foundation

He added that, since the launch of the code, there was much greater clarity around the Cambridge Analytica style profiling and microtargeting tactics being used by social media platforms and junk food companies to manipulate children’s food choices by relentless advertising directed at them.

“There is a partial ban on broadcast advertising, but no urgency at all to tackle the free for all on digital media where advertising is more personalised, effective and therefore potentially more damaging. This is largely being carried out behind parents’ backs on children’s smartphones, what marketers call the ‘brand in the hand’, giving them access to children all day long.”

“The Irish Heart Foundation believes that there is no justification for any kind for junk marketers to have access to children given that their aim is to encourage them to over consume and thereby to compromise their health. Instead of working with vested interests to reduce children’s exposure to junk food marketing through a code developed with the involvement of the processed food industry, the Department of Health and Government as a whole should be working to eliminate this threat to our children’s wellbeing.”

Mr Macey called on the Department to support the World Health Organisation position of tough mandatory regulation to protect children with penalties of up to four per cent of global turnover for companies in breach – similar to fines for breaking data protection laws.

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childhood obesity junk food marketing Obesity online marketing parents jury stop targeting kids sugar sweetened drinks voluntary code

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