The newly-published Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill fails to protect children’s health by not including explicit restrictions on junk food marketing, the Irish Heart Foundation has said.
According to the charity, the new Bill, published on Friday (14th January 2022) fails to curb the digital marketing of unhealthy food to children, which studies have shown is fuelling the obesity crisis.
Commenting Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media has failed to appreciate the key role junk food marketing plays in eroding children’s health.”
“The digital marketing strategies used to promote junk food are increasingly integrated, immersive and personalised.”
In early November, the Irish Heart Foundation welcomed a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media for a ban on advertising to children online, including ads for alcohol, high fat/salt/sugar foods and gambling.
The new Bill fails to curb the digital marketing of unhealthy food to children
“Studies have shown that online junk food marketing to children is fuelling the obesity crisis and it is unfortunate that the Department has not given due regard to public health evidence, or the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee, with an explicit reference to banning these practices,” Ms Reilly said.
“TDs and Senators from all parties have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the rising levels of childhood overweight and obesity that persist.
“With the Online Safety and Media Regulations Bill, the Oireachtas has a once in a decade opportunity to protect children’s health and to be part of momentum across Europe to tackle marketing to children.
“Up to now, the interests of the food and advertising industries have been put above the health of children in Ireland, and with the failure of the Department to include an explicit ban on junk food marketing online, this will continue.
“A junk food ad ban in the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill would have been a seismic shift to put public health above private profits,” she said.
“With the Online Safety and Media Regulations Bill, the Oireachtas has a once in a decade opportunity to protect children’s health,"
According to Ms Reilly, “Neither sections relating to media service codes nor online safety codes make explicit reference to bans on junk food advertising to children. Part 5, section 9, notes media codes will ensure that commercial communications “protect the interests of children having particular regard to the general public health interests of children.”
“Meanwhile Part 11, Section 44 states that online safety codes will ensure commercial communications on their services are “appropriate to protect the interests of users of their services, and in particular the interests of children”. These provisions do not go far enough. They don’t adequately reflect the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee. These alone will not suffice. Children must be explicitly protected from these forms of advertising and they must be named in the Bill.”
“There have been two Oireachtas reports in the last three years calling for statutory regulation in this area, and there is a clear public demand for this advertising and marketing to stop – legislators must now ensure this recommendation is in the Bill as it progresses through the Oireachtas this year. We will be seeking amendments in this area and hope that the Committee members who made the recommendation, as well as the wider Oireachtas, support them,” she concluded.
In her presentation to the committee last June, Ms Reilly warned that 85,000 children across the island of Ireland will die prematurely because of childhood obesity.
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