Ban online junk food marketing to kids – new report

By June Shannon Policy News   |   2nd Nov 2021

Recommendation to ban online junk food marketing to children a ‘major step forward’

The Irish Heart Foundation has described the recommendation that online junk food marketing to children should be banned as part of a new Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill, as a “major step forward”.

Research has shown that junk food marketing to children is linked to high rates of childhood obesity.

In a report published earlier today, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media has recommended that the bill includes “a ban on advertising to children online, including, at the very minimum, advertisements of junk food, alcohol, high fat/salt/sugar (HFSS) foods, and gambling.”

The Joint Committee also recommended that the Bill “should also include a moratorium on advertising infant formula products online and the prohibition of any form of profiling or tracking children’s data.”

“A junk food ban in Online Safety Bill would be a seismic shift to put public health above private profits,"

Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager , The Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “up to now, the interests of the multinational processed food industry has been put above the health of children in Ireland, but this report represents cross-party support to put children’s health first.”

“A junk food ban in Online Safety Bill would be a seismic shift to put public health above private profits. In particular, we welcome the recommendation that marketing of this kind will be regulated on a statutory basis because it is a recognition that voluntary codes simply do not work.

“The explicit recognition by the committee that self-regulation should not be part of the advertising regulatory framework is welcome. The State is responsible for children’s health and it alone should be responsible for the mechanisms to do so.

“This is the second Oireachtas report in three years to call for statutory regulation in this area. There is a clear public demand for this advertising and marketing to stop – and legislators must now ensure this recommendation is carried through in the Bill,” Ms Reilly added.

"There is a clear public demand for this advertising and marketing to stop ”

Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation

In her presentation to the Committee on behalf of the Irish Heart Foundation last June, Ms Reilly warned that 85,000 children across the island would die prematurely because of childhood obesity.

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Stop Targeting Kids campaign has been to the fore in highlighting the link between online junk food marketing and children’s health.

It estimates that by 2030, more than 17 per cent of five to nine-year-olds will be living with obesity, while in 1990, only 2 per cent of all children were living with obesity.

Ms Reilly said that digital marketing and the mechanisms that fuel it are “a real and significant threat to children”.

“As far back as 2003, with the publication of the seminal Hastings Review of numerous research papers into the effects of this kind of advertising, we have known there has been a link between food marketing, and children’s food preferences and consumption.

“It is safe to assume this advertising works or the industry wouldn’t continue to invest so much money in it. Digital media is now ground zero for these industries to target children. A lot of online advertising goes under the radar of parents, policymakers, and teachers because of the sophisticated techniques that these companies use in terms of advertising technology,” she said.

“Digital media is now ground zero for these industries to target children."

Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation

“There is a whole industry designed to set up algorithms to track and profile children to enable them to create better advertisements.

“We cannot imagine the scale of the advertisements that children are seeing because they are personalised to them. That is why we also welcome further recommendations to ban profiling and tracking of children’s online data,” Ms Reilly added.

A ban on online advertising of junk food is one of 12 recommendations contained in the Irish Heart Foundation’s Childhood Obesity Manifesto which was published in 2019.

The report by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport, and Media contained a total of 33 recommendations. You can read the full report here.

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childhood obesity junk food junk food marketing online advertising stop targeting kids

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