/ Food & Drink, Parenting

Should we do more to stop junk food marketing to children?

Advertising sweets to children

Are food companies doing enough to market their goods responsibly? Are there particular food products that you feel are marketed to appeal to children or techniques that reel younger punters in?

Last week, some of the world’s biggest food and drink companies, including McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, signed up to a range of voluntary restrictions on marketing to children under 12.

Pressure from Which? and other groups in previous years has helped to tighten up the way that foods are marketed. There are TV advertising restrictions in place so that foods high in fat, sugar and salt cannot be advertised during programmes of particular appeal to children.

And when the rules were changed to allow product placement in TV programmes for the first time, we successfully called for unhealthy foods and children’s programming to be excluded. But we’re intrigued to hear your views on this a few years on…

Childhood treats

I have fond memories of saving up my pocket money as a child to visit our corner shop on ‘treat’ day. My tipple would be a Milky Way bar, Buttons or the classic Boost bar. Perhaps one of my motivations to purchase these items was to be able to shout ‘The Milky Bars are on me’ or to win the Milky Way race:

We didn’t have sweet treats in our house, so the walk to the shop was focused and met with a fanfare of cheers when the chocolate was insight.

In my local corner shop today, those nostalgic foods still exist but I’m presented with a fridge-full (yes, a fridge-full) of energy drinks. Energy drinks are an unfamiliar phenomenon to me, but I now understand they can be an accessory for some school children where I live. The brightly coloured tins, accompanied by alcopop-esque TV advertising seem to have a magnetic appeal to young people.

There are of course plenty of other products out there that create this allure to be consumed. And I’m keen to know what examples you have. Are there particular food products you’ve seen that are marketed to appeal to children? Or ads that you feel are poorly timed to appeal to a younger market?

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 October 2014

If even intelligent and forewarned adults can fall prey to marketing often or from time to time, we can’t expect children not to be victims all or most of the time. On that principle alone, marketing junk food (and other products) to children should be banned.

I’m not sure about restricting the marketing of appealing food products since so many of them are wanted by teenagers and adults too. When I were a lad [around MCMLV], the limited amount of money in my pocket was the effective constraint. Nowadays, children seem to have so much more disposable [including folding money!] and extremely indulgent grandparents who shower them with goodies that only serve to build up the appetite for more. Good on the Mac and Coke boys for signing their pledge but this might be just window-dressing and PR posturing.

John I think I’m with you on this one. The problem seems to me to be a lack of parental control more than anything else. Marketing like it or not is a way of life. If it’s not sweets and other not so healthy overindulgent things when you’re young it’s arguably unnecessary things when you’re adult including some really bad ideas like payday lenders. Let kids learn by limiting how much they spend by limiting the money they have to spend. A good learning curve for when they get older, a good way to build up marketing resistance. Almost like a flu jab to make getting the flu less likely.

It’s not practical wrap to kids in cotton wool by banning everything someone thinks is bad for them, and completely wrong to take choice away from adults even if that means some choices people make will be bad choices. It’s a control thing and I for one would very much resist being controlled.

Sophie Gilbert says:
7 October 2014

Maybe we don’t control the ads then, but if eg on telly, advertise for Weight Watchers before and Corsodyl after?

I must say that I am worried about kids who are fed too much junk food (or given too much pocket money with which to buy it), out of misguided love or otherwise. Isn’t it a recognised fact that kids fed too much junk food will suffer ill health right away or in later life, or both? The more they are given the more they want (just like the rest of us, no doubt), and the ads only add fuel to the fire. What then do we do to protect the kids? There are probably several answers (education e tutti quanti) and maybe banning junk food ads isn’t one of them, but it would be a shame to do nothing.

As a senior citizen brought up on good wholesome fayre ( with a bit of bread and dripping on the side) it was only in my 30’s that my love of a pint really started to pile on the pounds so in effect that was self inflicted. Since then the “American” fast food culture has ballooned, as have ready meals, thereby making it easy to eat fatty foods and whilst parental guidance is needed to try to keep children off the junk food I think we’re missing the point. My reasoning is that when,thanks to easy credit, the mother went out to work, little time was left to prepare proper healthy food for the family, it was all too easy to do everything with chips. This added to the irresponsible advertising had led to the junk food culture. Just imagine what would happen if all the bad things for children were hidden from view,like tobacco products, one wonders how quickly they would forget them!

The Milky Way advert that Charlotte mentions in her introduction has been updated to remove the claim that Milky Way does not ruin your appetite. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8LARnyyJKI
Presumably it’s OK to finish the multi-pack before lunch then.

I’m convinced that part of the problem is that the manufacturers and retailers have encouraged us to buy larger quantities. For example, 2 litre bottles of Cola instead of a small bottle or can, and larger bars or multipacks, all marketed with the message that it will save us money.

An increasing number of children will have parents or relatives that are suffering from complications of obesity, but I am not aware that this affects what they eat themselves.

I understand the problem but I don’t see any easy solution in a country where it has become so easy to buy sweets and junk food.

The Committee of Advertising Practice will soon launch a public consultation to consider the banning of junk food advertising on children’s content streamed online. Ads for foods that are considered unhealthy are already banned from children’s television, but this ban does not extend to online content.

Full BBC article is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35803532

Maybe the government could issue public information ads pointing out the health consequences of junk food. it is perhaps even more important to target irresponsible or ignorant parents of the problems caused by junk food.

One thing that people tend to forget is that over the last one hundred years the advertising industry has been refining its messaging technique and also assumed a “right” to be involved in society.

Is advertising by audio/visual means too clever at manipulating the low level desires of people to be a healthy aspect of society? Is it just possible that adverts in print require a thinking brain and that by abdicating to commercial TV paid for by constant adverts we have entered into a downward spiral where people are manipulated by the actual adverts and also the implied “normal” lifestyle of TV land.

Not to mention the political soundbite and the staged “events”. Would Boris be where he is if people just read his prose?

I am not expecting Which? to actually do anything about it- particularly given its heavy expenditure on commercial TV. At least though what is on offer is not fattening.

As to food perhaps by far the best thing IS to ban food and drink adverts from the airways. Over-eating /obesity and diabetes are all on the increase AND in a free National Health Service perhaps we are entitled to root out any adverts that encourages excessive intake of processed products from our screens and monitors.

Just consider how impoverished really would be your life without anything but printed adverts for processed foods and drinks?