Facebook ‘being used to push junk food to kids’

The Government is being urged to clamp down on digital marketing of junk food as a new report reveals food and beverage firms are using Facebook to market unhealthy products to children.

The report by the Irish Heart Foundation, ‘Who’s Feeding the Kids Online’, reveals that while many of the big brands are not now using websites to promote products directly to children, the picture changed dramatically on Facebook, where all the food and beverage brand pages with the greatest reach among users aged 13 to 14 are for brands that feature unhealthy products.

These brands actively seek to recruit Facebook users to spread their marketing — seeking likes, tags, comments, and photos and providing many links and hashtags.

Child psychologist and researcher Mimi Tatlow-Golden explained that while there are some restrictions on TV advertising to children, junk food companies were “magnifying the known effects of broadcast advertising, by using the ‘3 Es’— powerful engagement-, emotional- and entertainment-based tactics — in digital media”.

“They also use hi-tech analytics to target children directly,” Dr Tatlow-Golden said.

A separate online survey of parents of 13 to 14 year-olds found 75% were strongly against digital marketing of unhealthy products to their children.

The report’s findings will this week be submitted to Communications Minister Denis Naughten. It recommends existing regulations protecting children from unhealthy advertising should be extended to all media.


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