1,000 junk food TV ads per year targeting children

Young children who are particularly susceptible to advertising are subjected to more than 1,000 television ads per year promoting unhealthy food, experts have warned.

The ‘Candy-Coated Marketing’ seminar took place at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin yesterday examining the role of food marketing to children and also heard that television remains the biggest influence on them in terms of ads.

The event was hosted by Safefood as part of its All Island Obesity Action Forum and was addressed by Dr Joao Breda, of the World Health Organisation.

She said: “There are positive things happening in Ireland. These include establishing an obesity surveillance initiative, beginning to restrict TV advertising to children of foods [which are] high in fat, salt and sugar, and the all-island obesity action forum.”

She added that younger children are becoming obese across Europe and that we need to focus on physical activity as well as diet to prevent obesity- related diseases

Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden, UCD lecturer and researcher, who specialises in children’s understanding of advertising, said parents’ eating habits, as well as television viewing, are responsible for children’s awareness of unhealthy food brands.

“Advertisers are complying with the broadcasting regulations, but young children aged 3 to 5 still see upwards of 1,000 TV ads for unhealthy foods over the course of a year,” she said.

Dr Cliodhna Foley- Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood said: “Marketing techniques work and have an influence on our eating habits, particularly among children.”

She raised concerns about the amount of ‘treat food’ on display saying it was unfair on children, 20% of whom are overweight or obese. She added that 20% of their daily calories are now coming from nutritionally empty ‘treat foods’.

She said: “The approaches needed to tackle this include regulation, legislation and the development of a marketing-savvy society.”

Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign in the UK, warned of unhealthy food and drink brands being promoted at sporting events, like the London Olympics in 2012. He said this sends mixed messages to children, who may associate these ‘treat foods’, which most athletes would rarely eat, with sporting activity.

Media commentator and author Sheena Horgan spoke of the need for improved media literacy skills to educate children.

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