Junk food adverts are causing health problems in children

Helen O’Callaghan on moves to regulate digital marketing.

IrishHeart wants to sign up 30,000 supporters for a petition to regulate digital marketing to children.

The Stop Targeting Kids campaign is enlisting public support to force Government action to restrict relentless junk food marketing directed at children, particularly on social media – digital marketing remains unregulated despite clear evidence it powerfully influences children’s food choices.

The campaign is based on use of fake sweet, crisps and cola brands to expose the tactics used by junk food/drinks companies to influence children and the inappropriate proximity the brands have to young people, mostly without parental knowledge.

Last summer, Irish Heart’s Who’s Feeding the Kids? online report exposed how junk food companies target children in a more individualised way online than they ever could through TV advertising. 

Using analytics, multinational companies can identify those most reactive to food/drink marketing and extract vast personal data about individual children – who they are, where they live, where they go, what they do, what they like and what their friends tag them with.

Arising out of this research, Irish Heart head of advocacy Chris Macey says two factors particularly annoyed parents once they found out about them: junk food brands get children acting as marketers for them by tagging their friends into ads and use of celebrities to endorse unhealthy food and drink.

The purpose of Stop Targeting Kids is to show parents how multinational junk brands can follow children everywhere – in school, home, even in their bedrooms through smart phones.

With some young people showing early signs of heart disease – usually not seen until middle age – Macey points to conclusive proof of a causal link between junk food marketing to children and childhood obesity. 

To expose marketing tactics used on children online, Irish Heart has created fake junk brands Chew Chew, O’Spud and Colarade. 

These are happy, colourful, fun-loving characters – a common technique among real junk brands. 

But behind the façade, the campaign illustrates the cold, humourless and more sinister brand personality, quite in tune with ubiquitous marketing by junk food/drink brands of unhealthy products to children.

Visit www.irishheart.ie/stk/petition



  •   One in four schoolchildren is overweight or obese in Ireland.
  • Eight percent of eight to 10-year-olds in Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study had high blood pressure.
  •   Seven to 16-year-olds spend about three hours daily online with only weak voluntary self-regulation by industry.
  •   Twenty six percent of children eat sweets and 12% consume soft drinks daily. Over a third of 15- to 24-year-olds have sugar-sweetened drinks most days/daily


These green pancakes are topped with avocado, tomato and cottage cheese.How to make Jamie Oliver’s super spinach pancakes

Who else can pull off a look described as a ‘hip-hop Michelin woman’?As her new EP drops, this is why there will never be a style icon quite like Missy Elliott

The classic white-tipped look is once again in favour, and celebs are loving it.The French manicure is back – 5 modern ways to try the trend

The A-Listers hiding in plain sight: As Rihanna is spotted at the cricket, who are the celebs who have been living under our noses in Ireland? Ed Power reports.Celebs in plain sight: The A-Listers living under our noses in Ireland

More From The Irish Examiner