A former advertising executive says junk food advertising has become a “monster”.
Dan Parker, the founder of Living Loud UK, which encourages people to live healthier lives, is concerned that advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks online had become more insidious.
“Advertisements have become so ingrained in online content now that children and adults are not even aware that they are being advertised to,” he said.
Mr Parker, who once worked with big food corporations before developing obesity-related type 2 diabetes, was speaking at the launch of the Irish Heart Foundation’s (IHF) Stop Targeting Kids campaign.
The foundation found that seven out of 10 adults here favour an outright ban on advertising unhealthy foods and drinks to children.
Almost eight out of 10 adults believe advertising is a big contributor to childhood obesity, an issue that almost nine out of ten rate as a big concern.
Mr Parker said junk food marketers went to extraordinary lengths to influence children’s food choices.
“Junk food advertising has become a monster, manipulating young people’s emotions,” he said.
An explosion of digital marketing and a ruthless exploitation of loopholes in broadcast regulations by junk food brands meant that children were being bombarded daily by impossible-to-resist advertisements.
“But there should be no circumstances where junk food marketing directed at children is acceptable,” said Mr Parker.
A petition at irishheart.ie/stoptargetingkids calls on the Government to regulate digital marketing aimed at Irish children and close “gaping loopholes” in broadcasting restrictions.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland banned junk food advertising in 2013 during children’s programming up to 6pm when children make up 50% of the audience.
The regulations are not working, according to IHF, with children aged between three and five still seeing more than 1,000 junk food advertisements every year on Irish television.
IHF has urged a watershed ban up to 9pm because many children watch television between 6pm and 9pm even if they do not make up 50% of the audience.