Digital marketing of junk food to young teenagers needs to be regulated now

Today I called for urgent regulation of the digital marketing of junk food to young teenagers.

The new report by the Irish Heart Foundation is very worrying. It has found that junk food companies are purposely targeting young Irish teenagers, on social media sites such as Facebook, and encouraging them to buy and consume unhealthy products, which have a link to childhood obesity.

I have long highlighted the dangers of the growing childhood obesity problem in Ireland. The World Health Organisation has predicted Ireland is on course to be the fattest country in Europe by 2030 and currently 1 in 4 children are overweight or obese.

This new report reveals that companies use sophisticated techniques to target children online. These methods include Facebook’s likes, tags, comments, photos, links and hashtags, which they use to promote their products.

These online ads have an emphasis on fun and humour, with links to sports events and festivals. The ads even regularly feature sports stars and celebrities, who are popular with children. This is not permitted under broadcasting codes for TV and radio, so why should it be allowed online?

If these companies are using hi-tech analytics to target children directly and monitor those who are more reactive to food and drink marketing, then there is no reason why we can’t turn these hi-tech analytics on their head, and use them to introduce regulation, to ensure children and young people are not targeted by these companies

Most of us are aware of the ads that are shown on TV, but the specific nature of digital marketing means that parents are often unaware of companies targeting their children online.

I have previously highlighted the issue of alcohol companies targeting young people on social media and called for regulation of this genre of digital marketing. I am now also calling for this to be extended to food companies as a matter of urgency. We must not risk the long-term health of our young people.

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