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Irish children are being deliberately targeted on Facebook by "junk food companies"

The Irish Heart Foundation will launch its Who’s Feeding The Kids Online study into the marketing habits of top global brands later on this morning.

Image: Shutterstock/kwanchai.c

FOOD AND DRINK companies are specifically targeting young teenagers on social media in order to market unhealthy products that have a link with childhood obesity, a new report has found.

The Irish Heart Foundation will launch its Who’s Feeding The Kids Online study into the marketing habits of top global brands later on this morning.

The report highlights sophisticated techniques used to target children online and build brand awareness through effective social media marketing.

It is due to be submitted to Communications minister Denis Naughten later this week and its findings are already being examined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The report is led by child psychologist and researcher Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden and outlines the techniques used by companies in targeting teenagers.

Companies use hi-tech analytics to target children directly and can monitor those who are more reactive to food and drink marketing and target them directly, the report states.

Tatlow-Golden said that companies are able to use the “3 Es” to maximise the effectiveness of their ads – engagement, emotional and entertainment-based tactics.

“We know that marketing of products high in fat, sugar or salt plays a causal role in obesity,” said Tatlow-Golden.

“In that light the Government has no option but to regulate digital marketing of junk food.

The alternative is to allow children’s long-term health to be put at severe and continuing risk.

Facebook campaigns

Campaigns by big food and drink brands like Coca Cola, Tayto, McDonald’s and Supermac’s (for example) on Facebook and other social media networks encourage people to “like” and “share” advertising material among their friends.

The report states:

Whereas anyone can inspect ads that are shown on TV, the targeted nature of digital marketing means that parents and policymakers are unaware of who is feeding our kids online.

A survey as part of the study found that three quarters of parents were unhappy with the marketing of unhealthy products to their children.

The study also notes that while television and radio broadcast advertisements were easy to notice and monitor, targeted social media ads were by their nature much more difficult to track.

Head of advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation, Chris Macey, said that social media platforms could “take action immediately” to stop the marketing of unhealthy food to children if they wished.

“The very nature of targeted online marketing means that social media companies could instantly change their advert settings to stop this advertising to under-18s,” he said.

The report recommends that broadcasting regulations designed to protect children should be extended to all media and that any loopholes in existing regulations should be closed immediately.

The report will be launched at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin later this morning.

Read: ‘Ireland in the throes of an obesity epidemic’ as schools provide junk food to teenagers

Read: ‘He was fit as a fiddle’ – At 27, Richie Doyle dropped dead on a football pitch

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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