The charity says the marketing of “junk” food to children through online content is “widespread” adding that “companies [are] using a panoply of techniques to promote brands and products – techniques which many children will find difficult to identify as advertising”.
The report, which labels the brands “Wolves in sheep’s clothing”, calls on government to introduce “consistent advertising regulations” across all forms of media to close “loopholes” that allow brands to promote “unhealthy” products to children online.
The Advertising Association has criticised the report for “ignoring or manipulating” the facts around targeting children with advertising and clouding the debate with “hyperbole”.
Advertising codes restrict the promotion of food and drink on non-broadcast channels, for example ads that “encourage poor nutritional habits”.
Ian Barber, communications director, says that marketing is a “bit-part player” in the debate around child obesity and healthy eating.
He says: “Advertisers agree that it is right to be responsible but that doesn’t mean a blanket ban on advertising. There should be some recognition that most brands are going further than regulations require.”
A spokesman for Kraft, which is criticised by the BHF over a site for its Cadbury’s Buttons brand, says: “As the report points out, our Buttons site has an 18 year age limit to ensure it’s targeted at parents. However, we recognised that some of the content did not meet the very rigorous Kraft Foods marketing policy and always intended to close this site at the end of this year anyway. That remains our plan”
A statement from Kerry Foods, which owns Cheestrings, says: “We are firm believers in responsible marketing and we ensure that everything we do is within the regulations set by the various governing bodies,” adding that it has reduced the salt content of Cheestrings and exceeds the FSA’s targets.