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Children encouraged to advertise food to themselves

27th April 2005

Food manufacturers have responded to growing criticism of TV advertising by shifting into new marketing methods designed to encourage children to advertise food to themselves, according to a report from the Food Magazine, published today. The report criticises the promotion of sugary and salty breakfast cereals, sweets, chocolate and fast food through story books, educational materials, interactive websites, toys and games.

Examples include a branded Cheerios book that encourages toddlers to place cereal pieces into specially-cut holes on the page. Cheerios cereal, manufactured by Nestlé, is a high sugar, high salt product (1) (2), and is as salty as ready salted crisps. The confectionery manufacturer Mars uses a similar technique to promote M&M sweets, in basic arithmetic books for young children.

A new promotion for Nestlé Milkybar encourages parents to collect tokens for a 'personalised story book', in which a child's name can be printed into a book involving the Milkybar Kid and his friends. Milkybar products are described as 'a delicious source of milky goodness', but the confectionery is high in sugar and high in saturated fat. (1) (2)

"When children read books or play games they are at their most receptive to learning and suggestion. It's an advertiser's dream situation," said Kath Dalmeny, author of the Food Magazine report. "By linking food brands to games and books, companies get children to have fun, but the children are also advertising fatty, salty and sugary products to themselves. The companies hope children will build up positive - even lifelong - associations with the food brands."

Further examples highlighted in the report include the Frosties Tigercathlon website,(3) where children can earn points by taking part in races in a virtual stadium, but only if their cartoon characters pick up packets of Frosties to give them enough 'power'. Kellogg's, the manufacturer of Frosties, was recently criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for implying that Frosties cereal was a healthy product when it is high in sugar (40% sugar). (1) (2) (4)

McDonald's was also criticised in the Food Magazine report for licensing fast food toys such as McDonald's play cash registers, McFlurry makers, toy burgers and fries and plastic chicken nuggets. (5)

In November 2004 , the Department of Health said that government hoped food advertisers would take a more responsible attitude to food promotion to children,(6) with a threat that food advertising to children may be regulated if advertisers have not shaped up by 2007. However, the Food Commission (publisher of the Food Magazine) remains concerned that companies may fail to address the many ways in which food marketing encourages children to develop a preference for fatty, salty and sugary foods.

There is, as yet, no indication from government how they propose to monitor the promotional activities of food companies, nor what the government would consider to be 'responsible' marketing to children.

More information

Contact: Kath Dalmeny, telephone: 020 7837 2250; email:


1. The government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued the following guidelines for how to judge whether a food product contains 'a lot' or 'a little' fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar.

For 100g of food:
A lot:
A little:
Total fat
Saturated fat
Note: To calculate the amount of salt in a product, multiply the sodium figure by 2.5. A product containing 0.5g of sodium per 100g, for instance, contains 1.25g of salt per 100g (0.5g x 2.5 = 1.25g)


For the FSA's fat guidelines, see:
For the FSA's sugar guidelines, see:
For the FSA's salt guidelines, see:


For 100g of product, from information declared on the label.
Total fat
..of which, saturated fat
Sodium (and salt equivalent)
Cheerios breakfast cereal (regular variety)
0.6g sodium (1.5g salt)
Frosties breakfast cereal (regular variety)
0.6g sodium (1.5g salt)
Milkybar chocolate (Milkybar bars)
0.1g sodium (0.25g salt)
M&Ms (regular milk chocolate variety)
0.06g sodium (0.15g salt)
Walkers Snack Foods
Walkers ready-salted crisps (regular variety)
0.6g sodium (1.5g salt)
The figures shown in bold are those that are judged to be 'a lot', according to official Food Standards Agency guidelines - see Note 1, above.


3. For the Tigercathlon website, see:

4. For the Advertising Standards Authority ruling on Frosties cereal cinema advertising, see:

5. McDonald's branded food toys are sold in Toys R Us and Argos; the McFlurry Maker is also available in Woolworths.

6. Department of Health, public health White Paper 'Choosing Health?' (November 2004): "If, by early 2007, they [the food and advertising industries] have failed to produce change in the nature and balance of food promotion, we will take action through existing powers or new legislation to implement a clearly defined framework for regulating the promotion of food to children."

The Food Commission supports the campaign for legislation to protect children from the marketing of unhealthy food. The campaign for the Children's Food Bill has the backing of 132 national organisations (including the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the British Dental Association and the Food Commission) and 248 current MPs. For details, see:

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