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Food watchdog says children must be more savvy to resist barrage of junk-food marketing

30th January 2006

The Food Commission has called on teachers and parents to help children fight back against the onslaught of junk-food marketing. The call follows publication of a new research report from Which? (formerly the Consumers’ Association) highlighting 40 ways in which children are targeted by marketing for unhealthy foods, using increasingly sophisticated techniques, and which parents and teachers are unlikely to be aware of.

“We’ve got to help young people and their families become much more savvy about the ways food companies infiltrate unhealthy food messages into the lives of children and teenagers,” said Kath Dalmeny of the Food Commission.[i]

“Marketers are using techniques that fly under the radar of parental control, using new technologies to build direct relationships with children. Alongside traditional advertising techniques, many companies are increasingly using the internet, product placement in computer games, interactive online gaming, and mobile phones to push fatty, salty and sugary foods on children too young to understand the serious long-term consequences of an unhealthy diet.”

The research, undertaken by the Food Commission[ii] for Which?[iii], criticises techniques used by food and soft-drinks companies to target children and teenagers.

Companies highlighted in the report include Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Barr’s, Kellogg’s, Walkers, KP, Penguin (McVitie’s), Burtons, United Biscuits, Dairylea, Cadbury, Nestlé, Kinder, Haribo, Hershey, and Mars (Masterfoods).

The Food Commission has urged the government to introduce statutory regulation to ban junk-food marketing to children.[iv] However, until a ban is agreed, children remain unprotected from a barrage of unhealthy food messages.

Responding to growing concerns expressed by parents and teachers, the Food Commission Research Charity has today launched a new children’s food website designed to inform young teenagers about processed foods and the marketing techniques used to promote them.

The website, called Chew On This, is designed to empower young people aged 11 to 14 years old (Key Stage 3) with knowledge about the food they eat and the way that children and teenagers are relentlessly targeted with marketing messages for unhealthy foods and drinks.

The Chew On This website http://www.chewonthis.org.uk/ [v] takes a no-nonsense approach to inform young people of the health effects of eating high-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods; the lack of useful information on food labels; and the many modern processing techniques that diminish the nutritional value of food.

It also examines the enormous advertising budgets available to junk-food manufacturers, and encourages young people to question why so many film-stars, cartoon characters, sports stars and pop singers help to promote unhealthy products to children and teenagers.

Chew On This is also laced with humour and engaging animations. For example:

To find out which food company has persuaded 3 million children to wear its logo when playing football, see: www.chewonthis.org.uk/marketing/footie_home.htm#footie-logo

To find out about companies integrating marketing messages into childrens’ books, see: www.chewonthis.org.uk/marketing/schools_home.htm#maths-choc

To find out how much extra fat, sugar and salt you get with a typical ‘meal deal’, see: www.chewonthis.org.uk/fat_salt_sugar/fat_facts.htm#mealdeals

To find out how thousands of additives added to our food to make them seem more attractive, see: www.chewonthis.org.uk/factory_food/additives_home.htm

For teachers, there is lot of additional information, plus downloadable worksheets (available free of charge) and links to useful sources of independent food information on the internet.

Contact: Ian Tokelove and Kath Dalmeny at the Food Commission on 020 7837 2250; email: press@foodcomm.org.uk

Notes to editors

[i] Kath Dalmeny is research officer for the Food Commission, and is one of the team of researchers who investigated the latest marketing techniques used to promote unhealthy foods to young people, on behalf of Which?. The summary report, published by Which?, is called Child Catchers. It features the top 12 ‘dirty tricks’ used to target children, and was launched on 30 January 2006. The background research report from the Food Commission identifies 40 marketing techniques used to promote unhealthy food to children. Both reports are available on the Which? website: www.which.net/campaigns/food/kidsfood/index.html

[ii] The Food Commission, an independent food watchdog campaigning for safer, healthier food for everybody. It takes no funding from the food industry or government, and is supported by public donations and subscriptions to its campaign newsletter, The Food Magazine.

[iii] Which? campaigns actively for all consumers. With around 700,000 members in the UK, it is the largest consumer organisation in Europe. It is entirely independent of government and industry, and is funded through sales of its consumer magazines, online products and books.

[iv] The Food Commission is a supporter of the campaign for a Children’s Food Bill. 160 national organisations support the bill, which would ban the marketing of unhealthy food to children, and put a statutory obligation on government to provide healthy school meals, stop junk food vending in schools, promote fruit and vegetables, and teach cooking and healthy food skills to schoolchildren.

[v] The Chew On This website  was funded by a charitable grant, and was launched on January 30th 2006 by the Food Commission Research Charity. It covers a broad range of food and health issues, and makes links to other independent organisations that offer good advice on diet, nutrition, health and environment. The Food Commission would welcome support in promoting the website, and feedback from teachers and parents on how the website could be developed in future. Email: feedback@chewonthis.org.uk

For enquiries relating to this press release, the Chew On This website, Food Magazine news stories or the work of the Food Commission, contact: Ian Tokelove and Kath Dalmeny on 020 7837 2250; email: press@foodcomm.org.uk