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Food makers woo children

Food manufacturers are merging advertising and entertainment to market their products to children, a campaign group warns.

Food manufacturers are merging advertising and entertainment to market their products to children, a campaign group warns.

The Food Commission said the industry is using interactive websites, story books, toys and games to promote fatty, salty and sugary foods.

The group criticised the technique, arguing children would be unaware it was a marketing ploy, but the industry said it was committed to addressing concerns over ad methods.

The Public Health White Paper, published last autumn, said food advertisers needed to take a more responsible attitude to food promotion to children by 2007 or face regulation. Kath Dalmeny, author of the study published in the commission's Food Magazine, said: "When children read books or play games they are at their most receptive to learning and suggestion.

"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 report comes as the European Heart Network published a pan-European study warning that governments must not just concentrate on targeting television advertising as manufacturers were using other media, such as the internet and mobile phones, to push their products.

In the report, the commission cited a branded Cheerios book, which encourages toddlers to place cereal pieces into specially cut holes on a page.

A promotion for 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.

The report also highlighted Frosties for its website where children can earn points by taking part in races by picking up packets of the cereal to give them enough power. 

NestlÈ, which manufactures Milkybar and Cheerios, said it felt the promotion offered young families the "chance to help develop reading and spatial skills".

A spokeswoman added it was up to the parents to decide whether to take up the offer.  "Nestle is committed to communicating responsibly with all our consumers, particularly children."

A spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation said the use of such promotions was not new.  "You can go back decades and find children's books and games associated with food products.

"The food industry is committed to working with Ofcom and the government on a whole range of concerns relating to advertising to children."

But Dr Ian Campbell, president of the National Obesity Forum, said such promotions were helping to fuel the rise in childhood obesity.  "For those of us who deal with obesity, it is hard not to see how such promotions do not encourage more and more consumption of unhealthy food." 

2nd September 2008

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