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Charity says game over for drink maker promotions

By Neil Merrett , 21-Jan-2008

Despite growing pressure on beverage and food manufacturers to curb marketing junk food to children, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) says that some groups are still using online and label-based games for promotion.

The UK-based charity claims that using games and similar interactive material on junk food labels and websites is serving as "propaganda" for manufacturers to promote their products, and should be banned outright. BHF director of communications Betty McBride added that the use of such games by beverage manufacturers served to prevent children from making informed choices regarding their diets. The claims follow the publication last week of a new survey by the BHF as part of its latest Food4Thought campaign designed to tackle child hood obesity by attacking marketing gimmicks that promotes sugary or high fat food and drinks. In the survey of 500 respondents - all aged between seven and 14 years of age - found that 67 per cent did not view junk food and sugary drinks as a rare or occasional treat, a trend the BHF links to using promotional activities like games. In addition, the BHF survey also found that one in five children surveyed played games included on the label of junk food and drinks, while one in eight had played games on a food or drink manufacturers' websites. Of the same surveyed group, 82 per cent of participants also believed that potato chips were not junk food. Mike Knapton BHF director of prevention and care believes that manufacturers' use of online and label-based games were continuing to distort the notion of a healthy diet. "Junk food marketing messages are skewing children's idea of what normal food is and undermining their understanding of a treat," he stated. "The infestation of artery-clogging foods that make up our children's everyday diets is putting their hearts and long-term health at great risk." However, the European Union of Beverage Associations (INESDA) has hit back at accusations that it continues to target children with promotional material. In a published statement regarding its commitment to an EU-wide drive for action on diet, physical activity and health, the association says its member which include leading drink and food groups have committed to cut out advertising to children. According to UNESDA, this commitment, first signed in 2005, includes not using any marketing campaigns for their products in printed media websites or during programmes broadcasted specifically to children. In addition, UNESDA added that it was also avoiding directly appealing to children to persuade adults to buy products for them against the wishes of a parent or guardian.

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