Obesity seminar examines role of "Candy-coated Marketing" to children

Tuesday 11 November, 2014. safefood today hosted a seminar as part of its All Island Obesity Action Forum series which examined the role of food marketing to children and how children understand these messages. The event, "Candy-coated Marketing" also explored the marketing strategies of food and drinks sponsors and their role in major sporting and cultural events.

Keynote speaker Dr Joao Breda, Programme Manager for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that Ireland was taking an important leadership role within EU member states in tackling obesity as a public health issue. “There are positive things happening in Ireland in this area – these include establishing an obesity surveillance initiative, beginning to restrict TV advertising to children of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, and the All Island Obesity Action Forum that supports the political priority. With the trends in obesity in Ireland and across Europe beginning at younger and younger ages, it’s important that we continue to focus also on our diet and physical activity levels as these have a direct role in a range of non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, Type 2 Diabetes and even some cancers.”

Dr Mimi Tatlow-Golden, UCD lecturer and researcher who specialises in children’s understanding of advertising told the audience that parents’ eating habits and television viewing are linked to children’s knowledge of unhealthy food brands. “Advertisers are complying with the broadcasting regulations, but young children aged 3-5 still see upwards of 1,000 TV ads for unhealthy foods over the course of a year. Although the influence of the internet and online branding is growing for young children, television remains the key influencer for them. At the same time, we know from Irish research conducted earlier this year with safefood that we need to look at the complete marketing environment to all age groups, not just TV advertising.”

Joining the conference by Skype from the UK, Mr Malcolm Clark, Co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign spoke with delegates about the major presence of food and drink brands at public sports events like the 2012 London Olympics and the mixed messages this gave out to children about linking "treat" foods (which athletes wouldn’t typically eat) with these events.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood added,

Marketing techniques work and have an influence on our eating habits, particularly among children. It’s a fact of life that in Ireland, we have to run the gauntlet of an overwhelming display of treat foods to do our grocery shopping or even buy petrol. As a society, we need to think about whether or not this is acceptable or indeed fair to our children; 1 in 5 are overweight or obese and 20% of their daily calories now come from nutritionally-empty ‘treat foods’. The approaches needed to tackle this include regulation, legislation and the development of a marketing savvy society”.

The event also featured a panel discussion chaired by broadcaster Ella McSweeney which featured public health and marketing experts. Media commentator and author Sheena Horgan spoke of the need for improved media literacy skills to educate children. “Just because it’s difficult to curtail the exposure of marketing, doesn’t mean we can’t curtail the effect of marketing. That is within society, the governments’ and NGO’s control. We know the value of early intervention. And we know the value of education. Educating our kids in the fundamental life skill that is media literacy will empower them and counter-balance their susceptibility to the deluge of marketing messages”.

Established in December 2008 to support the implementation of obesity policies in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the All Island Obesity Action Forum brings together a wide range of stakeholders from over 31 different organisations. Members come from the areas of both food and physical activity. By facilitating the exchange of best practice and by promoting networking and collaboration, the Forum provides an ideal platform for partnership and cohesive working on the island of Ireland.

You can follow and join in the conversation at the seminar on Twitter by using #obesityforum. To find out more about safefood or the work of the All island Obesity Action Forum, visit www.safefood.eu

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To request an interview with one of the speakers or more information, please contact

Dermot Moriarty or Julie Carroll


(mob) 086 381 1034