All-island Obesity Action Forum webinar

The hidden influencer - tackling the marketing of unhealthy food to children in today's digital world.

The All-island Obesity Action Forum in association with safefood, and the Associations for the Study of Obesity in Ireland (ASOI) and UK Northern Ireland regional group (ASO NI) hosted an online webinar on the 10th of November 2020 titled: ‘The hidden influencer – tackling marketing of unhealthy food to children in today’s digital world.’ The event highlighted the latest evidence on the impact of food and drink marketing to children and young people. It also called upon specific areas for action.

The effect these ads have on children are certainly not to be underestimated

Ms Diane Charlton from the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO)

The event commenced with the crucial voice of Ms Diane Charlton from the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO) who shared a parent’s perspective on the impact of marketing unhealthy food to children. Ms Charlton provided key insights on the lasting effects of targeted marketing to children, and the “unhelpful feelings of guilt and shame” it leaves when such marketing leads to consumption of the products. Ms Charlton also emphasised that “the effect these ads have on children are certainly not to be underestimated” and the challenges that digital marketing presents for parents.

Dr Mimi-Tatlow-Golden followed with the most recent evidence on the effectiveness and impact of marketing and in particular digital marketing of unhealthy food to children in Ireland and around the world. She concluded with the inevitable – that advertising of unhealthy food boosts sales and consumption and that advertising to those most vulnerable must be regulated. It was clear that trying to educate and ‘nudge’ healthy choices is impotent in countering the power of advertising of unhealthy foods.

Dr Mimi-Tatlow-Golden on Global Research

Dr Mimi-Tatlow-Golden’s presentation highlighted:

Consumptions studies: Children and teens eat more after viewing ads for unhealthy foods, compared to non-foods or healthy food

  • Holiday camps – TV & game ads (Norman et al 2018a, 2018b)
  • YouTube influencer promotion (Cotes et al 2018a, 2018b)
  • Ads on websites and social media (Buchanan et al 2017 & others)
  • Advergames studies (Folkvord et al)

Exposure and power studies
(Extensive advertising, many platforms)
Conclusions:

  • brands employ strategies to target adolescents and particularly encourage their engagement and increase virality
  • food brands aimed at children are dominated by unhealthy items
  • children (including adolescents) interact with food marketing on digital and social media
  • it results in eating more food (and more unhealthy items)

Dr João Breda from the World Health Organisation outlined national policy options and the WHO/Europe monitoring framework, known as CLICK to assist member states in monitoring digital marketing of unhealthy products to children.

Dr João Breda from the World Health Organisation on Digital Marketing

Dr Dr João Breda’s presentation highlighted the WHO/Europe CLICK framework:

  • We need to be innovative to face the challenge, otherwise, we will be in the same position in five years.
  • CLICK was developed as a futuristic framework, but today several Member States are using it, including an App developed by the NCD office, Moscow.
  • We are piloting it and also undertaking a large validation study in Canada.
  • We have a workshop with six countries piloting CLICK in November. Member States can learn from the experience of others and make the best choice for them.
  • European Regions plans to lead the way to face the challenge of digital marketing, that will include choosing some innovative methods out of our comfort zone if we are to be successful.
  • We hope other countries and regions will also prioritise the issue to face the increasing global challenge.

Dr Frans Folkvord from Tilburg University, The Netherlands discussed how marketing techniques can be used to promote healthy foods. One interesting stance was the influence of the subconscious on behaviour, particularly decision making with subconscious activation of marketing cues and the need

for advertising literacy to make rational decisions. A key message from Dr Folkvord is the necessity for regulation of product placement.

Image of Healthy Foods

The final speaker was Ms Ursula O’Dwyer who provided an overview of the ‘Best ReMap’ work, a European project that Ireland and Portugal are leading.

Presentations and key insights from the event can be sourced here