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Exploitative Internet marketing fuels child obesity

By Michael Perry

Reuters, Tue Sep 5, 2006

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Self-regulation in food and beverage marketing is being exploited and is failing to curb childhood obesity, research by a global obesity taskforce presented on Tuesday has found.

The International Obesity Taskforce said some Internet sites that attracted children with advertising games were being used to bypass stricter advertising standards in traditional media, the 10th International Congress on Obesity in Sydney heard.

The taskforce found that 85 percent of businesses advertising to children on television also had interactive Web sites for them.

It said 12.2 million children had visited commercial Web sites promoting food and beverages over a three-month monitoring period in 2005.

An analysis of this marketing found that food and beverage advertisers paid lip service to advertising codes of conduct. It said some Web sites pressure children to purchase before they played online games.

"Viral marketing downloads and links from 'advergames' to corporate Web sites were against the spirit of the self-regulation system's provisions," researchers at Britain's Middlesex University in said.

"While it is relatively easy to control the content of television and print advertising, controlling the content on online advertising and 'advergames' ... is a lot more complex."

The taskforce has said an epidemic of obesity, now estimated at 1.5 billion people worldwide, has led to more type 2 diabetes in obese children.

"At the moment the need to protect children from commercial exploitation was being largely overlooked by the food and advertising industries," said Boyd Swinburn, president of the Australasian Society for the Study of Obesity.

"We need to recognize that everyone in society has a responsibility to ensure we provide healthy environments for children," Swinburn told


The week-long conference also heard that many children were "victims of poor urban designs" that discourage outdoor activity.

"Many aspects of the physical environment present barriers to children from being outside and directly contribute to their declining levels of physical activity," said Dr Jo Salmon, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in the Australian state of Victoria.

"Small changes to urban design such as age-appropriate playground equipment ... could have a significant impact on overall activity levels across the day," she told the conference.

Salmon said parental security and safety concerns that kept children at home were also limiting the physical activities of children and contributing to obesity.

She said her research found 70 percent of five- to six-year-olds and 80 percent of 10- to 12-year-olds exceeded the recommended two-hour daily limit for Internet and television entertainment.

"Children who know their neighbors and have strong social networks within their neighborhood are much more likely to be active," she said.


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