Fast-food, soda companies target kids via TV and Internet

Schools are a growing market for junk food in European countries. Sponsored events link junk food with the provision of educational or sports equipment and often include the provision of coupons to buy unhealthy food and drinks from automatic dispensers. The Internet has also proved to be a highly effective advertising medium. For example, in Britain in 2003 12 percent of total spending on advertising food, sodas and fast food was spent on the Internet. Television came in second. Twenty countries participated in the «Children, Obesity and Preventable Chronic Diseases» program: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Estonia, Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Czech Republic and Finland. The governments of those countries reacted differently to pressure from the food industry. In Germany, Spain and Britain, governments have attempted to persuade food companies to curb their advertising on a voluntary basis and to introduce new methods to promote more healthful foods. Other countries, such as Finland and Greece, focus their efforts on schools, where a lack of acceptable definitions of what is healthful and what is not has hindered attempts to remove junk food from school canteens. Governments of states that have already banned television food marketing directed at children are taking steps in other areas. In Norway, for instance, the government wants to ban food advertising in cinemas. The bans on television advertising in Norway and Sweden are being undermined by advertisements on cable and satellite broadcasts originating in other countries, which indicates the need for a pan-European approach to the problem. According to the World Health Organization, current regulations tend not to acknowledge that food is a category of products that requires special attention from the point of view of public health. Hence younger generations have become easy targets for those who encourage the often lifelong habits of drinking high-sugar sodas and eating high-fat, low-nutrition fast food. Big companies see children as «market makers,» since they have a significant influence on parents’ decisions about which products to buy. Though most countries recognize the need to protect children from advertisements and marketing in general, only six countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and Britain), have instituted any rules. The Internet is a paradise for marketing food as most countries have not instituted regulations. However, the European Commission is working on adopting a system of warning signs on foods.

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