A Legal Study of How Unhealthy Food is Marketed to Children .pdf

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A Legal Study of How Unhealthy Food
is Marketed to Children

Extended Essay

Theresa Phelan

In partial fulfillment of the Limerick School of Art & Design,
Limerick Institute of Technology, Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
Degree in Visual Communications


The purpose of this research is to examine the regulation of marketing high sugar, fat, salt

and sugar (HFSS) food and drink to children in Ireland.

The essay begins by introducing the contemporary concerns surrounding the issue of

advertising and it’s effects on children’s health. The research continues by examining the different
forms of regulation set in place for HFSS food marketing on a national and international basis.
The sequential chapter begins by examining children’s cognitive development. The research
continues by investigating the relevant social and economic factors, that influence regulation of
advertising to children. Furthermore, the study identifies and analyses the different tactics and
commercial mediums used to market HFSS foods to children.

The conclusion of the essay proposes the flaws within existing regulation and defers the

extent to which it fails to protect children from marketing schemes. In addition, the conclusion
presents possible recommendations for more effective measures to protect children from HFSS
food marketing and to help combat the health issues influenced by its’ effects.


I would like to thank my tutor, David Brancaleone for his creative guidance and assistance

throughout the development of this extended essay.

Table of Contents

Illustration List 1-2

Ethical and Contemporary Concerns


Section 1.1

Nutrient Profiling (NP)



Definition of a Child



Regulatory Constitutions



Regulation in Ireland



Regulation in Europe





Section 2.1

Children as Consumers



Children’s Buying Power



Children as a Target Audience



Media Communications












Product Placement



Toys and Promotional Items


Findings and Recommendations



Reference List





Figure 1. Nationwide Candy, (2015). Care Bears Gummy Bears. [image] Available at: http://ecx.
images-amazon.com/images/I/51GxMCSsQ4L.jpg [Accessed 17 Dec. 2014].

Figure 2. Tesco, (2015). Kelloggs Coco Pops 295G. [image] Available at: http://www.tesco.ie/
groceries/Product/Details/?id=268137439 [Accessed 14 Jan. 2015].

Figure 3. Tesco, (2015). Tesco Everyday Coco Snaps Cereal 375G. [image] Available at: http://img.
tesco.com/Groceries/pi/298/5050179299298/IDShot_540x540.jpg [Accessed 14 Jan. 2015].

Figure 4. The X Factor, (2014). The X Factor Judges Table. [image] Available at: http://i1.cdnds.
net/14/25/618x398/uktv-the-x-factor-2014-judges-panel.jpg [Accessed 2 Feb. 2015].

Figure 5. Mascheroni, Ólafsson, (2013). Irish Children That Use the Internet. [statistic]

Figure 6. Mascheroni, Ólafsson, (2013). Children’s Online Activities. [statistic]

Figure 7. Oreo, (2014). OREO: Twist, Lick. [image] Available at: https://itunes.apple.com/ie/app/
oreo-twist-lick-dunk/id567937257?mt=8 [Accessed 9 December. 2014].

Figure 8. McDonald’s, (2015). Happy Studio Registration. [image] Available at: http://www.
happystudio.com/ [Accessed 2 Feb. 2015].

Figure 9. Kellogg’s, (2015). Help Give a Child a Breakfast. [image] Available at: http://www.kelloggs.
ie/en_IE/whatwebelieve/helpgiveachildabreakfast.html [Accessed 2 Feb. 2015].

Figure 10. Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions, (2003). [image] Available at: Elf product placement.
elf_product_placement_12.jpg [Accessed 13 Dec. 2014].

Figure 11. Kellogg’s, (2012). 11 amazing things you used to get in cereal boxes [image] Available
at: http://www.news.msn.ie/cereal-box-toys-nostalgia-646559-Oct2012/ [Accessed 30 November.

Figure 12. Supervalu, (2015). Peppa Pigs Candy Bites (12 Grams). [image] Available at: http://www.
bonds-confectionery.com/getmetafile/13ae00f6-602e-4d31-a098-ab18f7ad546b/13ae00f6-602e4d31-a098-ab18f7ad546b.aspx [Accessed 20 Jan. 2015].

Figure 13. Tesco, (2015). Kp Bear In The Big Blue House Corn Snacks 6 Pack. [image] Available at:
http://img.tesco.ie/Groceries/pi/135%5C5098933002135%5CIDShot_225x225.jpg [Accessed 15
Jan. 2015].



The heart of the controversy on children’s advertising sits within advertising ethics

(Lena Hallmann, 2014, p.14). Advertising ethics are constructed through a set of principals that
define “what is right or good in the conduct of the advertising function” and “it is concerned
with questions of what ought to be done” (Jones, 1999, p.500). In the debate about children’s
advertising, ethical principals conflict between two sides: the advertising industry and children’s
rights activists. Advertisers, agencies and the media represent the advertising industry (Murphy,
1998, p.317). In opposition, children’s rights activists are represented by parents, governmental
agencies and activist organisations. The colliding sets of values between each side has been
entangled in emotional complexities, thus complicating the research into children’s advertising
(Turk, 1979, p.4).

The unhealthy eating habits of high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods are a prevalent cause

for noncommunicable diseases (NCD), including diabetes and obesity. Also, children with obesity
are more prone to suffer from depression and social isolation. Obesity has become an epidemic
crisis prompted by a decrease in physical activity, along with over consumption of HFSS foods
(McGinnis, Gootman and Kraak, 2006). The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports at least 14
million deaths globally are the result of the overconsumption of HFSS foods annually, equating to
40% of all NCD deaths (Bowers, Signal and Jenkin, 2012, p.3). Overweight and obesity increase
the risk of cardiovascular disease - the principal cause of death in Ireland among all ages and
accounting for an estimated 2,000 premature deaths.

Consequently, researchers and children’s rights activists worldwide are placing great

emphasis on environmental factors for the growth of unhealthy diet habits in children. The
growth of unhealthy messages aimed towards children through food advertising, is considered
to be a leading influence for the development of an obesogenic environment (Harris, Bargh and
Reference page numbers supplied when available.


Brownell, 2009, p.404). This study will examine the regulation of marketing HFSS food and drink
to children in Ireland. Furthermore, the findings from this research will identity any flaws within
current regulation and will propose conclusive recommendations.



In this section there will be a discussion and analysis on the existing regulations relating

to advertising directed towards children. There will be a focus placed upon HFSS food marketing
regulation, and the role it plays in protecting children from unhealthy marketing. The research will
firstly determine the types of regulation that exist and inspect their advantages and disadvantages.
Furthermore, the guidelines for each code of conduct will be scrutinised in order to adjudicate each
codes value. The regulatory bodies which influence Ireland’s provision of marketing to children
will be reviewed, to decipher the extent of protection that exists for Irish children. In addition
European regulation will be investigated, in order to make comparisons with Irish regulation. This
section will further evaluate the effect of deregulation on the advertising industry and civil society.

1.1 Nutrient Profiling

In defining whether a food is to be labeled as HFSS, advertisers currently administer to

the Nutrient Profiling model (NP). NP has been designed as a tool to differentiate HFSS food,
so that television communications can limit the amount of advertising unhealthy food and drink
to children, allowing for the advertisement of healthy and nutritious options. The model is a
“straightforward scoring system”, yet is considered to be a flawed set of guidelines for determining
whether or not a food should be labeled unhealthy (Scarborough et al., 2010, p553). The NP
approach only takes into account foods per 100 gram servings - when nutritious foods are often
consumed in small portions as a healthy diet (The Irish Farmers Association, 2011, p.3).

The obvious problem arises when certain unhealthy foods such as diet cola, avoid being

labeled as unhealthy, due to their hidden ingredients such as artificial sweeteners and sugar
substitutes. Its hard to comprehend how nutritious fruit juices such as “Innocent Smoothies” are
Reference page numbers supplied when available.


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