World Health Organisation issues warning on children's exposure to junk food ads online

WHO warns Children are inundated by online junk food ads

The World Health Organisation has issued a call for action after publishing a report warning that children are now being exposed to more online junk food ads than ever before.

The global body is calling for greater oversight and restrictions on the use of digital marketing to target children with unhealthy products, warning that regulators are ill-equipped to deal with the problem in their current form.

This follows raised awareness of obesity-related issues which have already motivated a clampdown on traditional advertising channels, opening up a significant regulatory disparity with social media and mobile environments which are far harder to police.

Outlining the measures digital marketers are prepared to go to WHO cited the use of social media influencers and prominent YouTube personalities, as well as the emergence of so-called ‘advergames’ designed to lure children into advertiser content.

WHO programme manager Dr João Breda said: “We are using the wrong ammunition for a very significant problem. These technological innovations [used by advertisers] make our restrictions void - they no longer work in this context. The digital world is wonderful for marketeers - it's more targeted and they can get much more data.”

WHO has been a long-standing critic of junk food ads targeting children via apps and social media.

The report clashes an Ad Association investigation which found that children’s exposure to junk food TV ads had fallen to an historic low.

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