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26 May 2022

Irish Heart Foundation criticises lack of junk food curbs in Online Safety Bill

Irish Heart Foundation criticises lack of junk food curbs in Online Safety Bill

The Irish Heart Foundation says that the Bill, published today, fails to curb digital marketing of unhealthy food to children

The newly-published Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill has been criticised for failing to protect children’s health by omitting explicit restrictions on junk food marketing.

The Irish Heart Foundation says that the Bill, published today, fails to curb digital marketing of unhealthy food to children, which studies have shown is fuelling the obesity crisis.

“The Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media has failed to appreciate the key role junk food marketing plays in eroding children’s health,” said Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager with the charity.

“The digital marketing strategies used to promote junk food are increasingly integrated, immersive and personalised.”

In early November, the charity welcomed a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media of a ban on advertising to children online, including ads for alcohol, high fat/salt/sugar foods and gambling. 

“Studies have shown that online junk food marketing to children is fuelling the obesity crisis and it is unfortunate that the Department has not given due regard to public health evidence, or the recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee, with an explicit reference to banning these practices,” Ms Reilly said.

“TDs and Senators from all parties have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the rising levels of childhood overweight and obesity that persist.

“With the OSMR Bill, the Oireachtas had a once in a decade opportunity to protect children’s health and to be part of momentum across Europe to tackle marketing to children. 

“Up to now, the interests of the food and advertising industries have been put above the health of children in Ireland, and with the failure of the Department to include an explicit ban on junk food marketing online, this will continue.

“A junk food ad ban in the Bill would have been a seismic shift to put public health above private profits.

“Neither sections relating to media service codes nor online safety codes make explicit reference to bans on junk food advertising to children. Part 5, section 9, notes media codes will ensure that commercial communications 'protect the interests of children having particular regard to the general public health interests of children'. 

"Part 11, Section 44 of the Bill states that online safety codes will ensure commercial communications on their services are 'appropriate to protect the interests of users of their services, and in particular the interests of children', but these provisions do not go far enough because they don’t adequately reflect the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee. 

"These alone will not suffice and children must be explicitly protected from these forms of advertising, and they must be named in the Bill.

“There have been two Oireachtas reports in the last three years calling for statutory regulation in this area, and there is a clear public demand for this advertising and marketing to stop – legislators must now ensure this recommendation is in the Bill as it progresses through the Oireachtas this year. 

"We will be seeking amendments in this area and hope that the Committee members who made the recommendation, as well as the wider Oireachtas, support them.”

In her presentation to the committee last June, Ms Reilly warned that 85,000 children across the island will die prematurely because of childhood obesity. 

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