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The sneaky way junk food is being marketed to kids

Finding it an uphill battle to keep your kids from eating too much junk? Their electronic devices could be the culprits, and not because they’re spending too much time playing with them instead of getting outdoors.

Choice magazine has discovered that fast food companies are using mobile phone apps and social media to sneakily push their products to kids.

Evidence that junk food ads are part of the obesity problem in Australia has led the food industry to create voluntary codes to restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods directed primarily at children, but fast food companies are dodging the codes by “force-feeding junk food advertising to kids through mobile phone applications and social platforms such as YouTube.”

“Hungry Jack’s Shake and Win app, generates vouchers for free or discounted food when user shake their phone at any Hungry Jack’s store,” the magazine notes. “With one in four Australian children overweight or obese, you have to question whether this is a responsible practice.”

The problem is not limited to mobile phone applications and social media, with food companies also using community based sponsorships to push unhealthy foods to kids.

“Large food companies are mainly concerned with creating brand loyalty,” Choice adds. “Companies such as McDonald’s say they don’t advertise to children aged under 14, yet they do sponsor children’s sports such as Little Athletics, Hoop Time basketball and Swimming Queensland. KFC and Milo are sponsors of Cricket Australia, and Coca-Cola sponsors Bicycle Network Victoria, which has a program for teens.”

Fast food companies sponsoring sports undermines the healthy eating messages that governments and parents are trying to promote. It normalises the relationship between junk food and sport.”

And now healthy foods have decided to take a leaf out of the book of junk foods, by marketing products like carrots and apples just like packaged junk foods.

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It’s hoped that if healthy foods share the ‘delicious’ and ‘forbidden’ elements of their junk food counterparts, more kids will want to eat them.

Even the packaging mimics junk food …

There's even a website,  www.babycarrots.com, featuring metal music and deep male voices chanting "Baby. Carrots. Extreme."

The baby carrot campaign is the brainchild of Jeffrey Dunn from Bolthouse Farms. He used to work at, wait for it, Coca Cola.

Now it's all starting to make sense.

"Our first campaign for baby carrots was, 'Eat 'em like junk food,'" he told CBS News. "We went right at junk food and said, we don't wanna be against junk food, we wanna be like 'em."

"Coke has done an amazing job of creating that moment of refreshment that's -- you know, you can picture it when I say it," he told Cowan. "That's marketing. We've got to do the same good job for fresh fruits and vegetables. And there's no reason we can't."

Advertising for fruits and vegetables is 20 per cent of that spent on junk food to kids. It's hard to think that even with a massive increase in expenditure on advertising and clever packaging and slogans that new campaigns will make healthy food just as attractive as junk food to kids.

And it feels a little wrong to me that we have to trick kids into making healthy food choices. What do you think?

How do you get your kids to choose healthy snacks?