Junk foods' stealth attack via game apps

MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 08:55 30/09/2013
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JUNK FOOD: Food companies are venturing into the world of game apps to entice children to their products.

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Parents worried about junk food advertising now have to keep an eye on their computer and smartphone apps.

In the battle for kids' loyalties, food companies are venturing into the world of game apps. McDonald's, Burger King, Coca-Cola and M&Ms are among companies using "advergames" to entice children to their products.

The move has health experts concerned over the amount of influence companies have over children from a young age.

NZ Nutrition Foundation dietitian Sarah Hanrahan said her daughter's friends all play the free McWorld McDonald's game but she won't let her 9-year-old play it.

"Her friends all talk about it, it appeals to younger children. But it's too much advertising.

"It does say at the top of the app ‘hey kids this is an ad', but it's very difficult for kids to know the difference."

Kids are encouraged to dress up a "McMouse" and other cute characters and use points collected from Happy Meals to play in the fantasy land.

M&M's Chocolate Factory lets kids race to scoop virtual candies spilling from its machines. You can try to ride a rollercoaster without spilling Coke in the Ahh Coca-Cola game, or test your skills with Burger King's Cut The Rope adventure app.

This month Agencies for Nutrition Action kicked off a campaign to highlight the proliferation of convenience food marketing to kids. Online advertising now accounts for one in five advertising dollars, and is expected to jump to one in four by 2016, Agencies for Nutrition Action project manager Julia Lyon said.

More preschoolers can now use smartphone apps (19 per cent) than tie their shoelaces (11 per cent), according to research by internet software company AVG.

But while kids are computer savvy, most don't know the difference between an advert and a game.

The British Advertising Standards Authority recently shut down an Weetabix advergame because it was seen to exploit children's vulnerability.

Food marketing is largely self-regulated in New Zealand, and people can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority if they feel a company is misleading or unethical in its marketing.

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