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Irish research has found junk food brands using young people to market their products via social media. While people are aware of television advertising, the study highlights the less obvious nature of targeted advertising on social media sites such as Facebook. Online marketing can engage young people in fun activities around the brand differently to a simple one-off ad. And viral marketing, where young people “like” or “share” advertising among their friends can have a strong influence on peers.

The sites with the greatest reach amongst 13-14 year olds were brands featuring high fat, sugar and salt products. As well as bold graphics and strong visuals, the sites sought user engagement through ‘likes’ and competitions with a strong emphasis on humour and fun.

The study called for existing Irish regulation of broadcast media to under 18’s to be extended to social media and all other digital platforms.

Who’s feeding our kids online? Digital food marketing and children in Ireland. Report prepared for the Irish Heart Foundation 2016.


90% of food companies sponsoring junior development sports programs are marketing unhealthy foods or drinks.


Sport associated with junior development program Number of unhealthy food, beverage, alcohol or gambling sponsors
Athletics 3
Basketball 1
Cricket 1
Surf Lifesaving 4
Swimming 1
Touch football 1
Volleyball 1


Our latest research looked at the sponsors of 56 junior development programs. These programs are modified versions of popular adult sports designed to encourage kids to participate in sport. Surf lifesaving and athletics had the most unhealthy sponsors and we found McDonald’s sponsored the highest number of different sports. We found sponsorship included naming rights, branded participant packs and logos on sports uniforms and equipment.

The good news is that the majority of sponsors (233 out of 246) were not food and drink companies so most junior development programs are not reliant on unhealthy sponsorship.

An Australian study found that children think sport sponsors are “cool” and they want to repay the favour by buying their product. We would like to see sport sponsorship included in regulations on the marketing of food to children but prior to that food and beverage companies could exercise responsibility and not sponsor sport.

We are writing to the sport development programs to ask them to set a good example and reject unhealthy sponsorship.

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Watson WL, Brunner R, Wellard L, Hughes C. Sponsorship of junior sport development programs in Australia. Aust N Z J Public Health 2016