Call for tighter regulations on ‘advergames’

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Companies are promoting unhealthy food and drink to children through online games that contain adverts – or advergames, as they are known.

That is the claim of researchers from the University of Bath, who are calling for tighter regulations to protect children from the “subconscious effects” of advergames.

A report by the university’s Institute for Policy Research says that companies are using advergames to advertise food and drink products that are high in salt, sugar and fat.

Advertising unhealthy food is banned during children’s TV programmes but advergames are accessible on social media sites, company websites, apps and as downloadable content.

The research by the Bath academics suggests that youngsters as old as 15 do not realise that advergames are advertisements and that children’s food choices can be influenced without them even knowing.

The report has called for an obligatory labelling system for children’s advergames and in-game advertising, a public debate on whether advertising techniques that can persuade children subconsciously should be legal, and the requirement for regulations that apply to advertising of products that are high in salt, sugar and fat on television to extend to children’s websites.

“There are fundamental ethical questions to be addressed about the use of advergames and the government needs to step in to enforce labelling and introduce regulation on a par with television advertising,” said Dr Haiming Hang, one of the authors of the report.

He continued: “Companies are manipulating children into wanting food and drinks that are high in salt, sugar and fat against the backdrop of a global obesity crisis.

“They know that when children are absorbed in playing games their cognitive capacity is fully engaged and they’re not able to stop and think about the purpose of the game or to engage in any scepticism about the source of the message embedded in it.”

         


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