Manufacturers of foodstuffs high in salt, sugar or fat have been accused by a UK parliamentary committee of using the internet to encourage consumption of unhealthy products among children.

The Environmental Audit Committee claims that whilst strict guidelines have made television advertising aimed at children a virtually junk-free zone, lack of jurisdiction over the internet is leaving the door wide open for manufacturers of unhealthy foods to aim their goods directly at a young and impressionable audience. According to the Committee, major participants in this trend are social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

A report by the Committee cites evidence that 75% of websites for junk food products feature user connections to social media sites which specifically incorporate ‘language intended for, spoken by or directed to children’.

Meanwhile, a separate report by the Children’s Food Campaign, in association with the British Heart Foundation, claims that children are being continually ‘swamped’ by web-based promotions from junk food manufacturers, which deliberately target a younger audience with entertainment elements such as cartoons, games and videos. Environmental Audit Committee chairman, Joan Walley MP, commented:

“There is now constant advertising on social networking sites and online that is promoting all the wrong messages.”

Ms Walley called upon the advertising industry’s watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, to investigate the issue further. Meanwhile, demonstrating the growing power of social media as a marketing device by food and drink companies, The Telegraph reports that Pepsi has created its own social network website, Pepsi Pulse, which is aimed primarily at the young female market.