Obesity experts today questioned Burger King's commitment to improve its standards on marketing to children on the day it launched its new 'Indiana Jones' campaign in the US with toys, internet games and scratch competition prizes.
They fear the new campaign running on children's cable channels such as Nickelodeon and Disney will in effect promote the overall brand range including another Indiana Jones special - the Indy Double Whopper being sold in the USA at $4.29. The standard Double Whopper contains almost 1000 kcalories and a heart-stopping 30 grams of saturated fat.
The company has pledged that by the end of the year 100 percent of its advertising aimed at children under 12 will be for Kids Meals containing up to 560 kcalories that the company calls its 'stringent nutrition' criteria, although a single meal provides around one third of an eight year old child's daily energy requirements. It also says by next year the nutritional content of meals for children will meet WHO criteria recommending less than 30% fat including less than 10% saturated fats, no trans fats and less than 10% sugar.
Burger King's latest sales drive to children includes games linked to the latest Indiana Jones film, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Promotions include a 'Reveal the Secret' scratch and win game, and a 'Big Dig' online game, and an 'adventure heroes' toy series to collect. Burger King has pledged to restrict its advertising to children under 12, which uses third-party licensed characters, to Kids Meals meeting its nutrition criteria.
"This turns the spotlight on the need for much higher standards of responsibility in regard to vulnerable children. Using film themes and characters like Indiana Jones makes children sitting targets for a hard sell both within and outside the cinema," said Dr Tim Lobstein, director of the childhood obesity programme of the International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF), part of the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO).
"It isn't enough just to claim that you are aiming certain products with a self-styled nutrition standard, whilst also selling a portfolio of similarly branded products that are precisely the kind of junk foods that not just children but all of us should be avoiding. It's clear that much more needs to be done pretty urgently to address the massive scale of childhood overweight and obesity in the USA, but we should make sure that in the UK and Europe, the Indiana Jones promoters do not trade children's health to make a fast buck here," he added.
"We are deeply worried that companies will claim they are doing all they can to protect children's health while in reality they continue to promote fatty and sugary calorie-filled junk, using a range of child-friendly inducements", added Dr Lobstein.
Dr Lobstein was speaking at the European Congress on Obesity in Geneva, following a presentation at the IOTF's seminar on the major global issues in obesity prevention, which includes the newly proposed International Code on Marketing to Children developed by Consumers International, the IOTF and IASO.
Prof Boyd Swinburn, who heads the WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, and chaired an IOTF group which developed the 'Sydney Principles' on marketing, said the food industry still needed to adopt higher ethical values in their approach to children. "It is simply unethical to exploit the vulnerabilities of children by using this kind of marketing on the back of popular children's films and characters. It is perpetuating the commercial exploitation of children."
Health ministers meeting at the World Health Assembly in Geneva next week are being urged to take up the Code as a model to incorporate into their action plan on preventing non-communicable diseases. The World Health Organization was mandated by the Assembly last year to draft new recommendations on marketing to children.