The aim of the present study was to describe the nature and extent of food marketing on popular children’s websites and food product websites in Australia.
Food product websites (n 119) and popular children’s websites (n 196) were selected based on website traffic data and previous research on frequently marketed food brands. Coding instruments were developed to capture food marketing techniques. All references to food on popular children’s websites were also classified as either branded or non-branded and according to food categories.
Websites contained a range of marketing features. On food product websites these marketing features included branded education (79·0 % of websites), competitions (33·6 %), promotional characters (35·3 %), downloadable items (35·3 %), branded games (28·6 %) and designated children’s sections (21·8 %). Food references on popular children’s websites were strongly skewed towards unhealthy foods (60·8 % v. 39·2 % healthy food references; P < 0·001), with three times more branded food references for unhealthy foods. Branded food references displayed similar marketing features to those identified on food product websites.
Internet food marketing uses a range of techniques to ensure that children are immersed in brand-related information and activities for extended periods, thereby increasing brand familiarity and exposure. The relatively unregulated marketing environment and increasing use of the Internet by children point to the potential increase in food marketing via this medium. Further research is required to investigate the impact of Internet food marketing on children’s food preferences and consumption, and regulatory options to protect children.