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Crying Foul over Online Junk Food Marketing

A new report focuses on advertising methods, such as through social networks, and urges lawmakers to restrict junk food advertising to kids online

At age 2, Zameen Rashid is well acquainted with Lucky, the leprechaun who lists the marshmallow clovers, moons, and stars in boxes of General Mills' (GIS) Lucky Charms cereal. Maybe too well, says his mother, Fahmida Rashid, who frets that too-frequent exposure to food ads in video games, TV shows, and the Web will foster unhealthy eating habits. "Just as you wouldn't expect to see a tobacco ad on a kids' site or show, there shouldn't be junk food ads there either," says Rashid, a 31-year-old resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Consumer and children's advocacy groups share Rashid's concerns. Having successfully lobbied the government to place limits on junk food ads on TV, they now target marketing to kids via the Web. "While there are some rules for TV, there are no rules when you move online," says Patti Miller, vice-president of children's advocacy group Children Now and a member of the Federal Communications Commission's Task Force on Media & Childhood Obesity. "We don't want to reduce junk food advertising to kids [on TV] and then find that it has just moved to another platform."