The website of the UK children’s comic The Beano describes itself as “100% safe for children”—but is its junk food-related content doing more harm than good?
An investigation by The BMJ shows how The Beano’s website—promoted as a digital hub for 6- to 12-year-olds—showcases products from well-known brands that are harmful to children, including fast food, confectionery, soft drinks and ultra-processed food.
Since its launch in 2016, 47.9 million children have visited the website, which includes frequent references to well known high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) brands, explain Claire Mulrenan and Mark Petticrew at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and freelance journalist Harry Wallop.
For example, there are:
- An “Ultimate McDonald’s” quiz
- A “How well do you know the Nando’s menu?” quiz
- A “Skittles jokes” page
- An “Ultimate food logo” quiz, whose ten answers are Greggs, Heinz, Pizza Hut, Nando’s, Subway, Domino’s, Quorn, KFC, Pizza Express and Burger King
There is even a quiz that features alcohol, with the question “How long have humans been making beer for?” accompanied by an image of a pint being poured.
There is no suggestion that any of these quizzes have been paid for by the brands themselves, which could be deemed as a form of advertising known as “advergames” under the self-regulating UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing (CAP).
Health campaigners, however, are disappointed with The Beano’s willingness to showcase so many junk food brands—and to put these brands right at the front of children’s minds, suggesting that a chocolate, fizzy drink or burger brand is “cool”—even if it’s not taking money from the companies themselves….