The Food Commission, which campaigns for healthier eating, has published a report saying that children are being put at risk by the promotion of foods that are sugary, fatty and low in nutrients.
The report, "Broadcasting Bad Health: Why food marketing to children needs to be controlled", criticises companies such as McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and Mars for targeting children.
The Food Commission has come up with statistics to back its claims that marketing to children should be controlled, saying that in industrialised countries food advertising accounts for around half of all advertising broadcast during children's television viewing times, and that three-quarters of these ads for foods promote high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.
Kath Dalmeny, co-author of the report, says: "Junk foods and sugary drinks are supported by enormous advertising budgets that dwarf any attempt to educate children about healthy diets."
She claimed that advertisers targeted children as young as two with free toys and gimmicky packaging, encouraging children to pester their parents.
However, the Advertising Association has hit back at the report, pointing out that food advertising is already regulated by a mixture of statutory and self-regulatory codes.
In a statement, the AA's food advertising unit said: "These codes are not voluntary. Food advertisers closely adhere to them. Breaches of the codes are subject to a range of sanctions."
There are increasing calls for a ban on advertising food to children, as an obesity epidemic sweeps the western world. Food companies are preparing themselves for a predicted outbreak of litigation, similar to that experienced by tobacco companies.
There have already been attempts to sue fast-food brands such as McDonald's for the way they market their foods, though none has been successful so far.
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