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Misgivings in the material world

Teachers' union calls for restrictions, claiming firms are targeting children and damaging their education.Commercialisation is not just ruining Christmas.

A report to be be published next week by the National Union of Teachers will condemn the "commercialisation of childhood" and mention 16 of the best-known British and global brands.

The draft report, entitled Growing up in a Material World, cites Kellogg's viral marketing campaign to promote Fruit Winders to children; Walker crisps running its Books in Schools promotion; and Tesco selling pole-dancing toys.

Children in the study said they had even had Viagra offers text-messaged to their mobile phones.

One in four children have had advertisements texted to their phones, the union says, advertising ring-tones, soft drinks and McDonald's. Its study into children's experiences with marketing, published in a charter on commercialisation, finds that the advertising industry is at its worst at Christmas.

Television is dominated by gender-exclusive advertising and parents are under pressure to spend large sums on the latest toys.

The report expresses alarm at businesses "exploiting" schools to market their products, whether they be fast foods, fashion accessories or expensive sports clothing.

"The pressure to consume and conform can lead to excessive levels of materialism and competition among children leading to bullying," said Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary.

"There are dangerous consequences for the physical and mental health of young people."

The report focuses on the commercial pressures placed on children to conform to a "body beautiful" image, and gender stereotypes: slim girls; muscled boys. According to one nine-year old girl: "People call me names because I don't look how they want me to, and I feel this is because of some of the adverts."

At the same time they have been encouraged, through campaigns by companies inschools, to eat fast food with high fat, sugar or salt content. Nearly 900,000 children under 11 are now clinically obese, according to the Government's health profile for England.

The charter says every child should have a healthy midday meal, cooked that day on school premises, with fresh, locally-produced ingredients. Fast food advertising should be banned from television before 9pm.

"Excessive commercial pressure distracts and skews learning, although understanding commercial life and activity in the wider world is vital," it concludes.

A McDonald's spokeswoman confirmed it used texts for marketing. But she said: "Text messages are only sent to those who either subscribe through our website or who are members of specific ad-funded mobile networks - both of which are restricted to over-16s only."

BRANDED

The NUT charter on commercialisation criticises 16 brands because of the part they play in children's lives:

Adidas

Bratz dolls

Burger King

Cadbury

Kelloggs

KFC

Mars

McDonald's

MSN

Nike

Nintendo

Reebok

Tesco

Viagra

Walkers

Xbox.

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