Hungry Jacks was singled out for “Encouraging a young audience to consume unhealthy food any time” via a simple shake of their phone.
Dietitians are pushing to ban a new smartphone app that allows kids to get free and discounted hamburgers and fries at Hungry Jacks restaurants, because children are “becoming addicted” to the promotion and are putting their health at risk.
The “Hungry Jacks Makes it Better” app was launched five months ago, but since then doctors have reported seeing teenagers and children who have become “addicted” to using the app. One Sydney dietitian reported that a morbidly obese 15-year-old patient was addicted to using the app every day to score discounted food.
Brisbane child obesity clinic CHOC4Kids, this week launched an online petition to ban the app which they described as “appalling”.
“The reason kids end up morbidly obese is over-consumption and the big food industry, like Hungry Jacks, they push over-consumption through promotions like this,” she said.
“Most children have phones now, especially teenagers and adolescents, and it’s the excitement that it’s an app – they love that electronic stuff. So if they keep getting these apps that give free food they’re going to keep using it.”
The free app is available on both iPhone and Android and displays vouchers for free or discounted food when users shake their phone whilst at a Hungry Jacks location.
Vouchers expire after 20 minutes, or when they are marked as redeemed by a staff member, and users are only allowed to redeem one voucher at the same restaurant once every 10 hours.
Sydney dietitian, Caroline Trickey, said a morbidly obese 15-year-old patient, had been using vouchers repeatedly in a single visit and sharing them with friends because busy staff members often forget to reset the voucher when they are redeemed.
“He had been seeing me for his obesity but not losing weight and it wasn’t until the last consultation when I discovered that he has this app on his phone,” she said.
“He was using it every single day with friends. They’d all walk home together and unfortunately they’d go near a Hungry Jack’s store and all five of them would get their phones out and shake them and invariably one of them wins something.”
“What often happens is that the staff member forgets to reset the phone, so one will hand his phone to his mate and he’ll get a freebie as well.”
In response, an emailed statement a spokesperson for Hungry Jacks said the fast food chain “does not have children as part of its core target audience”, and the app was not aimed at children.
Last month the app was “shamed” in the Dietitians’ Association of Australia, annual “Fame and Shame” awards, for sneaky marketing of unhealthy food to children and encouraging pester power.