A report by the Heart and Stroke Foundation finds that Canadian children are exposed to 25-million online food and beverage ads a year, with the group now calling for a restriction on online advertising of unhealthy foods aimed at children.
The report, carried out by researchers at the University of Ottawa says children between the ages of two and 11 view more than 25-million ads a year and that 90 per cent of the ads are for products high in sugar, fat and/or sodium.
“Pushing for legislation to restrict food and beverage marketing to children and youth may seem like a bold measure,” says Diego Marchese, Interim CEO and Executive Vice President, Heart & Stroke, “but given experts’ prediction that today’s children may be the first generation to have poorer health and shorter lifespans than their parents, we need to be bold.”
The report says that over the past 70 years, Canadian families have upped their intake of processed foods, which are known to be in general less healthy than whole foods, to the point where they now comprise 60 per cent of the average family’s food purchases, all thanks to the accessibility and heavy marketing put in place for processed foods.
“Canadians are not only eating an excess of unhealthy processed foods, they are also not eating enough healthy foods especially vegetables and fruit, but also nuts, seeds and legumes etc.,” says Dr. Norm Campbell, CIHR Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control at the University of Calgary, who was interviewed for the report.
And for kids, the marketing of food products is a relentless stream of junk food ads, say the report’s authors, who say that the problem is not so much about parenting education, since a majority (70 per cent) of parents already believe that their children are being exposed to too much unhealthy food and beverage advertising. 71 per cent of parents believe that the marketers have an “unfair advantage” over parents when it comes to influencing their children’s eating and drinking preferences and habits.
Thus, with the decks stacked against them, parents and health advocates would be better served through government intervention, says Heart and Stroke, who argue that the self-regulation currently being carried out by the food and beverage industry under the auspices of the Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI) has been “a failure.”
“Look at the CAI’s latest report and some of the foods they say are ‘healthier dietary choices’ and are therefore advertised to kids: Lucky Charms, Froot Loops, Eggo Waffles. At which breakfast tables are these considered healthy choices?” says Geoff Craig, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Heart and Stroke.
Instead, the group is asking that the federal government enact statutory legislation restricting the commercial food and beverage marketing to children and youth ages 16 and younger and for the provinces to restrict public ads in places populated by children such as schools, hospitals and recreation centres.
“Restricting marketing to kids is one step of many that need to be taken to make our environment healthier,” says Dr. Monique Potvin Kent, an expert on food and beverage marketing and children’s advertising who was interviewed for the report. “We tell people to be healthy but we don’t help them to do it.”
The report points to Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act which already prohibits commercial advertising directed at children under 13 years of age and applies to all merchants as well as all forms of advertising such as radio and television, printed materials, mobile phones and the internet. A 2011 study found that the Quebec regulations, in place since 1980, have resulted in a 13 per cent reduction in the population’s likelihood to purchase fast food and that children in Quebec have the lowest obesity rate and highest fruit and vegetable consumption in Canada among children ages six to 11.