Today the Heart and Stroke Foundation released a new report on the harms of advertising food to kids, and calling on the government to restrict such advertising, as is already happening in the province of Quebec. I’m all for this – food ads are a likely reason why screen time is so strongly associated with excess weight gain in kids, as I’ve outlined previously.
The Heart and Stroke report points out that in addition to traditional TV-based food ads (which are pervasive during children’s programming) the 10 most popular kids’ websites expose kids to 25 million food ads/year, 90% of which are for unhealthy foods. The 5 most frequently advertised products on the 10 most popular kids sites are all junk food:
- Pop tarts
- Frosted Flakes
- McDonald’s Happy Meals
- Red Bull
- Kraft Lunchables
In their report, the HSF also called on the federal government to
Enact legislation to restrict commercial food and beverage marketing to children and youth ages 16 and under… This legislation should:
- afford substantial protection to children
- be statutory in nature – the voluntary approach does not work – with clear policy definitions
- adopt a wide definition of commercial marketing
- restrict commercial marketing in child-focused settings
- take action to manage cross-border media
- be evaluated, monitored, resourced and enforced
- be enacted quickly
They also call on provincial governments to implement and enforce restrictions on the commercial marketing of foods to kids, based on the system that is already in place in the province of Quebec.
How likely is it that any of this happens?
A year and a half ago I wrote that Canada’s government was thinking about restriction food ads aimed at kids. In a public letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote the following (emphasis mine):
Promote public health by: increasing vaccination rates; introducing new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec; bringing in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats and to reduce salt in processed foods, similar to those in the United States; and improving food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods.
Last October the federal government announced they still intend to restrict foods ads aimed at kids, although I don’t think any details have been released yet. Hopefully the continued interest from groups like HSF pushes things along.