Driving down the street passing a KFC sign, my 2-year old niece announced to her mom that she wanted to go to “the chicken house”. Her mom was surprised at the request because she had never taken her daughter there, nor talked about the restaurant, and her daughter rarely watched television commercials. Yet, my niece had experienced something that made her desire fried chicken.
It may not be obvious but there are many places kids spend time where they see food and beverage promotions. Research has shown that Canadian children are exposed to unhealthy food marketing on television, on the internet, on product packaging in grocery stores, and in public schools. But there may be many other places where our kids may see food marketing, such as sports centres, movie theatres, camps, convenience stores, or even billboards on the street.
You might ask, isn’t food marketing controlled in Canada? In Quebec, commercial products (foods and other products) cannot be marketed to children under the age of 13. In the rest of Canada, some (but not all) food companies have voluntarily agreed to not market to foods to children under 13, or to market only foods that are “healthy” as defined by the food industry.
Unfortunately, these programs do not fully protect our kids from seeing unhealthy food marketing. By focusing mainly on television and online marketing, these initiatives do not consider the other ways and places children are exposed to food marketing. This means that even if marketers reduce how much they target children in one place (on TV), children may still see unhealthy food marketing in other places (at school, in movies). In fact, restricting marketing in only one place may increase the level of marketing in other places!
New mandatory regulations in Canada that cover more of the places and ways children are marketed to, that have strong nutrition criteria, and that protect younger and older children will support parents and take one step forward towards helping Canadian kids grow up healthy and strong.
Prime Minister Trudeau has asked the Minister of Health to introduce new regulations on food marketing to children in Canada. Now is the time to take action and help make this happen. Send a message at stopmarketingtokids.ca.
By Rachel Prowse, Registered Dietitian and PhD Candidate in Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences at the University of Alberta.