Our Opportunity to Revolutionize Nutrition Labelling in Canada

Product packaging is a powerful form of marketing. Some food companies advertise their products as healthy, when in fact, they are not. Many Canadians find nutrition labels difficult to understand, and they want fast information to help make healthy food choices when they are shopping. Food companies market their products as ‘healthy’ by highlighting one or more positive attributes on a product package, such as ‘high in fibre’, or “fat-free”. However the same product may also be high in sugar, sodium, and/or saturated fat.

To further complicate things, in recent years, numerous front-of-pack “nutrition symbols” or food rating systems have also surfaced. This makes it even more confusing for parents and children.  

Thankfully, Health Canada is considering new measures to strengthen food package labelling and claims. In particular, Health Canada is proposing to require food companies to show highly-visible, simple, intuitive warning labels for foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.

The Stop M2K Coalition (representing twelve non-government organizations) urges you to support the introduction of robust Front-of-Package (FoP) nutrition labelling, as a part of Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy. This comprehensive and integrated public health strategy has the potential to significantly improve the nutritional health of Canadians.
“It could be another 30 years before we get this kind of opportunity again,” says Heart & Stroke’s Director of Health Policy and Advocacy, Manuel Arango. It’s time to act now and give kids a better chance at reaching their full potential.

Sign a letter urging the federal government to introduce robust front-of-pack nutrition labelling.

Call to Action! Health Canada’s M2K Consultation

The deadline for Health Canada’s online consultation on Restricting Marketing to Children is fast approaching: Monday, August 14, 2017. We urge you to participate in this exceptional opportunity.

You have the option to participate as an individual or on behalf of your organization, as the Consultation process allows for both. This is a critical chance, for all Canadians who care about children’s health – to help shape Canada’s new landmark legislation and accompanying regulations to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children.

The development of new laws governing food and beverage marketing to children is part of the federal Healthy Eating Strategy, which also involves enhancing front-of-pack nutrition labels and modernizing Canada’s Food Guide. This is an exciting and unprecedented time for nutrition policy in Canada!

The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition welcomes and embraces the announcement that Health Canada is consulting the public on important issues around children’s health and nutrition. Please, help us create the strongest and most comprehensive policies possible to protect children and public health from the harmful effects of unhealthy food and beverage marketing. Access Health Canada’s M2K consultation here: http://healthyeatingconsultations.ca/marketing-to-kids

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create lasting change that will affect Canadians’ health for years to come. Thank you for adding your voice!


Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition – Who We Are
Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition – Our Policy Recommendations
Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition – Rationale for the Difference between the Ottawa Principles and the amended Senate Bill (S-228)
Stop Marketing to Kids – Video Library
Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition – Coalition in the News


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Tell Food Industry Our Kids are Not Their Business

On January 6, 2008, I lost a vibrant, healthy and much loved 15-year-old son.  I believe a contributing cause to his death was consumption of an energy drink sample at a sporting event.  You can read more about my son’s death on my facebook awareness page.

Industry marketed directly to my son.

Since then, I have done extensive research on the potentially fatal effects of energy drinks and marketing to kids. Three deaths associated with energy drinks are documented in Health Canada’s database, all teenage deaths (1). It has been estimated that for every adverse report filed, up to ten go unreported. My research strongly suggests the unreported number may be much higher.

Experts continue to question the safety of energy drinks’ ingredient cocktail, not just their caffeine content. There are no long-term studies that prove the safety of energy drinks. On the contrary, emerging research strongly suggests they pose a public health threat. In 2010, Health Canada appointed an Expert Panel on Caffeinated Energy Drinks. They came back with very strong recommendations to mitigate safety concerns related to these products most of which were never addressed.

Energy drinks are the worst case example of industry marketing an unhealthy – and potentially dangerous product – to children and youth. This must stop.

My three primary goals are to:

  1. Protect children and youth from the potentially fatal effects of energy drinks. First, by treating these products like tobacco, alcohol, and fireworks, through a ban on sale to minors. Second, through federal legislation restricting the commercial marketing of foods and beverages to children.
  2. Raise awareness of the potential dangers of energy drinks through education programs, point of sale signage, and separate shelf placement.
  3. Encourage more research on the health risks associated with caffeinated energy drinks.

Currently, there is nothing to stop industry from marketing to another young member of my family. This must change. Voluntary self-regulation by industry of marketing to children has proven an abysmal failure. Regulations with stiff penalties are needed to mitigate the risk energy drinks and their abusive marketing pose to children and youth.

I’ve voiced my concerns on several occasions and continue this dialogue with all levels of government in Canada. On June 8, 2010, I appeared as a witness in Ottawa before the Standing Committee on Health. More recently, I presented to the Toronto Board of Health (March 20, 2017), and the Ottawa Board of Health (April 3, 2017).

On January 6, 2016, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Trudeau, I offered my strong support for the Liberal campaign promise to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children. I implored the Prime Minister to give special consideration to energy drinks and related caffeinated energy products when developing those regulations. More so, I stressed that children and youth are bombarded with the adventurous and trendy marketing associated with these drinks. Teenagers must also be protected from abusive marketing, not just those 12 and under.

No other family should have to live with the questions that my family does. Sadly, I have connected with several others families who have shared similar losses, more than one of them in Canada. They all share my suspicions.

I urge you to take action.  Tell government to restrict the commercial marketing of foods and beverages to children and youth. Send an e-card to your MP letting them know marketing to kids must stop. Together, our message is stronger. Food and beverage companies must be told, our kids are not their business.

By Jim Shepherd


  1. Canada Vigilance Summary of Reported Adverse Reactions. Canadian Vigilance Database. Health Canada. December 19, 2013. Accessed via: CanadaVigilance@hc-sc.gc.ca

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Action on restricting marketing to kids happening now

All levels of government can protect children from exposure to food and beverage marketing – and we already have examples of innovative provinces and municipalities taking action!

Recognizing that a national response was required to the steady increase in childhood obesity, the Ministers of Health and Health Promotion/Healthy Living endorsed Curbing Childhood Obesity – A Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights (2010). One of the policy areas identified was to decrease the marketing of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and/or sodium to children and progress is reported in a biennial e-report.

On the provincial front, Quebec was an early leader globally in protecting children from advertising through their Consumer Protection Act.  With legislation being introduced in the early 1980s, companies were no longer allowed to advertise to children under age 13.

Also noteworthy, in Ontario, the Healthy Kids Panel report (2012) made a recommendation to change the food environment including banning the marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, beverages and snacks to children under age 12. Recently, this recommendation was endorsed by over 25 organisations that collaborated on the Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy.

At the municipal level, the Toronto Board of Health has shown committed action for over 30 years, advocating for comprehensive restrictions on commercial marketing targeted at children. It is no surprise with this commitment that Toronto Public Health is a supporting member of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition. Last year, Toronto Board of Health used their voice to support the federal ban on marketing to kids and continues to raise awareness about the importance of restricting marketing to kids.

Other municipalities are also taking action to restrict marketing to kids by endorsing the Ottawa Principles or exploring municipal policy options including the Middlesex-London and Ottawa public health boards.

There is still more to be done at all levels of government in Canada to protect children from marketing of food and beverages, but action is taking place. Find out more about how individuals, schools, communities and governments can get involved in the Heart and Stroke Report on the Health of Canadians.

By Elizabeth Holmes, Health Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society

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5 actions government can take to protect children from food and beverage marketing

Government action is necessary to protect children from exposure to food and beverage marketing. The federal government has taken a great step forward by committing to introduce restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, but action is also important at the provincial and municipal level. Here are five ways governments can take action to support parents and from the harmful effects of food and beverage marketing:

  1. Restrict exposure to food and beverage marketing in public places where children gather including childcare settings, schools and school grounds, libraries, public transit, recreation centres, parks, playgrounds, sporting or cultural activities, as well as hospitals.
  2. Conduct a review of food and beverage marketing and sole-sourced contracts. Results can help provide a clearer understanding of marketing in child-focused settings and can highlight opportunities to create healthier food environments.
  3. Endorse the Ottawa Principles which call for the restriction of commercial marketing of all food and beverages to children aged 16 and under, with the exception of non-commercial marketing for public education.
  4. Review zoning restrictions close to child-focused settings including schools and playgrounds, in existing neighbourhoods and in new developments as they are planned. It is easier to put restrictions in place before new schools and child-focused settings are built instead of after the fact.
  5. Educate Canadians about the risks associated with unhealthy food and beverage consumption through public awareness and education campaigns. Provincially, media literacy can be included as part of school curriculum to address marketing to children.

Check out some of the ways that innovative Canadian provinces and municipalities are already taking action here. Let’s build on this momentum. Send an e-card and let your MP know that stopping marketing to kids is important to you and call on them to take action.

By Elizabeth Holmes, Health Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society
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The Dangers of Marketing to Kids Makes Waves on Parliament Hill

Our children and youth are bombarded with ads for unhealthy foods and beverages all day, every day. These ads are influencing their food and beverage choices, and having a devastating effect on their health.

This Valentine’s Day, we met with more than 60 Members of Parliament and Senators to discuss the dangers of marketing to kids at Heart on theHill.

The case for ending the onslaught of food and beverage marketing is crystal clear.  New research found children are exposed to 25 million food and beverage ads a year on their favourite websites. Over 90% of products viewed by kids and teens online are unhealthy – high in salt, fat and/or sugar.

It’s time to protect our children and support parents. Canada must restrict food and beverage marketing to kids. Read the Heart & Stroke 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians for more information about how you can get involved. 

Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition Group Photo Feb. 13, 2017
Photo Credit: Jana Chytilova


By Ashley Hughes, Registered Dietitian and Coordinator for the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition


Editor’s Note: Heart on the Hill is an annual event hosted by the Heart & Stroke Foundation. On February 14, 2017, Members of Parliament, Senators and staff were invited to attend a Valentine’s Day reception. Members of the Canadian Cancer Society, Food Secure Canada, the Canadian Dental Association, and Diabetes Canada attended the photo-op on parliament hill and evening reception. Discussions with Members of Parliament and Senators focused on children’s health, and the dangers of marketing to kids and sugar-sweetened beverages. 


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Take the Fight Out of Food

Support Parents to Raise Healthy, Happy and Mindful Eaters

As a registered dietitian and mom of three, my hope is to raise healthy, happy and mindful eaters, and to help nurture their relationships with food in a positive way. I want my kids to be able to strike a healthy balance between nutrition, and pleasure when it comes to food. Believe me though, I’m no stranger to food-related power struggles, which helps me to relate to my clients and readers who include parents who are trying to navigate the tricky world of feeding kids and picky eating.

I was thrilled to see that this year’s Nutrition Month theme is  “Take The Fight Out of Food”, a campaign dedicated to supporting Canadians to stop their struggles with food (one of which is picky eating) and seek help from a dietitian.

This is a very common issue in households, not only because kids are trying to assert their independence and gain some sense of control with food, but also because there are so many external factors influencing their food preferences and requests including marketing to children. Just the other day, my son asked me if we could buy juice boxes at the grocery store because he saw an ad with a child reaching for one in a school cafeteria on TV. If feeding young kids wasn’t challenging enough, food ads targeted at kids are setting families up for failure in the nutrition department.

Good nutrition is critical to our kids’ health. Risk factors for premature heart disease, stroke and diabetes are at an all-time high, not to mention the fact that almost one in three kids have excess weight or obesity. My kids have a leg up in this department, having a mom who is also a pediatric dietitian. But what about other kids?

The food landscape is changing in Canada. In fact, it’s the first time in history that some kids’ diets have been dominated by unhealthy, nutrient-poor, processed foods and beverages for their entire lives. Because chronic diseases represent the largest share of our direct healthcare costs – an estimated $68 billion annually – this should be a concern for all Canadians, not just parents.

I try to limit my older kids’ screen time to no more than about an hour per day, but even so, they will be exposed to four to five food or beverage ads during that hour (just like the juice box commercial that my son watched!). Even more shocking, kids see over 25 million food and beverage ads a year on their favorite websites, and over 90% of these ads are unhealthy.

Because they are still young (6 years and under), they’re likely not able to understand the persuasive nature of food adsi, however I can see that something is triggered in my oldest son’s brain when he watches an ad for sugary cereal or fruit snacks. Whether it simply piques his interest: “Mom, can we buy this at the store?”, or a triggers a sudden—and likely false—sense of hunger: “Mom, I’m hungry!”, it most certainly has an effect, and might even influence his eating habits long term.

For most families, there are several factors at play when it comes to eating habits—access to healthy foods, nutrition knowledge, cooking skills and financial limitations. And, it’s no surprise that marketing unhealthy foods to kids can influence parents purchasing habits too. Let’s be honest—when a parent is grocery shopping with kids in tow, it’s a lot easier to dodge a meltdown and give into a sugary granola bar request than not.

And marketers are well aware of how strongly kids drive family grocery purchases, and they also know that these kids will potentially become life-long purchasers. What makes matters worse—especially for kids and families who struggle financially—is the fact that the easiest, most accessible and heavily marketed foods and beverages are often the most nutrient-poor and calorie-dense. In fact, these products are now 60% of the average family’s food purchases.

Parents are doing their best, but unfortunately our food environment is working against them… and their kids.

Most Canadians share my concern with unhealthy food and beverage marketing to kids and are ready for change. The change certainly needs to happen at home, with parents nurturing healthy eating habits and positive relationships with food. However, the biggest change of all needs to happen at the government level, to stop the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, which would surely help parents in their efforts to raise healthy and mindful eaters.

We all need to step forward and support the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition efforts and pledge to ‘Take the Fight out of Food’ this March during Nutrition Month. Visit www.nutritionmonth2017.ca for details.

i. Dietitians of Canada. 2010. Advertising of Food and Beverages to Children. Position of Dietitians of Canada, December 2010. Accessible here: http://www.dietitians.ca/Dietitians-Views/Children-and-Teens/Marketing-to-children.aspx

By Sarah Remmer, RD. Sarah is a Calgary-based pediatric dietitian who owns a nutrition consulting and communications company, Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting. Sarah is also a member of Dietitians of Canada. Connect with Sarah on Facebook, and Twitter and Instagram: @sarahremmer

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Coca-Cola Knows Santa Sells

Growing up on the Canadian Prairies, I’ve always found December magical —blankets of powdery white snow, clear starry skies, and glittering layers of frost. To many children’s delight, it’s also filled with snow angels, twinkling lights, and excited anticipation for the arrival of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus is a legendary icon for Canadian children. His classic red suit, black leather boots, and snowy white beard are universally recognized.

But did you know Santa’s suit wasn’t always red? Before the 1930s, Santa was depicted in a variety of colours, including blue, green and yellow.

You might be surprised to know that Santa’s modern day image was heavily influenced by The Coca-Cola Company. Haddon Sundblom was commissioned by Coca-Cola in 1931 to develop advertising images using Santa Claus, cementing his iconic image for years to come.


I think now, when people envision Santa Claus, they envision the Coca-Cola Santa Claus. Many of them don’t even know the originator, the fact that Haddon Sundblom painted this perfect vision of Santa Claus, and kept this vision of Santa Claus consistent for over 30 years. —Ted Ryan, Director of Heritage Communications, The Coca-Cola Company

(Time marker 0:17)


Since then, Coca-Cola has used their image of Santa to heavily market sugar-laden cola to children. They started out with ads in popular magazines in the 1920s. Through the years they featured the loveable icon in animated television commercials, including alongside one of the most popular symbols of Coca-Cola advertising, the animated polar bear.


In that 1964 [painting], [Santa] has a brand new technology, and he’s showing the kids how to use a helicopter that he’s brought for them. —Ted Ryan, Director of Heritage Communications, The Coca-Cola Company

(Time marker 2:31)


That’s really what we were trying to do – create a character that’s innocent, fun and reflects the best attributes we like to call ‘human’. The bears are cute, mischievous, playful and filled with fun. —Ken Stewart, creator of Coca-Cola Company’s Northern Lights Commercial


These powerful and persuasive ads reveal an unfortunate reality —Santa sells, and sometimes he sells unhealthy products to kids. As a childhood icon, should this be permitted?

Many leading Canadian health organizations in Canada stand against this practice.

Imagine a world where children and parents were supported to make nutritious food choices, free of food and beverage marketing. In this place, childhood icons would not be used to influence their food preferences.

Momentum is building to make this vision a reality —but your help is needed.

Join the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition and ask the Canadian government to restrict the marketing of foods and beverages to children.

Happy Holidays! May the magic and wonder of the season stay with you into the New Year! From the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition

By Ashley Hughes, Registered Dietitian and Coordinator for the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition

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The Sport Diet: Food and Beverage Marketing in Public Recreation Facilities

Like many Canadians, you probably watched at least a few moments of the 2016 Olympic Games. You might remember Penny Oleksiak winning gold, silver, and bronze. You probably also recall advertisements for Olympic partners, like Coca-Cola. What might be less obvious is food marketing in sports centres close to home.

Researchersi recently measured food and beverage marketing in public recreation facilities in Canada. They recorded promotional signs around the facility, including where kids play sports and buy food. They noted whether concession prices encouraged unhealthy purchases, and what kinds of foods were next to the cash register. The results were clear: unhealthy food and beverage marketing is present in public recreation facilities, not only in elite sports.

Researchers found that facilities promoted a food or beverage product, brand or retailer an average of 34 times. On average, children were directly targeted at least twice per facility. More than half of the advertisements promoted unhealthy products (sugary drinks, candy, chocolate, deep-fried foods). Only 26% promoted healthy products (water, fruit, milk, fresh groceries). Shockingly, more food marketing was found in sport areas, entrances, and hallways than in the concession!

Does promoting burger joints, sugary drinks, and deep-fried food make sense in public recreation facilities – a place that promotes health and fitness for all ages? Current research tells us that children in sport often consume more fast food and sugary drinks than non-active children. This may be associated with selling and marketing these foods in sports. Aren’t recreation facilities the place to encourage healthy eating that supports optimal performance and health?

Together, we can shift the “sport diet” in our communities. Ask your sport centre to restrict unhealthy food marketing in kids’ sports and promote only healthy foods and beverages. Visit Food Action in Recreation Environments to learn how to support healthy eating at your local recreation facility.

i. Heart & Stroke-funded research (the Eat, Play, Live Project) is measuring the food environments in public recreation facilities in 4 provinces. These results are preliminary/ unpublished.

By Rachel Prowse, Registered Dietitian and PhD Candidate in Health Promotion and Socio-Behavioural Sciences at the University of Alberta

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The Marketing Map: Where Does Your Child See Food and Beverage Marketing?

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.

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