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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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Not so Happy Meals: McDonald’s faces class action lawsuit in Quebec

A father in Quebec argues children are being marketed to by the fast food mogul, McDonald’s, and he wants it to stop. Marketing to kids under 13 years of age is illegal according to Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act. The father believes McDonald’s is advertising to kids by showcasing toy cases in their restaurants right at children’s eye level.

“Whatever it is, good food or not, marketing to kids is not allowed in Quebec,” says Corinne Voyer, Director of the Weight Coalition in Quebec.

Voyer notes marketing foods and beverages to children is a problem recognized by the World Health Organization in the obesity epidemic.

McDonald’s is now facing a class action lawsuit in Quebec. Global News Reporter Gloria Henriquez tells the full story.

WATCH: Not so Happy Meals: McDonald’s faces class action lawsuit in Quebec

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

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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

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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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