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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