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 favourite 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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Teens are Drinking Over a Kilo of Sugar per Month!

Recently, my son asked me to buy him a sports drink after baseball practice with a sideways glance to see if I would bite. He followed with a flurried explanation about being sweaty after running around and some mumbling about electrolytes and his muscles.

He whined and pleaded after my predictable answer that ‘water is the best drink for an athlete.’ But his question and approach mimics what is seen in the research.

  1. Sugary drinks are heavily marketed to kids
  2. Children exposed to this kind of marketing will nag their parents for unhealthy food and beverages.
  3. Parents that are nagged for junk foods or drinks are more likely to give in and buy those unhealthy products. (Although not in this case!!)

It’s amazing to me just how sneaky the marketing is, how persuasive it is and how often it operates on a subconscious level.

Most of us are probably familiar with sports drink sponsorship on TV – seeing football or hockey teams drinking from branded bottles and the branded ice chest being dumped over the winning coach which are such common images in the world of professional sports.

But the marketing has become much more sophisticated.

My son, who doesn’t see any advertising on TV, watches you-tube clips of people doing awesome and extreme sports that are sponsored by one company. He doesn’t even realize that it’s advertising but he definitely has a high opinion of that particular drink.

Another company has great big branded monster trucks that tour around at community events. But that’s not all, this company also sponsors race cars, surfing, skateboarding and mountain and BMX biking competitions. It also has a long list of athletes that it supports – not to mention DJs and then there is the gallery of scantily clad girls (and the rampant sexism is a whole other issue) .

Visit the sponsored athletes’ facebook pages or twitter accounts and you can see strong endorsements for those brands – in the clothes they wear, the images posted and even in their messages.

It’s easy to see how carefully and thoroughly these companies are targeting teen boys with all things ‘cool’ in the teen boy world. But marketers know that they can win over the shoulder markets on either side of their teen target. By targeting teens and young adults, they stand to gain a market share of younger boys that want to seem cool and older as well as those older guys that want to seem cool and younger.

The branded t-shirts, ball caps and bumper stickers for men beyond their twenties that want to hold on to their youth are one thing but there are also toys. Marketing to kids is about building brand loyalty at a very early age and therefore creating life-long consumers. Go into any convenience store and you can see the power displays that reinforce all the other TV, on-line and social media marketing – it’s a powerful mix.

With such strong and pervasive marketing, it’s not surprising that teenagers are some of the biggest consumers of sugary drinks. The average teen consumes 1.2 kilos of sugar from drinks in just a month![i, ii] This puts our children at risk for diabetes and other weight related chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

This is why the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition is calling on governments to restrict food and beverage marketing to children.

By Rita Koutsodimos
Manager, Advocacy and Communications, BC Alliance for Healthy Living

i. Health Behavior in School Aged Children. A world health organization cross-national study. Social Program Evaluation Group, Queen’s University at Kingston. Public Health Agency of Canada

ii. Garriguet D. Beverage consumption in children and teens. Health Reports. 2008;19(4). Available from: http://www.statcan.

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Niños Sanos: Restricting Marketing to Children in Mexico

On June 29, Canada will welcome American President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto for the Three Amigos Summit. This presents an opportunity to explore public policy enacted by our neighbours.

Faced with the growing rates of chronic diseases, and concerned with an already overburdened public health care system, the Mexican government has passed a number of measures to decrease the amount of junk food Mexicans consume.

In 2014, Mexico restricted the marketing of unhealthy foods to children by banning advertisements of certain unhealthy foods between 2:30pm and 7:30pm on weekdays and 7:00am and 7:30pm on weekends. An estimated 35 per cent of TV audiences during these times are under the age of 13.

Because of this legislation, 40 per cent of ads for sugar-sweetened beverages, candy and chocolate will cease to air. It is estimated that children who watch two hours of television per day will view 10,200 fewer ads for unhealthy foods than before the legislation was enacted.

This legislation also has the potential to impact industry, as companies like Danone seek to lower the sugar content of some of their products in order to be able to continue to advertise them. Companies are also replacing advertisements for less healthy foods with some of their healthier products.

Still, despite the laudable efforts of legislators, some argue the restrictions ought to be stronger: the definition of unhealthy foods should have had lower limits for calories and sugar; many children watch television outside of the restricted times; companies can continue to advertise in public and on the Internet; and there has been no ban on cartoon characters and toy prizes.

While it is still perhaps too early to fully understand the impact of this legislation on child health in Mexico, it seems likely the Canadian government would be better off modeling its own legislation based on the M2K Coalition’s Ottawa Principles. Nonetheless, the M2K Coalition continues to monitor closely Mexico’s policy experiments to tackle the consumption of unhealthy foods, as they have undoubtedly seen some success.

By Sasha McNicoll, Coalition for Healthy School Food Coordinator, Food Secure Canada

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Why now? Time to stop marketing to kids in Canada

You may be asking yourself why stop marketing to kids and why now? Momentum has been building. Health organizations met in November 2014 to discuss the latest evidence around food and beverage marketing to children and developed the framework for what would become the Ottawa Principles. Since that meeting, 30 organizations across Canada have endorsed the Ottawa Principles.

Prior to the 2015 federal election, both the NDP and Liberal parties committed to introducing restrictions on the commercial marketing on unhealthy food and beverages to children. After the election, the Prime Minister reinforced this commitment by making these restrictions a top priority in the November 2015 mandate letter to the newly appointed Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly listed restrictions to marketing to kids as a policy option to support healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity, most recently in their January 2016 report of the commission on ending childhood obesity.

Earlier this year, 11 leading health organizations came together to launch Canada’s Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition on February 24 2016. Our vision is clear: “We envision a Canada where children and parents make nutritious food choices in an environment free of influence from food and beverage marketing to children.”

Less than a week later on March 1 2016, the Senate Committee Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released their report, Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada. The report makes 21 recommendations, including a recommendation to restrict food and beverage marketing to children.

So why now? Because the timing is right. Government and health organizations agree that our children deserve to be protected from food and beverage marketing. Together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to adopt robust, evidence-informed marketing to kid restrictions that will become the envy of the world and position Canada as a global leader in child health. Let’s make it happen. Add your voice and help us take action today.

By Elizabeth Holmes, Health Policy Analyst, Canadian Cancer Society, National Office

M2K Advocacy: Steps to success

We are students from Saskatchewan who want you to know that advocating can begin at any age. Follow these easy steps to making a difference in your community!

  1. Inspiration – It begins with an idea…

When we saw what our school canteen sold to the kids and tried to make some changes to the menu, it made us realize how much companies are trying to sell unhealthy food to kids. For that reason, it is so hard to make healthy choices. In our life we are surrounded by advertisements and reminders to eat food that’s bad for us.  We were shocked about how unhealthy our world has become and this inspired us to take on this project.

  1. Educate yourself – Knowledge is power!

There are many ways to learn about a topic. Here are some of the ways we learned about Marketing to Kids:

  • Talked to experts in the field of nutrition like our public health nutritionist
  • Attended changing the menu conference
  • Started actively looking for ways companies market to kids
    • Social media and games
    • Incentives when you buy unhealthy foods
    • Placement in stores and at our local canteen
    • Sponsorship of our sports teams
    • Packaging is fun
  1. Define your goal – Continue to make new ones!

During this project, we discovered many goals we wanted to achieve:

  • make a photo voice
  • speak with people of the division board, so that our message could be heard
  • present our story nationally, so that our message would be heard more openly to others around our country

These goals have concluded that in doing this project, our main goal is to encourage others about the importance of healthy eating and healthy choices in schools and communities. We hope that the word keeps spreading about who we are, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it, because we want to inspire others to do the same. Marketing affects everyone and if we make a difference, in coming together, we will be the change seen in the world.

  1. Power in numbers – Surround yourself with like-minded people

In the beginning, a bunch of friends all had the same idea about the junk in our schools being so bad, we partnered with our SLC (Student Leadership Council) they helped us organize a meeting with the teacher who runs the canteen. Turns out the public health unit, nurses and nutritionists agreed with us too and offered to help. Then the Heart and Stroke Foundation heard about us and since they were working on the same stuff, they asked us if we would like to do a photo voice on M2K. From there we invited like-minded community leaders to learn about our photo voice. Then we presented at the principals meeting and to lots of service groups who all thought we were doing great work. From there we got asked to speak at the national school food conference called changing the menu. It was really great to have 450 like minded delegates, all adults! Who knew that kids and adults from across the country all want the same thing.

  1. Present your findings

It is important to share knowledge because kids are very unhealthy. It was important to present to the principles because we need to spread awareness about unhealthy eating habits. The presentation with the school board was successful because they did make our canteen healthier. The conference in Montreal was a good learning experience, since we got to go to other presentations and learn some things we didn’t know before, which helped our knowledge on unhealthy food. For the interviews, we mostly talked about how we got started and our next steps.

  1. Facing adversary – You can’t change everyone’s view
  • Laugh it off!
  • Educate yourself and others
  • Know your facts!
  • Small changes are better than no changes
  • Never give up

After coming back from Montreal we have many new plans ahead for the New Year in 2016! M2K kids hope to speak to both provincial and federal government leaders in hopes of shining light on healthy eating and marketing regulations and asking them to pass some legislation to make life better for kids. We will be partnering with the Heart and Stroke foundation once again in hopes of attending Heart on the Hill Day at Parliament this spring. By presenting at this event we hope to let the leaders know that the kids of Canada want government to stop the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids across Canada. There is a possibility that we will be spreading the word even further by taping a video that could be shared with schools about the importance and effects of marketing to kids. It will give other students an idea of how to take up the fight where they live. We will continue to encourage others to make positive changes for healthy eating and healthy choices in schools and communities. Coming back from the Changing the Menu Conference in Montreal we feel ready to take on the next challenge we`re faced with and feel that we can accomplish anything. Look out Canada, M2K is coming for you!

By Dana Ismail, Leah Bratvold, Anika Sukkhu, Bria Szell, and Sarah Szell