There is strong agreement amongst leading Canadian pediatric and allied health organizations that the impact of food and beverage marketing is real, significant and harmful to children’s development. Over 120 organizations and children’s health advocates across the country are calling on our governments to restrict food and beverage marketing to kids.
The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition recommends that the federal government introduce regulations to restrict the marketing of food and beverages high in salt, sugars and saturated fat to children, as per Health Canada’s most recent Forward Regulatory Plan, by Fall 2023.
The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition also supports Private Member’s Bill C-252, Child Protection Act. However, the bill should encourage, not delay, the federal government’s introduction of regulations by Fall 2023.
Industry self-regulation has failed
- Evidence from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and several European countries overwhelmingly demonstrate that the food industry’s attempt to regulate its own advertising has failed to protect children from exposure to unhealthy food and beverage advertising.
- Canada is no exception. Food advertising to children under 12 has been self-regulated by an industry-led initiative called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI) adopted in 2007. Over the years, 20 large food manufacturers and two fast food restaurants have participated.
- Despite its implementation, some children aged 2-11 are still frequently exposed to food and beverages on television to the tune of 2,200 ads per year on average, most of which promote unhealthy products.
- Food and beverages considered less healthy or high in sugar, sodium or fat are still frequently marketed on television (including children’s speciality channels), in digital media, in recreational centers, in schools, and in movie theatres, where children are likely to be exposed on a regular basis.
- The use of marketing techniques that appeal heavily to children is also frequent in food advertising on television, online, and on food packaging.
- On websites and television programs on which the CAI restrictions actually applied, participating companies were found to advertise more than non-participating companies and the majority (>75%) of their advertised products were still considered ‘less healthy’.
- The failure of the CAI can be attributed to its very limited scope and its weak nutrition standards. For example, this initiative considered sugary breakfast cereals like Lucky Charms and Froot Loops as “better-for-you” products and deemed them appropriate for advertising to kids.
- Despite its dismal record, the food and advertising industry would have us believe that their new Code for the Responsible Advertising of Food and Beverages to Children is a genuine attempt to protect kids.
- However, this new initiative is nothing more than smoke and mirrors and attempt to fend off government regulations.
- The code’s definition of “child-directed advertising” defining what advertising is restricted is convoluted and will likely be easy to circumvent. For example, the placement of unhealthy food advertisements on children’s television programs alone may not be considered “child-directed” and as such may be permitted.
- The proposed industry guidelines also do not apply to important media like websites popular with mixed audiences and social media sites not intended for children.
- It also excludes several types of marketing that children are influenced by, including product packaging, point-of-sale marketing, premiums (e.g., toys), brand advertising and the use of endorsement characters like cartoon brand characters or adult influencers.
- The jury is in – industry self-regulation does not work. It’s time for the federal government to make good on its commitment and adopt regulations to protect kids from unhealthy food advertising.
Legislation restricting marketing to kids works
Quebec has had legislation for decades. People in Quebec have the highest fruit and vegetable consumption, are less likely to purchase fast food, and Quebec has the lowest prevalence of childhood obesity in Canada despite low physical activity rates.
A missed opportunity: a snapshot of the history of Bill S-228 (the Child Health Protection Act)
From 2016-2019, the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition mobilized the voices of thousands to advocate for Bill S-228, a federal act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children, 12 years of age and under). It was introduced in 2016 and died on the Order Paper after Parliament dissolved for the federal election in 2019. Although the bill was not passed before Parliament dissolved.. See below for more information on the history of Bill S-228.
September 27, 2016: Senator Nancy Greene Raine introduced the Child Health Protection Act (Bill S-228) — a bill that would ban the marketing of food and beverages primarily directed at children. Read more
September 28, 2017:Bill S-228 passed third reading in the Senate without amendments.
October 6, 2017: The House of Commons discussed Canada’s first federal bill to restrict food and beverage marketing to children.
December 12, 2017: Two amendments to Bill S-228 were introduced in the House of Commons:
- The age limit was amended from 16 and under to 12 and under, and a five-year post-legislation review mechanism was introduced.
- Community-level sports sponsorships would be exempted from the regulations.
September 19, 2018:Bill S-228 passed third reading in the House of Commons and was sent to the Senate with two minor amendments in October 2018.
June 21, 2019: The Senate of Canada adjourned for the summer and Bill S-228 was not called to a vote before the end of the Senate session. This was the final opportunity to pass Bill S-228, and as a result, the bill died on the Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved for the 2019 federal election.