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Heart and Stroke Foundation Wants to Pull the Brakes on Marketing Food to Kids

In their Report on the Health of Canadians for 2017, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is taking aim at food marketed to children, and is calling for heavy restrictions on advertising it to kids.

The foundation says children between the ages of two and eleven collectively see 25 million food and drink ads a year on their top ten favourite websites and 90% of those ads are for unhealthy products.

“We’d like to see these commercials – be they on TV or online – out of our kids lives and have restrictions on use of cartoon characters and celebrities and all the different mechanisms marketers are using to entice kids to want to buy these products,” says Kate Chidester, VP Health & Research for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The Foundation’s report adds that Since 1979, the number of Canadian children with obesity has tripled, with almost one in three children overweight or obese. “This is the first generation of kids we’ve seen at high risk, going into adulthood with predisposition to chronic disease,” adds Chidester. “It’s the first time we’ve had kids living their whole lives eating unhealthy diets high in processed foods, and at the same time we’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods.”

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The Foundation says in their report that food marketers use the ‘nag factor’ in kids to their advantage. A poll conducted by the Foundation found that 71% of Canadians believe that because the food and beverage industry spends so much money on advertising to kids, it has an unfair advantage over parents when it comes to influencing children’s eating and drinking habits.

“The effect on families is often corrosive or disruptive,” says Dr. Tom Warshawski, Chair, Childhood Obesity Foundation. “Parents love their kids and want them to flourish but marketing persuades kids to want junk food and drinks. Part of the goal of that persuasion is setting up a conflict between kids and parents. Kids agitate for these products.”

“I myself have had a kid lie on the grocery store floor crying out for something they’ve seen on commercials that they really, really want that I know I don’t want to buy and it’s difficult,” adds Chidster with her own personal anecdote. “The food environment is a difficult environment to make healthy choices in.”

Marketers also have far more places than TV to get their message across as well these days.

“We used to only see commercials on TV when we were watching Saturday morning cartoons,” says Chidester. “Now kids can spend up to eight hours in front of a screen. They have their smartphones, they have screens available to them in ways we never had.”

The Foundation cites laws at restricting tobacco advertising and Quebec’s complete ban on marketing to children as successful examples. The ban has existed in Quebec since the 80s and has been associated with a 13% reduction in the likelihood to purchase fast food. The province also has the lowest obesity rate in Canada among children ages 6 – 11 years, and the highest rate of vegetable and fruit consumption.

The full report can be viewed here.

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