The ban on marketing junk food to kids might not happen after all

Parents, we're powerless against big food companies. But as a collective voice, we can stand together for the rights of our kids and speak up. 

Photo: iStockphoto

At the grocery store last week, my eight-year old son pointed to a box of Froot Loops and said, “A wild part of this complete breakfast!”

“Whatever froots your loops!” added my 12-year-old daughter, laughing.

Yep. Verbatim repetition of a commercial. Is it something they saw on TV during their one daily hour of screen time? Nope. It was on an iPad at school.

And if the food industry has its way, its ability to directly target children with positive messages about junk food is not going to change anytime soon. That’s despite years of work by non-profit organizations such as Heart & Stroke and Obesity Canada to stop food companies from marketing junk food to kids.

I’m a dietitian, so I’m more tuned into issues like these. But every parent should be. Canadian parents need to fight back against these big food companies that are targeting your kids with junk foods ads.

There’s already been a lot of work done on this issue

Back in 2016, Senator Nancy Greene Raine proposed an amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, which would prohibit food and beverage marketing aimed specifically at children (Bill S-228). Sounds like an easy win, because how could any senator vote against that common sense, right?

But the bill has been unnecessarily delayed by food industry bigwigs, who are pushing back to ensure this it does not become law. Why? Because when kids get hooked on Pepsi, PopTarts and Oreos from a young age, they are customers for life. And that’s what the food industry is banking on.

Bill S-228 has been raised on the Senate floor four times, but the final vote hasn’t happened because it’s been adjourned all four times by request of a senator. That’s because the food industry is putting pressure on senators to stop the bill from becoming law. Parents aren’t supposed to know about this, but thankfully,  CBC News shared a confidential letter written by industry groups, asking senators to continue to “withhold your concurrence” on Bill S-228.

Which companies should we be angry at?

two little girls looking at sweets Your kids are surrounded by junk food. So what's a parent to do?Pretty much all of them. The letter was signed by the Canadian Beverage Association (Coke, Pepsi, etc.); Food & Consumer Products of Canada (Campbell’s, Dare, General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, etc.); Restaurants Canada (the national association of Canadian restaurants) and other similar groups, who would lose out on a key demographic—children—if the bill is passed.

If these groups continue to delay the bill until the next federal election (October, 2019), the bill will die, no vote will happen and your kids will continue to be bombarded by junk food marketing, which, make no mistake about it, negatively influences their food choices.

Why all parents need to care about Bill S-228

You may be thinking, My kid doesn’t watch TV so this isn’t really a problem for me. Think again. Marketing surrounds all kids, even those without access to a screen at home. Billboards, magazines, bus shelters, radio, songs and even the cereal box on your breakfast table all influence children with junk foods ads. If passed, Bill S-228 would stop companies from advertising to children in all of these places, in addition to TV, online, video games and movies.

Research shows that food marketing works, and that’s why companies don’t want to lose this huge target market. Food ads are proven to influence what children want to eat, and the foods they will pester you to buy.

What’s more, there’s a known correlation between current food marketing and the rising rates of childhood obesity and chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. Currently, 90 percent of the foods marketed on TV are high in salt, sugar, calories and fat, and that’s what our children are being encouraged to eat. This starts at a young age, when impressionable kids have no media literacy skills and don’t know about nutrition or health. They just know sugar tastes good.

What parents can do about junk food advertising

Parents, we can’t let food companies win this one. It’s time to speak out and protect our kids.

The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, which is backed by 10 leading non-profit organizations and 120 national endorsing organization (seen here) offers ways you can help stop food companies from marketing to your kids. They encourage you to email or call your senator. To make it easy, they have provided phone numbers, email address and templates for what your letter or voicemail should say.

Alone, we are powerless against big food companies. But as a collective voice, we can stand together for the rights of our kids and speak up.

Read more:
Junk food ads are targeting your kids—here’s how to stop it
The new Canada’s Food Guide is finally here, and there’s both good and bad news for parents

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