Is marketing as bad for kids as soda pop? British chef/author Jamie Oliver appears to think so as does a panel of Canadian experts who are part of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition.
The panel discuss the need for a strategy to promote nutritious food and aim to restrict the food business from marketing to kids in Canada. What the experts emphasized was the need for good food information in advertising.
"Industry self-regulation is a failure. The standards are lax, participation is voluntary and there is more advertising and marketing targeted to children than ever before," said Geoff Craig, chief marketing officer, Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Acknowledging that there is no "magic bullet" to improve unhealthy diets, the panel identified a range of solutions to support families to make healthy choices. Strategies include restricting food and beverage marketing to kids, implementing a levy on sugary beverages to fund healthy living initiatives, improved nutrition labeling, ensuring healthy choices in schools and other settings, investing in Indigenous food programs, and better food education.
"We know that over 90 per cent of food decisions in the household are driven by children," said Dr. Tom Warshawski, chair, Childhood Obesity Foundation. The "nag factor" does not come out of nowhere – it is driven by marketing messages. It is not a fair fight for parents. Winning the battle for harmony often means losing the battle for health."
Jamie Oliver spoke about the enormity of the food business globally and the urgent need for action around childhood nutrition and obesity. He acknowledged Canadian health minister Jane Philpott's clear mandate on restricting marketing to kids and expressed his hope that Canada would seize the opportunity to be a global leader around nutrition policy and action. He urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to implement a plan that "can't be good, it has to be fantastic."
"It is about healthy habits for everyone. Family meals are important, learning how to cook your own meals and cooking that food together," Oliver said. "Making sure you get your fruits and vegetables and physical activity, cutting out sugary drinks, and decreasing screen time – which is so important for marketing to kids. This problem has come on so slowly that we don't realize the health risks attributable to unhealthy diets are the same as with tobacco. We need the exact same strategies – we need regulation."
Recent data from the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition suggests that 90 per cent of marketed food and beverage products are high in fat, sugar and salt, with 85 per cent of food brands most heavily promoted to children through websites. Additionally, 70 per cent of Canadian children do not eat the minimum daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables while 31 per cent of Canadian children and youth are overweight or obese.
The Stop Marketing to Kids (Stop M2K) coalition was founded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in collaboration with the Childhood Obesity Foundation in 2014. The Stop M2K Coalition is made up of 11 non-governmental organizations with written endorsement from dozens of additional organizations and individuals. Their goal is to restrict all food and beverage marketing to children and youth 16 years and under in Canada.
"What has changed our choices is our environment. We live in an environment where we are surrounded by low cost, nutrient poor, processed foods and sugary drinks. We are surrounded by the wrong kind of information, we are surrounded by advertising but we don't get good food information," said Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer, Canadian Diabetes Association.