A report from the Heart and Stroke foundation recommends curtailing advertising of unhealthy food to children. Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.
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Negative effects are clear and legislation has been introduced, we just need to act on it

Children see, on average, eight to 10 food and beverage advertisements a day, according to a 2017 report released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Out of all these advertisements, 90 per cent depict unhealthy food, according to the study. Since children are more likely to choose to eat foods they see advertised, these messages can have a very negative effect on children and youth.

While it’s understandable to expect an adult to be able to critically chose the food they consume, it is unreasonable to assume a child, whose ability to evaluate consequences is still developing, will be able to make the same decisions. Research from the American Psychological Association suggests that children do not develop the ability to detect the bias of advertisements until the age of eight.

Our society accepts that smoking can be terrible for your health, and so the sale and advertisement of cigarettes is limited to adults. The same mindset must be applied to the advertisement of unhealthy food and beverages.

According to Tom Warshawski, chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, being obese at the age of 40 has the same negative health effects as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.

Thankfully, there is legislation currently circulating Parliament to help counteract this problem.

In September 2016, Senator Nancy Greene Raine introduced an act to ban the advertisement of unhealthy food and beverages directed at children under the age of 13.  The aim of the act is to try to control the rising obesity rates among children. Since the 1970s childhood obesity rates have tripled in Canada and almost a third of youth in Canada are overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada,.

It would not be the first time an advertisement ban like this would be legislated in Canada. The province of Quebec has banned commercial advertising to children since 1980. A 2012 study conducted by Tirtha Dhar and Kathy Baylis found that money spent on fast food in the province decreased by 13 per cent following the ban.

More importantly, the study found that Quebec now has the lowest obesity rates in the country among six to 11 year olds and the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables. If children do not see junk food advertised while watching television or playing video games, they are less likely to ask their parents to buy it, the study suggests.

Many European countries are also implementing regulations to limit how unhealthy food and beverage companies can advertise. In the United Kingdom and Norway, companies cannot advertise to children under the age of 16. Greece, Belgium, and Denmark also have advertising restrictions.

Banning these advertisements targeting children, especially those under the age of 13, is not a revolutionary idea. There is extensive evidence connecting unhealthy food and beverage advertisements to an increased consumption of these products, which causes obesity and an increased risk of diabetes and cancer.

The legislation is already there. It is time for the government to stand up to the food and beverage companies who aggressively target the most easily manipulated part of the Canadian population.