The Senate of Canada is putting the health of our kids at risk

Shame on them

Yes, there have been many discussions about whether the Senate of Canada is an overpaid antiquated institution or if it’s a vital part of our system of governance. But now it seems we need to add a new question to the debate: if it is not a useful institution, is it one that could be the cause of harm? The harm may come in the form of it being the pawns of the food industry and as a result, willing to ignore the risks to the health of children?

In September 2018, the Senate was presented with Bill S-228 – An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).

The short title for the bill is Child Health Protection Act.

Doesn’t it say it all when the Senate won’t vote on such a bill – a child protection act – that the House of Commons strongly supports?

In an oped in the newspaper, The Province, on behalf of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, which is supported by more than 120 Canadian organizations and individuals, Dr. Tom Warshawski chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation   and Yves Savoie, CEO of the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, urged that the Senate vote to protect our children, rather than the financial interests of the food and beverage industry.

The authors point out that it’s not just health groups advocating for this bill but that a recent poll shows that 82 per cent of adults in Canada support restricting industry from marketing food and drinks that are high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats to children 12 and under. In addition, they state that 71 per cent believe the industry has an unfair advantage over parents when it comes to influencing children’s eating and drinking habits.

So how much is the food and beverage industry spending annually to get the attention of kids?

A whopping $1.1 billion!

They know how kids work and how much they drive their parents’ food and drink purchases. The answer is not for parents to have to fight with their youngsters. In Quebec, these ads aimed at children are banned.

The result? French speaking youngsters (who don’t see American TV channels from south of the border) eat less fast food and weigh less than their counterparts in other parts of Canada.

We need to change the food environment so that kids are not bombarded with ads which make these products desirable. The oped points to a recent study entitled, The kids are not alright, which shows that kids (ages two to 11) see about 25 million food-and-drink ads a year on their top-10 favourite websites, and 90 per cent of the foods and beverages marketed to them are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

The bill has made its way through the legislative process, originating in the Senate in September 2016, then going through the House of Commons where it was amended (it was amended so that it could withstand legal challenges). and passed, before being sent back to the Senate where it has been languishing since September 2018 where nothing has happened.

Late last year, I pointed out that if the bill is not passed before the election, it is dead in the water. That’s the end of it and the food and beverage industry will have achieved its goal.

There’s not much time left for action but something is needed. Do members of the Senate care what we think? Possibly not as they are not elected. But maybe we need to let them know what we think about the Senate. Letting them know we are thinking of their relevancy by asking them to pass Bill 228 may be one way.

Here’s a link for their contact information.

Phone calls and emails asking them to do something useful might be helpful.  Send them the link to this piece and/or make just one or two phone calls per person – it just might help get them moving.

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Categories: Children's Health, Rosie's Rants

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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