Where is the Child Health Protection Act, Justin Trudeau?


Does anyone remember Bill S-228 – what came to be known as the Child Health Protection Act? It was legislation restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages products, those high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, to children, aged 12 years and younger.

It received overwhelming support by both the House of Commons and the Senate over the period of 2016 to 2018 and was about to become law back in 2019. It just needed the Senate to put its final stamp of approval on the bill. Instead a few senators, rather than looking to protect our children and their health, decided they would rather defend the financial interests of the food and beverage industry. (Check out my post, Is the food industry still calling the shots in formulating healthy eating regulations?)

The senators knew that delaying the bill would be a death blow as an election was imminent. It came in 2019 and essentially, as expected, it killed the legislation.

Well, it’s now 2022 and we have a government where two parties could together bring back the Child Health Protection Act.

Back then, it was estimated that our food industry spent a whopping $1.1 billion annually to get the attention of our kids. And as you can guess, the marketing is almost all about ultra-processed food.

Kids continue to be constantly bombarded with ads which make these products desirable. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada had conducted a study at the time. Their report, entitled, The kids are not alright, showed that kids (ages two to 11) were seeing 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 were high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

The Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, which is led by Heart & Stroke and the Childhood Obesity Foundation and includes 12 other organizations, has been working to encourage the government to adopt strong federal regulations that would adequately protect children from commercial food and beverage marketing in Canada.

They point to marketing as including a wide array of strategies that companies use to promote their products, such as:

• Attractive packaging
• Placement in strategic locations within stores and on shelves
• Free giveaways and coupons
• Celebrity endorsements
• Product placements in movies, cartoons or popular TV shows
• Sponsorship of kids programs, camps and sports teams
• Children’s activities, awards, recognition programs and logo placement in schools
• Widespread logo placement
• Text messaging
• Fun and interactive promotions
• Embedding products, brands or logos within games, video games or websites
• Online and offline games and books
• “Branded environments”
• TV advertisements

Do you know any young kids who would not be influenced by any of the above?

I still remember decades ago when my older daughter was about 4 or 5 years old and she came running into the kitchen and excitedly announced, “Mommy! Mommy! I have really good news. They just said on TV that (her highly coveted sugar-laden cereal) can be part of a balanced breakfast.” This was after she had repeatedly asked to eat this sugar-laden cereal for breakfast and I had continued to refuse.

And if it was on TV, it was certainly more authoritative than her dietitian mother – right?

I then provided her with her first Marketing 101 lesson. This was before kids were online. Compared to those days, the opportunities for food marketing to kids have exploded.

The food industry is against federal regulations as they want to see voluntary standards.

In answer to this, Carol Dombrow, RD, Heart & Stroke dietitian says, “In June 2021, the Canadian food and beverage and broadcast industries released a new “code” that is supposed to be similar to restrictions in Quebec, but it falls short. The bottom-line is that research across the world has shown that voluntary standards are not effective in protecting children from marketing of unhealthy foods.”

An opinion piece in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, The Child Health Protection Act: advocacy must continue, points to the fact that in 2019, 16 countries had regulations to protect people, ranging in age from 12 to 18 years and younger, from marketing of either unhealthy foods or any commercial products. It also acknowledges that, Quebec became a world leader in 1988 in restricting all commercial advertising to children.

It’s now time for the government of Canada to bring this legislation forth and put our kids’ physical health before the financial health of the food industry. Let’s go Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Children's Health

Author:Rosie Schwartz

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

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