Stop targeting kids with ads for unhealthy food and drinks, report urges

Canadian Pizza Magazine
February 03, 2017
Written by Canadian Pizza Magazine
Ottawa – Children and youth are bombarded with advertisements for unhealthy products, influencing their food and beverage choices, negatively affecting their health and setting up conflict at home, Heart & Stroke says in a new report.

Millions of dollars are spent targeting children and youth through multiple channels including TV and online, the foundation said in a news release. More than 90 per cent of food and beverage product ads viewed by kids and teens online are for unhealthy products, and collectively kids between the ages of two and 11 see 25 million food and beverage ads a year on their top 10 favourite websites.

The foundation is asking government to table and pass legislation that puts strong restrictions on the commercial marketing of food and beverages to children and youth.

The Heart & Stroke 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians examines how unlimited food and beverage marketing targeted at Canadian kids is negatively affecting preferences and choices, their family relationships and their health. Canadians were polled to on their perspectives and a leading researcher was commissioned to examine the volume of digital food and beverage advertising to Canadian children and teens, to assess the quality of the products, and to examine how well industry is regulating itself.

Since 1979, the number of Canadian children with obesity has tripled, with almost one in three children overweight or obese, the foundation said. Obesity rates are influenced by the amount of marketing kids are exposed to, and it puts children and adolescents at risk for many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. According to the poll, 72 per cent believe the food and beverage industry markets its products directly to children and 78 per cent believe these products are unhealthy.

Marketers understand the power that kids hold; the "nag factor" has considerable influence over what their parents buy. According to our poll, 71 per cent of Canadians believe that because the food and beverage industry spends so much money on advertising to kids, it has an unfair advantage over parents when it comes to influencing children's eating and drinking habits.

TV is still a dominant medium for advertising to children, but as children spend more time online digital marketing is growing. On behalf of Heart & Stroke, Monique Potvin Kent, an expert on food and beverage marketing and children's nutrition reviewed food and beverage advertising on children's (ages 2 to 11) and youths' (ages 12 to 17) top 10 websites over a one-year period, assessing both the volume of ads and the nutritional quality of the products.

Potvin Kent's research suggests the following:
  • In one year collectively children (ages 2–11) viewed over 25 million food and beverage ads on their favourite websites.
  • Over 90 per cent of food and beverage product ads viewed by children and teens online are for unhealthy products – processed foods and beverages high in fat, sodium, or sugar.
  • The most frequently advertised products on children's favourite websites are Kellogg's Pop Tarts, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, McDonald's Happy Meal, Red Bull Energy Drink, and Kraft Lunchables.
  • The most frequently advertised food and beverage products on teens' favourite websites are Kellogg's Pop Tarts, Kellogg's Froot Loops, Red Bull Energy Drink, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, and Tim Hortons' Roll Up the Rim to Win.
  • The most frequently advertised food and beverage product categories on teens' favourite websites are cakes, cookies and ice cream, cereal, restaurants and sugar sweetened beverages.
Heart & Stroke also shared several statistics relating to children's eating and viewing habits:
  • Unhealthy diets were responsible for about 50,000 deaths in Canada in 2015.
  • Processed food purchases have doubled in 70 years to 60 per cent of family food purchases.
  • One-quarter of children ages 5 to 19 say they consume sugary drinks every day. One can of pop provides close to the recommended daily maximum for sugar intake.
  • Childhood obesity levels in Canada have tripled since 1979.
  • Less than half of youth ages 12 to 19 eat at least five servings (minimum recommended) of fruit and vegetables daily.
  • As much as 90 per cent of food and beverages marketed on TV are high in salt, fat or sugar.
  • The average child watches about two hours of TV a day and sees four to five food and beverage ads per hour.
  • Canadian children and youth spend almost eight hours a day in front of screens.

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