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Health unit backs bill banning junk food ads to children

New Senate bill would ban all food advertisements to children under 13
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The Sudbury and District Board of Health voted Thursday to endorse a Canadian Senate bill that would ban the advertising of foods and beverages to children under the age of 13 to help combat childhood obesity. File photo

The Sudbury and District Board of Health voted Thursday to endorse a Canadian Senate bill that would ban the advertising of foods and beverages to children under the age of 13 to help combat childhood obesity.

According to the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, up to 90 per cent of the food marketed to children is unhealthy and high in fat, sugar and salt content. 

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the Sudbury and District Health Unit's medical officer of health, said it would be difficult to “exercise our way out” of the childhood obesity problem.

The health unit's most recent statistics, from 2013-2014, found that 29.7 per cent of children and teens between the ages of 12 and 17 were considered overweight or obese.

Sutcliffe said the actual number could be higher because the survey used for the study used self-reported weights, which she said often tend to be lower than a person's actual weight. 

In 2013, Sutcliffe was part of a provincial panel that submitted a report to the Ministry of Health called "No Time to Wait: the Healthy Kids Strategy."

The report's first recommendation was to ban the marketing of high-calorie, low nutrient foods and beverages for kids under the age of 12.

“Kids are at a disadvantage. Their brains are developing, they can't critically analyze media advertisements the way we might be able to,” Sutcliffe said.

Conservative Sen. Nancy Greene Raine introduced Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act to prohibit food and beverage marketing to children, on Sept. 27, 2016.

If the bill becomes law Greene Raine said the government could fine food producers if they are caught advertising to children.
But the same companies would still be allowed to advertise to anyone over the age of 12. 

“Most people can tell when (an ad) is aimed at a child,” Greene Raine said. “They're using bright primary colours, they're using cartoon characters, they're appealing to child-like interests.”

The province of Quebec already has similar legislation (enacted in 1980) which prohibits junk food ads directed at children.
But Greene Raine said companies have found ways around those laws by creating more points of sale directed at children and their parents.

Despite any workarounds, a University of British Columbia study in 2012 found people in Quebec purchased up to 13 per cent less junk food each week when compared to other North American jurisdictions.

The study found children in Quebec also tend to weigh less than their North American counterparts.

Greene Raine said the bill is currently in second reading. She added Canadian Minister of Health Jane Philpott has hinted the government would support legislation on the issue of advertising to children.