It’s not “GR-R-REAT!” news for children’s health as Prime Minister’s promise to stop junk food marketers from targeting kids falters

New Heart & Stroke poll finds nearly 7 in 10 Canadians want tougher advertising rules to protect children

Parents struggling to stop the sway Spiderman and SpongeBob have on their children’s food choices are at risk of losing a key tool promised by the federal government, as plans to restrict junk food marketing to kids are being stalled. The delay is unfolding as a new Heart & Stroke poll* shows that nearly 70% of Canadians support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s longstanding commitment to restrict unhealthy food advertising to children, the last outstanding element of his Healthy Eating Strategy.

Heart & Stroke applauds the progress the Prime Minister’s government has made on the Healthy Eating Strategy, including Canada’s new food guide, front-of-package nutrition labelling, the banning of trans fats in all foods sold in Canada, and the newly announced $1-billion national school nutrition program. However, the centrepiece of the Healthy Eating Strategy, marketing to kids restrictions, has yet to be completed.

“Families and kids need the Prime Minister on their side to help build a healthy future. One key step is protecting our children from being targeted by unhealthy food advertising,” says Doug Roth, Heart & Stroke CEO. “Kids fall prey to the siren’s song of junk food marketing, and it hurts their long-term health. Our children deserve better.”

The poll also found that 76% of Canadians believe it’s hard for parents to monitor and control the advertising their children see, with 58% of respondents agreeing that the food and beverage industry has an unfair advantage over parents as it is more likely to influence children’s eating and drinking habits.

The poll is especially relevant now as the federal government had said it would release draft restrictions for food marketing to kids this spring. Despite the widespread public support, lobbying efforts by the junk food industry have meant progress on draft restrictions has ground to a halt.

“What we’re up against now is that as a health charity, we’re just outmaneuvered by the lobbying efforts of a multi-billion-dollar junk food industry. It seems like the Prime Minister is putting the industry’s interests ahead of the health of our kids. Unfortunately, the well-being of our children is up for grabs, so it’s a fight we can’t afford to lose,” Roth says.

Junk food marketers target kids because it works, spending more than $1 billion on junk food marketing that reaches children. Cartoon characters smiling from the cereal aisle and online ads featuring catchy jingles and singing animals are some of the powerful ways they entice children with unhealthy food options. Little kids believe what they see, while older children are not always able to be critical of ads.

In kids 9-13 years old, ultra-processed foods – the bulk of products marketed to children – make up nearly 60% of their diets. Diets high in ultra-processed foods including sugary drinks are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancers, tooth decay and mortality later in life. In 2019 alone, dietary risk factors contributed to 36,000 deaths in Canada.

Canada is falling behind other countries that have introduced policies to protect children, and evidence shows industry self-regulation doesn’t work. Heart & Stroke is asking the Prime Minister to release draft regulations to protect kids from junk food marketing by the end of June.

“This is a significant public health issue that’s having a real impact on families. Every parent has gone toe-to-toe with a toddler wanting that candy bar in the checkout line. But it doesn’t stop there. Parents are contending with an endless barrage of marketing messages fed to their children on TV, in grocery stores and online, and they need help,” Roth says. “Parents are doing their best for their kids, and they deserve to be supported. It’s time for the Prime Minister to extend his hand to families everywhere and finally fulfill his oft-repeated promise to stop marketing to children.”

* Heart & Stroke commissioned Pollara Strategic Insights to conduct an online survey amongst a randomly selected, reliable sample of N=1,603 adult (18+) Canadians. The data was collected from May 24-27. The final dataset has been weighted according to the actual gender, age, and geographic distribution of adult Canadians, according to the latest Census. An online sample cannot officially carry a margin of error. However, a probability sample of N=1,603 would carry a margin of error of ± 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

About Heart & Stroke

Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke has been leading the fight to beat heart disease and stroke for more than 70 years. We must generate the next medical breakthroughs, so Canadians don’t miss out on precious moments. Together, with the generous support of our donors, partners, and volunteers, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy. @HeartandStroke

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Natalie Lian