R.I.P. Ronald McDonald?
As the father of a four-year-old who has always been a “good eater” I am lucky that I do not have many struggles with her eating unhealthy foods. But as she gets older and exposed to more advertising, her requests for the three Cs (cookies, candy, and cake) have started to get a little louder. As a parent, I am happy for any help I can get to try to combat the slick marketing directed at her to consume foods high in fat, salt, and sugar.
Health Canada has opened public consultations about restricting advertising of unhealthy foods to young people. The goal is to decrease strain on the health care system by helping children develop healthy food habits that will continue throughout their lives. Children who eat unhealthy foods are at a higher risk for serious health problems like heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. Health Canada says almost 1 in 3 Canadian children between ages 6 and 17 are overweight or obese.
What will the new regulations look like?
Could this spell the end for fast food mascots like Ronald McDonald? It is too early to know how the regulations will work or when they may come into place. If the restrictions on tobacco advertising are anything to go by, we could be in for some very significant changes. It may include restrictions on event sponsorships, athlete endorsements, and advertising through traditional media. It will be interesting to see how the regulations will deal with social media and the internet, as those spaces are more difficult to regulate.
Some lobby groups representing the fast food industry argue restricting marketing interferes with consumer choice and that the focus of government should be on education and empowering parents to teach their kids to make healthy choices. They may be channeling the Cookie Monster who has, in recent years, taken a more enlightened stance on his favourite treat calling them a “sometimes food.”
The is no debating that children will have better health outcomes if they eat healthy foods, but are advertising restrictions the best way to accomplish this goal? Last February in Cape Breton, Child Protection Services took a 5 year old away from his mother in part because he weighed over 130 lbs and was at risk of serious medical harm. Although that case is unusual, it does highlight the fact that unhealthy food is often cheaper and more available than healthy alternatives. Restricting ads for junk food that target kids is a step in the right direction but it should be accompanied by measures which make healthy choices more affordable for families in Nova Scotia.
If you are interested in providing feedback to Health Canada you can go here and fill out an online survey, the survey is open until July 25, 2017. You can also visit stopmarketingtokids for more information.
By Peter Duke, J.D. - Associate Lawyer
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