For those of us whose kids beg for Oreos and pop on a regular basis, it’s not exactly a revelation that children are hugely influenced by child-targeted ads for less-than-healthy foods and beverages. But a new report released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada breaks down exactly how much our kids’ preferences for junky foods and drinks are being affected by child-focused advertising – and how this exposure is negatively impacting their health. Spoiler alert: it’s worse than you thought.
According to the commissioned report, Canadian kids between two and eleven years of age are bombarded these days by a greater number of ads for unhealthy foods and beverages than ever before – a staggering 25 million ads annually on their top ten favourite websites. (The report notes that while children used to see advertising primarily on TV, they’re now exposed to ads via multiple channels and locations including movies, video games, apps and social media.) What’s more, more than 90% of these ads are for products that are high sugar, high salt and/or high fat – not exactly the stuff that healthy diets are made of.
So what’s the solution? The Heart and Stroke Foundation is calling for federal legislation that bans all advertising of junk foods to children, a move they say will help improve Canadian children’s nutrition and establish healthy eating habits.
Interestingly, there are already plenty of precedents around the world for banning ads targeted at kids; countries including Sweden, Norway and Brazil have all banned direct advertising to children under the age of 12, while the UK has banned ads for products high in fat, sugar or sodium in TV programs aimed at children aged 4-15.
Closer to home, a 2011 study concluded that the province of Quebec’s 1980 ban on advertising all goods and services to children under 13 is associated with a 13% reduction in fast food purchases compared with Ontario, as well as the lowest childhood obesity rate in Canada and the highest rate of vegetable and fruit consumption. Way to go, Quebec!
Frankly, we think a ban on junk food advertising for kids is a pretty great idea, and we’re hopeful that the federal government will take the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recommendations seriously. Hey, if less exposure to ads gets our kids to stop pleading 24-7 for Doritos, we’ll call that a major win.