Healthy Choice? Think Again.

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Food Company’s idea of ‘healthy’: Kraft Dinner with sweetened applesauce and Juice

There is not a trip to the grocery store that doesn’t result in one of my daughter’s picking up and asking me to buy some unhealthy food product that was been creatively marketed to them through color, cartoons, and characters.  The choices are endless: Disney Princess Fruit Snacks (i.e., gummi bears), Scooby Doo cookies, Dora Spaghetti-O’s, Shrek Popsicles.  But how often do you see fresh fruits and vegetables marketed this way?  I personally have never seen a case of oranges in a Sponge Bob Square Pants case, for example, or a bag of carrots with the Disney Princesses on them?

As an individual I like to think I make good food choices – I buy and eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, try to stay away from processed food, and always read the nutrition fact table to check for levels of fat, sugar and salt.  As a parent, it is equally important for me to foster healthy eating in my children.  I don’t think I’m atypical in this regard.  Yet, Canadian children continue to over consume foods high in unhealthy fat, added sugar and salt – patterns that are directly responsible for the 1 in 4 Canadian children currently obese

How do we –as Canadians, parents, governments, organizations, health care professionals –  begin to promote healthy eating habits in our children and make it easy to make the healthy choice the easy choice?

According to industry, it is by pervasively marketing ‘better-for-you’ foods like Kraft Dinner (with 410 mg of salt per ¾ cup), Fruit Loops (3 teaspoons of added sugar per ¾ cup) and Fruit by the Loop (with no fruit but almost a gram of sugar per inch).  It is by promoting the Burger King Kids Meal consisting of Kraft Dinner, processed sweetened applesauce and high sugar fruit juice as a ‘healthy choice’.  It is also by partnering with schools to promote ‘special food days’ largely for high fat, high sugar or high salt foods.  Wednesday’s at my daughter’s school, for example, is ‘pizza day’ thanks to their contract with Pizza Hut!

Under the Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Initiative (CAI), Canada’s primary initiative to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing,companies are allowed to market  ‘better-for-you’ and ‘healthy dietary choice’ products (like Kraft Dinner and Corn Pops) because companies are allowed to decide what is a healthy food.  In fact, up to 58% of the ‘better-for-you’ products currently advertised by CAI participating companies would not be allowed to be advertised in several other countries, including the United Kingdom.  Worse, is that according to one recent Canadian study, CAI participating companies were responsible for more television promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages targeting children than non-participating companies.  And because the initiative is completely voluntary and not monitored or enforced by any non-industry or government body, companies will continue using the loopholes of their ‘criteria’ to target and encourage children to eat foods that are known to contribute to obesity and other chronic disease.

While our federal government has addressed the need to ‘look at ways to decrease the marketing of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and/or sodium to children’ as a strategy to promote healthy weights in children and reduce childhood obesity, there has been no meaningful action or leadership taken.

In the wake of rising child obesity rates, and other diet-related diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, and cancer, a group of Canadian health and scientific organizations have united around the need to protect our children’s health and stop the marketing of food products that are knowingly threatening our children’s health and well-being.  Endorsed by 24 organizations, the Health and Scientific Organization Policy Consensus Statement to Restrict Unhealthy Food and Beverage Marketing to children and youth in Canada calls on all stakeholders – governments, non-governmental organizations, and industry – to implement, monitor and regulate such marketing to children.  If improving healthy eating is a priority, as stated by Health Canada, then regulating food companies to stop the pervasive and aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children is a reasonable and critical step.

Join the 85% of Canadians who support restrictions on unhealthy food marketing. Take Action: Call or write your MP to express your concern about the lack of action to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children in Canada.  Your voice matters and it counts!

Click below to find contact information for your Canadian Federal MP.

Just enter your postal code: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

Tara Duhaney, MHSc. is the Policy Director on the Hypertension Advisory Committee, University of Calgary Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine.  Duhaney works alongside Dr. Norm Campbell, Canadian Research Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control.  Her work focuses on advancing dietary policies to improve Canadians eating environment.

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