Regulation of Food Ads to Kids


Who defines what is considered a “healthy food”? How much salt, sugar and fat is allowed in food products marketed to children during Saturday morning cartoons?

There are two main regulatory bodies in Canada that have an effect on food marketing to children.

One focuses on the broadcast frequency of ads and the other monitors based on a complaints process:

The Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children, under Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) sets limits such as the frequency of commercials directed at children, which is four minutes per half hour, and the repetitiveness of commercials for children, with each commercial limited to only one broadcast per half-hour program. The process is implemented through a complaints process. With the exception of Quebec, where advertising to children is prohibited, Canadian children are still exposed to a surprising amount of advertising of food products that are high in fat, sugar, and salt.

The other is a food industry voluntary initiative:

Canada’s major food companies and fast food restaurants have collaborated to develop a self-regulatory framework called the CAI. Under the Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI), the food and beverage companies themselves decide what advertising is allowed, and what food is considered healthy for children. Eighteen leaders in the food and beverage industry have committed not to advertise mainly to children under 12, and have chosen instead to focus their advertising on products that are compliant with the principles of a “healthy” diet. Products such as ice cream, candy, chocolate and soft drinks are not advertised to children under 12, under the CAI framework.

All this is in a voluntary spirit. Some of the food products identified as “healthy choices” by the CAI include:

  • Froot Loops
  • Chocolate Lucky Charms
  • Kraft Dinner
  • Rice Krispie Squares with rainbow sprinkles
  • Kool-Aid Jammers
  • Eggo Waffles
  • Dora the Explorer Fruit Flavored Snacks
  • Nesquik cereal
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal

Because these products have less salt, less sugar, less fat or more whole grains than other similar products on the market, they have been identified by their own manufacturer as “healthy choices.”

A statement released this week by 20 Canadian Health organizations including the Canadian Hypertension Advisory Committee, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Medical Association says that this regulation is not enough.

“Food companies in Canada, with the exception of Quebec, are not required by law to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children,” said Dr. Lynn McIntyre, Chair of the Canadian Public Health Association.

“Studies show that up to 80% of food and beverage products currently marketed to children in some parts of Canada are for “non-core” foods. We can and must do better for our children.”

A 2012 Environics survey indicated that the vast majority of Canadian parents (85%) support restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.

In an effort to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing, a policy statement has been developed to take a new approach to marketing food to children. Spearheaded by the Canada Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control, and prepared in close consultation with leading national health organizations, the policy statement offers a series of recommendation targeted at federal, provincial and territorial governments, non-profit organizations and industry to guide the development of policies that will curb the marketing of foods that are threatening our children’s health and well-being.

Download and share the policy statement here.


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