The kids are not alright:

How the food and beverage industry is marketing our children and youth to death.

Once upon a time marketing to kids mostly meant commercials on Saturday morning; many adults have fond memories of ads that featured cartoon characters from their favourite sugary cereals. Television commercials are still a major ad platform and mascots still hawk sweet bowls of breakfast food, but today’s kids are bombarded with food and beverage marketing morning, noon and night, every day of the week.

Marketing is big business and it is sophisticated. Millions of dollars are spent convincing our impressionable children and teens they want a whole range of products, including food and beverages that are having a devastating effect on their health.

Children and youth are targeted through multiple channels and locations including movies and video games, websites, apps and social media. Marketing targets kids in their homes, at school, on the street, and in rec centres, stores, restaurants, and through celebrity endorsements. In short, it is anywhere and everywhere.

New research carried out by Dr. Monique Potvin Kent, an expert on food and beverage marketing and children’s nutrition reveals that over 90% of food and beverage product ads viewed by kids and teens online are for unhealthy products, and collectively kids between the ages of two and 11 see 25 million food and beverage ads a year on their top 10 favourite websites.

It is time for this marketing storm to stop.

Self-regulation doesn’t work

For the past 10 years the food and beverage industry has set its own standards and self-regulated its marketing through the Canadian Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CAI), and this has been a failure. The program is not mandatory and the nutrient criteria are weak. More troubling, advertising to kids has actually increased over the past decade.

Dr. Potvin Kent’s research reveals grave weaknesses in the CAI approach and its criteria, given the high volume of unhealthy food and beverage marketing seen by children and youth. In fact, her study shows that companies participating in the CAI are the worst offenders. Three-quarters of the unhealthy ads viewed by children and youth were from companies that participate in the CAI.

One effective way to protect kids and support parents is legislation that restricts food and beverage marketing to children. Industry self-regulation has failed. Kids are seeing more ads than ever; it’s almost all junk almost all the time. Legislation is not a magic bullet but is one effective weapon that will help get them off to the best start for a long, healthy life.

Stats

  • Processed food purchases have doubled in 70 years to 60% of family food purchases.
  • One-quarter of children ages 5 –19 say they consume sugary drinks every day. One can of pop provides close to the recommended daily maximum for sugar intake.
  • Less than half of youth ages 12 to 19 eat at least five servings (minimum recommended) of fruit and vegetables daily.
  • As much as 90 per cent of food and beverages marketed on TV are high in salt, fat or sugar.
  • The average child watches about two hours of TV a day and sees four – five food and beverage ads per hour.
  • Canadian children and youth spend almost eight hours a day in front of screens.

Read the report at heartandstroke.ca/heartreport

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