What kind of society encourages children to eat unhealthy food? Our kind of society. A society that bombards its children with 25 million food and beverage ads ever year on their favourite websites, 90 per cent of which are for unhealthy products, much of them high in salt, fat or sugar. Add to that the two hours of TV a child watches on average every day with four to five food and beverage ads per hour. We do this year in and year out and wonder why so many Canadian children are overweight.
In the late 1970s, five per cent of children and teens in Canada were obese. Today it's 13 per cent. Not coincidentally, processed and ultra-processed foods have increased from 30 percent of the average family's food purchases to 60 per cent.
There is a high price to pay for our recklessness. Obesity puts children and adolescents at risk for many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and depression. The cost of obesity in this country, including direct healthcare and lost productivity, is estimated to be between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion a year.
Advertising Standards Canada has a voluntary program on food and beverage advertising to children under the age of 12 but, according to pediatrician Tom Warshawski, chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, "Industry self-regulation is a failure." It doesn't work.
What does appear to work is Quebec's ban on commercial advertising to children under 13. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the ban is associated with a 13 per cent reduction in the likelihood of buying fast food, compared with Ontario. Quebec has the lowest obesity rate in Canada among children aged six to 11 and the highest rate of fruit and vegetable consumption.
In September 2016, Senator Nancy Greene Raine introduced an act to prohibit junk food marketing to children under the age of 13. The Heart and Stroke Foundation would like the legislation passed without delay and all sensible people must agree. It is a strange and foolish society that systematically indoctrinates its children in bad habits.