TV Junk Food Ad - ©

Will Bold New Ad Regs Reduce Kids’ Demand For Junk Food?

Canadian regulators told us they were coming. Now there’s a timeline for development and deployment of new regulations limiting junk food ads aimed at children. Rules designed to restrict advertising of foods that contribute to excess intakes of sodium, sugars and saturated fat.

TV and Online Kids Ads - © uconn.eduThe majority of junk food advertising aimed at kids comes to
them through on-demand digital media on all platforms…

The authorities have been doing their homework, and conducting consultations with the public and the junk food industry since the mid 20-teens. Now they say a slate of draft regs should be ready for discussion by this time next year.

A little background…

The preamble to the Health Canada update on the develpment of the new regs explains::

“We are now proposing a targeted approach to introducing restrictions, focusing on television and digital media first. […] These restrictions aim to reduce children’s risk of developing overweight, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases, now and later in life. They support this objective by limiting children’s exposure to influential food advertising in media where children spend much of their time and are highly exposed to food advertising. Along with other Healthy Eating Strategy initiatives, this would support healthy food environments, which in turn contribute to healthy eating behaviours.”

In a nutshell…

“Health Canada is committed to protecting the health of all Canadians. Nutrition plays a critical role in promoting health, and it is important that children develop healthy eating habits early in life. This supports their growth and development and reduces their risk of developing overweight, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases now and later in life, such as:

  • diabetes
  • osteoporosis
  • dental diseases
  • some types of cancer
  • cardiovascular diseases

“Many Canadians struggle to eat in a healthy way and children are no exception. Health Canada’s analysis of children’s reported food intakes found that about 10 percent of vegetables and fruits, about 30 percent of protein foods, more than 40 percent of whole grain foods and more than 50 percent of other foods consumed by children are not in line with recommendations in Canada’s food guide.”:

Okay. We don’t live in a perfect world. But the report says parents and caregivers should be doing a lot more to guide kids’ media consumption and other activities that effect their eating habits in support of a healthier lifestyle now and in the future.  The less obvious message here is: “Adults! The kids are watching everything you do. You can’t escape your responsibility as a role model!”

Background research has found…

Many Canadians – not just children – struggle to eat in a healthy way and children are no exception. In fact, kids have been found to be ‘particularly vulnerable to the influence of advertising’:

  • Children under the age of 5 are unable to consistently distinguish between advertising and programming.
  • Most children do not understand the selling purpose of advertising until they reach the age of  8.
  • By the age of 12, they DO understand that ads are designed to sell products…
  • But most are not yet aware of the persuasive intent of advertisements.
  • The more children are exposed to food advertising, the more likely they are to request or consume advertised foods.

Not just ‘exposed- bombarded

Children are not just exposed to junk food advertising (advertising of all kinds, really) on conventional media. More and more of the media they consume is digital, such as (on demand) television, social media and gaming platforms. Additional exposure comes at retail food stores, theaters, and recreation venues.

In parallel with these sources, the kids get additional exposure IN movies (product placement) and videos, and via crossover promotions between movies and junk food brands.

“In 2019, advertisers spent an estimated $628.6 million dollars on food advertising in Canada, 79.5 percent of this went to ads on television (67.7 percent) and digital media (11.8 percent). When children are watching television or online videos, using social media, visiting websites, and playing games they are in an environment that promotes an unhealthy diet: millions of food advertisements appear in these media every year,” the Health Canada report summarises.


Health Canada realizes that a concentration on controlling the exposure of young children to junk food advertising is an investment in their – and the country’s – future.

~ Maggie J.