Health Canada Consultation: Restrict Marketing to Children of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages

July 18, 2017 By

Health Canada is proposing to restrict marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children under 17 years

Service(s) related to this article:  Food & Beverages

Health Canada is proposing to restrict marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children under 17 years.

As part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy the government has put forth a proposal to restrict marketing to children of unhealthy food and beverages to influence children to make healthy food choices by reducing their exposure to unhealthy food and beverage advertising. The current proposal by Health Canada would seek to make these advertising restrictions apply to all food and beverage companies to align with other international regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile, South Korea, Sweden and Ireland that have already placed restrictions on marketing to children. At the federal level Canada currently has only a voluntary, industry-led initiative by the Children’s Advertising Initiative to set best practices for industry to restrict marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children under the age of 12, although there are only 18 food and beverage companies that have joined this initiative. With only the province of Quebec requiring restrictions on the marketing of food to children, under its Consumer Protection Act, the new proposal would apply to all Canadian provinces and territories.

Under the current proposal to restrict marketing to children, Health Canada is looking for feedback on the following:

 1.  What is the right age limit for the restrictions?

  • For the purposes of this proposal Health Canada is recommending that the age of a child be defined as children < 17 years old. Due to concern with teens and adolescents susceptibility to marketing tactics.
  • This is much higher than the age restrictions currently indicated under the voluntary Children’s Advertising Initiative (set at <12 years of age) and the provincial Quebec legislation (set at <13 years of age)

2.  How should “unhealthy food” be defined for the purposes of the marketing restrictions?

  • The proposal seeks to define parameters for “foods that are allowed to be marketed to children” and “foods prohibited from marketing to children”. The latter category could still be promoted to consumers over the age of 17, and sold to children under the age of 17 years, but companies could not direct advertising at this younger (<17 years) age group.
    1. Foods allowed to be marketed – under the proposal these would include foods that are promoted by Canada’s Food Guide such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods – provided they contain no added sugars, sodium or fat and do not carry a front-of-pack (FOP) symbol for “high in” any of the nutrients of concern. Examples of permissible foods are popcorn, milk and plain yogurt.
    2. Foods prohibited from marketing – The current proposal suggests two different thresholds for consideration, that if exceeded would make the commodity prohibited from marketing to children. Additionally Health Canada is proposing that foods or beverages containing sugar substitutes (Aspartame and Sucralose) would not be permitted to be marketed to children. These are:
      • Foods with more than ~5% of the daily value (DV) of saturated fat, sugars or sodium, OR
      • Foods with more than 15% of the daily value (DV) of sodium, sugars or saturated fats.

3.  How can we determine if an advertisement is directed to children?

  • Under the proposal Health Canada considers “child directed” advertising to be:
    1. Television – aired, on weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and on weekends between 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
    2. Internet – marketing on websites, platforms and apps that are popular with children, even when these digital channels are intended for adults as well.

4.  What kinds of marketing techniques should not be restricted?

  • While Health Canada has the authority to restrict advertising to children in all media platforms (e.g. television, online, advertisements on gaming systems and apps, etc) this may not be feasible or manageable from an enforcement perspective. As such, Health Canada is in the preliminary stage of determining the types of marketing that are most commonly used, and there effectiveness to assess which platforms would require regulation.

As the proposal to restrict marketing to children of unhealthy foods and beverages is still, in the consultation stage (consultation closes July 25, 2017), this is industry’s opportunity to provide feedback of the marketing of their products. As this is a complicated issue that require new policy to be developed to address the best approach to regulate the advertising of food products to children and can have a large impact on a company’s marketing message, it is recommended for industry to remain engaged in the process.

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