News / Vancouver

Health groups ‘applaud’ as feds join junk feud to ban kids’ food marketing

‘A very, very exciting day,’ says member of Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation BC & Yukon’s Mark Collison — co-founder of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition — stands by a Denny's restaurant near the charity's Vancouver office. Behind him is an example of marketing to kids, he said.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

The Heart and Stroke Foundation BC & Yukon’s Mark Collison — co-founder of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition — stands by a Denny's restaurant near the charity's Vancouver office. Behind him is an example of marketing to kids, he said.

Have Happy Meals, Disney-decorated soda pops and B.C.’s own Pirate Paks reached their Canadian best-before date?

Hopefully, argue members of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, after Monday’s federal move to ban on advertising unhealthy food and drinks to children.

But according to one B.C. pediatrician, who co-founded the national coalition, healthy eating advocates need to keep their “eye on the ball” — and voices at the table — to ensure the legislation proposed by Health Minister Jane Philpott is strong enough.

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“We applaud it,” Dr. Tom Warshawski, chair of the Vancouver-based Childhood Obesity Foundation, told Metro in a phone interview. “It’s a reaffirmation that they’re going to do something — and to do it with a regulatory approach.

“That would be huge, not just for obesity but active and healthy living in general. These foods and drinks we’re trying to restrict marketing of are unhealthy for everyone regardless of your weight.”

Philpott, speaking at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Montreal on Monday, said the goal of the marketing restrictions was to ensure Canadian parents are able to choose the healthiest options for their children.

Such a law would follow in the footsteps of an existing one in Quebec, and was directed in Philpott’s mandate letter after last year’s election.

“Children in Quebec have less consumption of fast foods,” she said. "We are now going to be looking at legislation and regulations at the federal level that will restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids.”

But Warshawski said the coalition hoped to see all food and drink marketing phased out, not just those deemed “unhealthy,” in case companies attempt to dupe parents with healthy-seeming products still high in salt, sugar or fat.

“You’d get a halo effect where people are not aware that something is actually unhealthy,” he argued. “If they’re going to define unhealthy foods and beverages, it has to be a really tight definition.

“Otherwise there will be so many loopholes that unhealthy foods could pass through.”

Not everyone was happy with the federal move, however. The anti-regulation group Students For Liberty, which is behind the website nannystate.ca, expressed alarm at “the increasing level of lifestyle regulations being passed by all levels of government,” its North American programs director David Clement said in a statement.

“Whether it is adding additional taxes on pop, proposing to put graphic labels on alcohol, enacting advertising bans or plain packaging tobacco products,” he argued, “more laws are being passed that limit consumer choice, and curb individual freedoms.”

Food and Consumer Products of Canada spokeswoman Joslyn Higginson said the industry is already “actively engaged in re-shaping the children’s marketing landscape for a number of years,” according to a statement, warning that Philpott’s proposal signals an “unprecedented amount of change” affecting “what’s in our products, what’s on our product packaging and how those products are marketed.”

“We’re keen to ensure the right steps are taken,” she said.         

Philpott insisted any legislation would ensure it “allows industry time to catch up,” and will begin roundtable consultations next month to hear concerns and feedback — including inviting the food and beverage sector to weigh in.

"I think it's only fair for the people who are selling food to be able to have opportunity to comment in terms of what the impact might be on them," she said.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation, also a Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition co-founder, will also attend the consultations in hopes of convincing the government “to make this as comprehensive as possible,” said the charity’s health policy director Manuel Arango. “For us, the really key piece is that we ensure we get legislation and regulations enshrined into law before the end of this government’s current mandate.”

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