In Canada, self-regulation by industry does not sufficiently protect children from unhealthy food and beverage advertising, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Nutrition. Potvin Kent (University of Ottawa) and co-authors concluded that federal-level regulations that restrict unhealthy advertising are needed to protect children across Canada.
Food marketing can influence children’s dietary behaviors. Although there has been a shift toward advertising on digital media, companies continue to market energy dense foods that are poor in nutrients to children on television. The province of Quebec, where the majority speak French, banned commercial advertising to children under the age of 13 years in 1980 through the Consumer Protection Act, whereas food advertising to children is self-regulated by industry throughout the rest of the country.
The objective of this study was to compare the extent and power of food and beverage advertising on children’s preferred television stations in two different policy environments in Canada: Ontario, where advertising is self-regulated by industry, and Quebec, where advertising is regulated by government.
Advertising data for 57 selected food and beverage categories were licensed from Numerator for Toronto (Ontario) and for both English and French markets in Montreal (Quebec). The 10 most popular stations for children (ages of 2-11 years) and a subset of child-appealing stations were examined. Exposure to food advertisements was based on gross rating points. The healthfulness of ads was assessed using Health Canada’s proposed nutrient profile model. Descriptive statistics were tabulated for the frequency of and exposure to ads.
Overall, study results demonstrated that exposure of children to food and beverage advertising on the top 10 television stations watched by children was high across all markets examined. Children were exposed to 1368 to 1620 foods and beverage ads on television, which translate to 3.7 to 4.4 ads per day on average per child. Exposure to fast-food advertising was highest, advertising techniques were used frequently, and the majority of advertised products were classified as unhealthy. French children in Montreal were most exposed to unhealthy food and beverage advertising when the top 10 stations were examined although they were exposed to fewer child-appealing advertising techniques compared with those in other markets. French children in Montreal were least exposed to unhealthy food advertising on child-specific stations and also saw fewer advertising techniques on these stations.
These results suggest that self-regulation in Canada is ineffective and that the Consumer Protection Act in Quebec is having an impact though needs to be strengthened to protect children from unhealthy food and beverage advertising on television. Federal-level advertising restrictions aimed at children as suggested in Bill C-252 would help protect children across Canada from unhealthy food advertising.
Potvin Kent MP, Guimaraes JS, Bagnato M, Remedios L, Pauze E, Pritchard M, Wu D, Abbe ML, Mulligan C, Vergeer L, Weippert M. Broadcast Television Is Not Dead: Exposure of Children to Unhealthy Food and Beverage Advertising on Television in Two Policy Environments (Ontario and Quebec). An Observation Study. The Journal of Nutrition. Volume 153, Issue 1, January 2023, Pages 268-278. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tjnut.2022.09.002.
Images via canva.com.