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TV ads and obese kids



The Star
March 4, 2008


If advertising to children on television didn't work, advertisers wouldn't do it. That's why cartoon characters push sugary cereals during kids' shows and clowns sell hamburgers and fries.

But all that sugar-laden junk food and pop has led to an epidemic of obesity in Canada as in other countries. The percentage of obese Canadian children has more than doubled since 1978 to 8 per cent, or 500,000 children. Obese children become obese adults with a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Noting this, Toronto's board of health voted unanimously last week for a ban on television food and beverage ads aimed at children under 13. Britain imposed such a ban last year, following Sweden and Norway. And since 1980, Quebec has banned all children's advertising.

Faced with growing public pressure, the 16 major food advertisers in Canada last month adopted stricter limits on what they will advertise to children. Half of them said they would not advertise to children at all; the other half would restrict their appeals to "healthier fare." But the restrictions are so lax that healthier foods still include Kellogg's Froot Loops. And anything labelled a "family show" doesn't count as aimed at children, even though shows like American Idol attract large numbers of preteens.

Instead of relying on self-regulation, the provincial and federal governments ought to take notice of the health board's call for an outright ban on food and beverage ads aimed at children.

The province wrongly insists that television ads are a federal responsibility. But Quebec proved otherwise a quarter-century ago, and health groups have been urging similar action here for years.


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