Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Canada Fails its Children Yet Again

There's a press release in my inbox this morning. It's from the Canadian Food and Beverage Industry (Big Food) and basically it details how our clearly misguided government has decided to not only continue to allow food advertisers to target our children, but is now holding their hand while they do so.

"Joined by the Minister of Health, the Hon. Tony Clement, Concerned Children's Advertisers (CCA), Food & Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC) and Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) laid out the unique, integrated approach Canada is taking to help children and their families make wise choices related to healthy eating and active living."
I know, I know, you think that sounds good - well let me continue.

Here are the 3 initiatives:

1. Long Live Kids: A series of public service announcements addressing healthy eating and physical activity (with a specific emphasis on the Food Guide that tells us white bread, red meat and chocolate milk are healthy choices).

2. A voluntary initiative of 15 Canadian food and beverage companies to specifically target under 12 year olds with the promotion of healthy dietary choices and/or active living messages in at least 50% of their advertising.

3. New interpretation guidelines for children's food and beverage advertising have been added to the Broadcast Code for Advertising to Children and the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.

So let's go through these one by one.

Long Live Kids - I won't bash this one other than the fact that again it's going to promote a Food Guide that as I've detailed at length before, does not represent what science understands to be the healthiest known diet and specifically allows advertisers like Big Milk to recommend to Canadian parents that they give their children 2 glasses of chocolate milk a day.

Voluntary ads - Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the companies involved are going to spend their time promoting themselves as healthy, concerned, part of the solution type corporations? Do you think that they're going to try to leverage these messages to try to imply that their entire brands are healthy? That's sure as heck what I would do if I were one of these corporations. Want to know which corporations we're talking about? Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell, Coca-Cola Ltd., General Mills, Hershey, Janes Family Foods, Kellogg, Kraft, McCain Foods, McDonald's, Nestlé, Parmalat, PepsiCo, Unilever and Weston Foods. Paragons of health all.

Last month the Kaiser Family Foundation released their report, "Food for Thought" detailing advertising targeting children in the United States. They reported that on an annual basis children between the ages of 2-7 (an age too young to discern truth from advertising) see an average of 13,904 TV ads per year, a number that goes up to 30,155 ads per year for kids between 8-12. Of those ads, over half of them on children's programming were for food.

Assuming of course that Canadian airwaves are comparable, even if 50% of the ads are taken away, our 2-7 year old children will still see on average 6 ads every day for crappy food while our 8-12 year olds will see 11.

Of the food ads 34% are for candy and snacks, 28% are for cereal, and 10% are for fast food while 4% are for dairy products, 1% are for fruit juices, and none are for fruits or vegetables.

So basically, Big Food corporations like McDonald's and Cadbury will now not only be able to continue pummelling our children with calls to eat unhealthy foods, now they'll also be able to build brand recognition as healthy, responsible corporations partnering with our government in the battle against childhood obesity and chronic illness.

Tightening of regulations - Want to know what's changed? There will be a Committee, one that INCLUDES industry, that will be preclearing commercials with the specific aim of ensuring that the portions represented in the commercial will be of adequate size.

Woo Hoo?

Bottom line - the Government's failed us again. Whether through willful catering and pandering to the industry powerhouse of Big Food or simply through ignorance, they've taken an opportunity to do something good (like simply ban food advertising targeting children who can't discern truth from advertising) and instead created a situation where Big Food can claim in their ads that they're now part of the solution.