Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Children's Junk Food Ad Ban in Ontario?

We're one step closer.

Yesterday Ontario New Democrat Rosario Marchese introduced a private members bill that if passed would ban advertising of food and drinks to children under 13.

Proponents of the bill (myself included) recognize that banning advertising to children is a good idea in and of itself given that studies have proven that children (especially children under the age of 6), are unable to discern the difference between truth and advertising, and that there's simply no need to enable Big Food to hoodwink our kids into thinking junk food is healthy.

So who would be against this bill? Well Big Food and marketers.

Guess what?

In the media today you're going to see quotes from two organizations, a group shadily entitled, "The Concerned Children's Advertisers" which is an industry organization representing the interests of 16 Big Food corporations including General Mills, Kraft, Coca Cola and Pepsi and another group entitled the, "Media-Awareness Network" representing the interests of founding member Bell and supporter CTVGlobemedia.

What will they be saying about the proposed ad ban?

They'll be saying that:

  • There's no proof it'll help

  • In our day and age with the internet and satellite television even if we ban it in Ontario, it'll still trickle in

  • That Big Food has already voluntarily reduced targeted children's advertising

  • My take on those arguments?

    1. There's no proof it'll help because it hasn't been done (except in Quebec where albeit minimally, they have the lowest rate of childhood obesity in the country) and frankly given the inability of young children to see the difference between truth and advertising, it doesn't matter. We shouldn't allow folks to prey on our children's innocence. Furthermore, the argument's longer version is the, "obesity it too complex to blame on one thing" argument which then effectively paralyzes action. As I've mentioned before, "no single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood". Junk food ads are certainly one fat raindrop.

    2. Yes, there are still satellite televisions and the internet - so what? There's a heck of a lot of hard core pornography on the internet too, doesn't mean I want my kids watching commercials for it. Furthermore, as we're seeing with calls to ban trans-fats and post calories on menus, these types of things have a tendency to build on themselves.

    3. Big Food's voluntary reduction? Read my post on their fantabulous initiative by clicking here.

    Perhaps MPP Marchese said it best in a quote from an article in the Toronto Star,
    "Some children's advertisers claim that you can't put a fence around the ocean to protect children. We're not trying to put a fence around the ocean, we're simply putting lifeguards on the beach where our children are just learning to swim."
    What can you do?

    Well if you live in Ontario you can contact your MPP and let them know that in fact your support Mr. Marchese's bill. If our MPPs feel there's enough public support, maybe, just maybe, the Trix rabbit will die.

    (For a list of Ontario MPPs click here. If you don't know your electoral district you can click here. Unfortunately the government's postal code MPP search is down)

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    1. Anonymous9:33 am

      I support this, however if your children must watch TV, invest a little, and restrict it to Treehouse/TVOKids (in Ontario) and CBC Kids. No ads. Watch it with them. If you can't afford those (2 of the 3 are free TV, btw), buy a VCR and/or DVD player and go to garage sales for tapes/dvds - they love to watch the same thing over and over and over and over and over again - so that's cheap.

    2. Although I 100% support the idea of banning ads for unhealthy foods on TV for children who can't tell the difference between ads and truth; I also would like some attention brought to the parental role. As parents we have to be in control, the TV is not a suitable babysitting tool. Ya I know being a parent is tiring hard work and quite frankly never ending...BUT that is what parenting is all about. It is and always has to be about the children. Once you make the decision to have children, realize your new job is to be a parent. Monitoring, watching, coaching, teaching, training and most importantly...leading by example. Children learn more from watching their parents do things in the everyday World than from any other source.
      So although Big Food should be ashamed of their tactics when it comes to selling to our children and they should be regulated, however, I think you said it best "no single raindrop thinks it's responsible for the flood", we as parents need to realize we too are raindrops.

      I would love to become a bigger advocate for change when it comes to Big Food. Because, sadly, not only children are sucked in by their "false" advertising. But I really don't know how to be a bigger voice. Kudos to you for all your hard work.


    3. Media Awareness Network12:02 pm

      Regarding your previous post, we would like to clarify a few points regarding our organization Media Awareness Network (MNet). First, MNet is a national not-for-profit educational organization dedicated to media education and Web literacy. We were created out of a Federal Government TV violence initiative in the early 1990’s. As such, our sponsors include broadcasters and Internet Service Providers. Our board includes representation from our stakeholder groups including: Canadian Association of Principals, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Hospital for Sick Children, National Film Board and public libraries. We are also supported through financial contributions from Federal Government Departments for Justice, Health, Industry Canada and Canadian Heritage. We have never had sponsorship from any food manufacturers.

      In the past we have partnered with the Canadian Paediatric Society and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to develop programs to help family physicians better understand the media influences on the physical and mental well-being of children and youth.

      MNet has strict guidelines regarding sponsorship, which are clearly stated on our Web site:

      “MNet's Board of Directors has adopted strict guidelines to govern our relationship with sponsors. For instance, under the guidelines MNet has complete control over the content and approach of its programs; we do not endorse any product or service of our sponsors; and no corporate logos or sponsors identification is permitted in any MNet materials designed for young people.”

      As a media education organization, MNet is neither for nor against regulations – the only thing we advocate for is education. We believe that regardless of laws or regulations that are implemented provincially – or federally – teaching children to think critically about the media that informs, entertains and sells to them daily is essential. This is especially true when you consider the easy access through cable or satellite TV and the Internet that young children have to entertainment that may not conform to provincial or federal rules. We do our children a disservice if we do not equip them to understand and contextualize when they are being targeted and/or marketed to.

      Our research indicates that parents and teachers want to play a role. In our research 88% of teachers and 91% of parents said they are most responsible for helping children learn to think critically about what they hear, read and see in the media. But they can’t do this alone; they need media literacy tools and resources to support them. As such, we are committed to helping them do so through the resources that are offered on our Web site, at http:www.media-awareness.ca.

      This includes:

      Educational games to help children recognize “tricks of the trade” used by online marketers.

      Lessons and resources to help teachers address all types of marketing to children in their classrooms. Including a series of lessons that specifically address junk food advertising:

      Eating Under the Rainbow
      This lesson introduces children in grades 1 to 3 to Health Canada's Food Guide, and shows them where snacks can fit into a healthy diet.

      Junk Food Jungle
      This lesson familiarizes children in grades 4 to 6 with the nutritional value of foods advertised on television and in magazines.

      Looking At Food Advertising
      This lesson introduces primary and junior students to the ways in which advertising can affect their food choices.

      Looks Good Enough to Eat
      This lesson for students in grades 5 to 7 looks at food photography, and the different techniques used by food stylists to make foods look appealing in advertisements.

      Packaging Tricks
      This lesson introduces students in kindergarten to grade 6 to the ways in which packaging is designed to attract kids.

      Selling Obesity
      In this lesson, students in grades 7 to 10 look at the health issues associated with our fast food culture, and the advertising of it.

      You've Gotta Have a Gimmick
      This lesson familiarizes students in grades 5 to 7 with the marketing techniques used in television and magazine snack food ads.

      For parents, there’s a section of our Web site on how to talk to children about marketing and consumerism.

      Childhood obesity is a complex issue, with no quick and easy solution. It is incumbent on all of us – including government and industry – to help kids become critical thinkers and informed consumers. Regulations can be part of a solution, but do not solve the problem.

      Cathy Wing & Jane Tallim
      Co-Executive Directors,
      Media Awareness Network

    4. I don't think anyone serious about helping childhood obesity is saying regulations is the be all and end all solution, however, by saying you don't support them you in essence say you don't support taking steps (no matter how small) in curbing the extremely powerful concept of advertising. The big thing I think you misunderstand is education is limited to the upper most range of the student being taught. If the students brain have not yet developed the capability to comprehend the intricate details in the differences between ads and truth then most of the education is falling on death ears. Perhaps the concept should be stressed how parents should stop allowing the TV to babysit their kids! And promoting the Food "Guide" is not helping anyone. There is some good in the guide, but once again trying to teach the difference between good and less than complete truth is lost on someone who can't fully understand the difference.

      So climb down from your moral high ground and get into the trenches and back the regulation to stop the advertising. Because the true hard facts are plain and simple. TV isn't going anywhere and a large majority of parents are not going to stop using the TV as a child monitoring tool. Stopping the advertising is the way to help the children that are being left in front of the TV due to the hectic pace their parents keep or their lack of understanding of their parental obligations to personally entertain their child. This isn't about the parents who make the effort to restrict TV or the parents who provide excellent examples for their children it is about the children who are plunked down in front of the TV so that Mom and/or Dad can have a break. 10 minutes turns into 20 minutes, which turns into 3 hours. Shouldn't this entire argument be about the kids? I hear a lot a fluff about teachers and parents wanting to help and of course you study shows that 90+% of teachers and parents want to help. The poll is answered by the parents who are involved, naturally they are already doing their part. The parents who can't be bothered or are too busy to take the poll are the parents of the children we need to have regulations in place to protect.

      Can't be emphasized enough that every journey starts with a single step. One step is regulations and agreed one step is education.

      Let's all get on the same page.

    5. Cathy and Jane,

      Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment.

      I actually truly enjoy the work your organization has done and the modules available for use with educators.

      I have a tough time though with your comment, "MNet is neither for or against regulations" given the quotations from the papers.

      Jane, you were quoted as stating,

      "It's unrealistic to think that (children) would not encounter advertising, so I think it's better to give them tools that they need so that they can understand what's happening".

      Another report has this statement,

      "The Media Awareness Network says governments should concentrate on better educating both parents and children about commercials instead of trying to ban advertising aimed at kids.

      Spokeswoman Jane Tallim says there's no real way to stop kids from seeing commercials, especially in the wired world of today"

      Those sure sound like position statements to me.

      I cannot fathom why you, MNet or anyone concerned with the undue influence of the media on children, would not want both a regulatory approach AND education.

    6. Jane from MNet has been trying to post a response but for some reason has been unable to. I offered to post her email to me for her on the blog and so following this note, you can read it yourselves. I'm pleased to hear that Jane and presumably MNet are on board with the potential for both regulation and education and hope that in further media interviews, she clarifies her and MNet's position because certainly she knows better than most the spin power of media and the importance of a careful choice of wording:

      "Hi Yoni,

      Regarding your response, I don’t think we disagree. As we said in our post,

      Childhood obesity is a complex issue, with no quick and easy solution. It is incumbent on all of us – including government and industry – to help kids become critical thinkers and informed consumers. Regulations can be part of a solution, but do not solve the problem.

      There can be many tools to address the issue, including legislation, industry self-regulation, parental involvement and consumer empowerment. But, as an educational organization, the only solution that – according to our mandate – we can advocate for, is education.

      The only way we are ever going to help children truly develop resiliency to advertising is give them the critical thinking skills to question what they see. And this dialogue needs to start early. For very young children, parental involvement, guidance and supervision play a huge role. For older children, teaching them to recognize the “tricks of the trade” can be quite empowering.

      Whether it passes or not, we are glad that this bill is raising public awareness on this very important issue.

      Jane Tallim
      Co-Executive Director
      Media Awareness Network
      1500 Merivale Road, 3rd Floor
      Ottawa, Ontario
      K2E 6Z5"

    7. I think that this is a great step. When my kids were young, we seldom had tv reception, so they never asked for things that they had never heard of.
      It just made my life easier not to have to keep saying no to requests for things like soda and sugar laden cereals.
      It is a step in the right direction.

    8. Why is it that when people are upset/offended/annoyed with an industry, they always call it "big"? Big Oil, Big Food, Big (fill in the blank). It escapes me why people always jump to Big Government (hey, I can do it too!) to fix their problems. Instead of having the government impose yet more silly laws, in this case banning food ads targeted at kids under 13, how about, oh, I don't know, a little PARENTING?! Parents are able to distinguish "ads" from "truth", so how about it? If you don't want your kid to have it, don't buy it. (Eureka!) What kind of parent let's a six year old make decisions about what to buy at the grocery store? Maybe set some limits, have boundaries, and help your kids learn to make good choices. Parents can do a much better job of this than the government. Give me a break, this "it takes a village" mentality is ludicrous. All that is needed is a little parental responsibility.

    9. First I would like to say that I completely agree with your stance on this issue of junk food advertisements to children. This has become a growing issue over the years and is playing a part in the health of children over the world. Most of these ads are aimed at children who are too young to decipher what is being marketed to them but when they see these brand logos on television, such as the Trix rabbit as you refer to, and then they see the same logo when they go to the grocery store with their parents, they are going to chose the product that they are most familiar with and the product that gives them the good feeling that they associate with their afternoon cartoon shows. Obesity among children is probably a larger issue than underage smoking and drinking, and there are bans on advertising cigarettes and alcohol to children, but there are hardly any actions being taken to prevent children from eating foods that could ruin their health for the rest of their lives, but maybe that is because every one eats and food is not seen as being as threatening as cigarettes and alcohol, but therein lies the problem. Food is being overlooked as an issue that should be controlled in most countries because people do have the right to eat whatever they want, but foods that are so unhealthy that they can lead to major health issues should be examined and their production should be reconsidered for the sake of not only children but for adults who suffer from obesity also. There is no legitimate reason to feed a child cereal that is high in fat and sugar as their first meal of the day, and not only should companies rethink their reasons for producing such a product, but parents should also have a role in what their children consume and teach them healthy eating habits in the home so that they can learn to apply these same habits in their lives outside of home. I think it is a great way to get people involved in this issue by providing information on how they can help as you have in your post because there are people out there that are concerned about this topic but aren’t sure if there is much they can do about it and you are letting them know that where there is a will, there is a way. I appreciate your post on this issue and look forward to returning to your blog in hopes of reading more of your insights.