moved that Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand here today as a sponsor of Bill S-228, the child health protection act, at its third and final reading in Parliament.
I would like to begin by thanking my fellow colleagues on the Standing Committee on Health for their thoughtful review of the legislation. It was an honour to work with all of them and I look forward to continuing to work together on issues affecting Canadians.
Childhood obesity is an epidemic of such a magnitude that it is a matter of national concern. Today, one in three Canadian children is either overweight or obese. We know that obesity is linked to chronic conditions and illnesses, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers, and its effects are compounded if the onset is premature.
During my career as a physician, I noticed more of my patients were overweight or obese and I was seeing instances of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in younger and younger people. According to the World Obesity Federation, if current trends continue, more than 10 million adults in Canada will be obese by 2025 and treating health problems caused by obesity will cost Canada nearly $34 billion per year.
In its final report presented on January 25, 2016, the World Health Organization's Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity found that there is unequivocal evidence that the marketing of unhealthy foods and sugar-sweetened beverages has a negative impact on childhood obesity. The report recommended that any attempt to tackle childhood obesity should include a reduction in the exposure of children to marketing. This bill takes concrete steps to address this public health issue by eliminating the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.
During the committee stage of this bill, I introduced two consequential amendments to the legislation. The first was to alter the definition of a child from 17 years of age to 13 years of age. During Health Canada's consultation with stakeholders, it became clear that any regime built on restrictions aimed at older teenagers would be subjected to considerable legal risks associated with a restriction on freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Currently, there is a strong precedent for defining a child as under 13 in the context of advertising restrictions in Quebec and the province has withstood a charter challenge that was fully upheld at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Recognizing there is evidence concerning the vulnerability of teenagers to marketing, as well as the experience in Quebec where industry shifted marketing efforts to teenagers when restrictions were imposed on younger children, I moved a second amendment that requires Parliament to conduct a mandatory review of the legislation, with a focus on the definition of children within five years of the act coming into force. Through the parliamentary review of the legislation, the government would also be obliged to report publicly on compliance with the bill and on progress toward our common goal of healthier children of all ages. This work would ensure that, if necessary, we will have the data needed to support a broadening of restrictions at a future date.
During this bill's second reading and committee stage, there were also questions regarding the regulations that would be established. Recently, Health Canada released the document, “Restricting Marketing of Unhealthy Food and Beverages to Children: An Update on Proposed Regulations”. In this document, Health Canada stated that the new regulations would define “unhealthy” food, set out factors to determine if an advertisement is directed at children and set out exemptions to the prohibition, such as for children's sports sponsorship.
There has been much discussion as to what qualifies as unhealthy foods and beverages. As such, Health Canada is considering a model to define “unhealthy” food as foods having a front-of-package symbol, as proposed in draft regulations, or exceeding the threshold for the nutrient content claims, such as low in sodium and salt, low in saturated fatty acids and/or low in sugars. The Specific Nutrient Content Claim Requirements, such as the ones previously listed, are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to quantify food claims made by manufacturers. I encourage my colleagues to review the Specific Nutrient Content Claim Requirements for salt, sodium, saturated fatty acids and Health Canada's proposed requirements for sugars, for the exact quantities under the proposed regulations and for what amounts of sodium, fats and sugars would qualify a food or beverage as being unhealthy.
With regard to the factors to determine if an advertisement is directed at children, we need to consider that the impact of marketing to children is a result of both exposure to unhealthy food ads through settings and media channels and the power of the marketing techniques used.
As such, the proposed approach addresses both by considering three primary elements: settings, media channels and advertising techniques. Settings would include places, events or activities, and could include day cares, schools and children's clubs, as well as children's concerts and festivals, among others.
Health Canada would determine certain factors related to the settings, such as whether the setting is one where children are generally or frequently in attendance, and the nature and purpose of the event or activity determining whether unhealthy food advertising is child-directed.
Under the proposed regulations, marketing to children would be prohibited in child-directed settings. Where the audience has both adults and children, the marketing of unhealthy foods would be restricted only if the advertisement itself is found to have child appeal and would be prohibited if the characteristics of the ad, such as colour, theme and/or language, were clearly directed at children.
Children are also exposed to advertising through a variety of media channels, including digital applications, Internet, television, films and print. Health Canada is currently exploring the use of factors such as the nature and purpose of the media, whether it was intended or designed for children and whether children constitute a significant portion of the audience when determining whether unhealthy food advertising is child-directed.
With regards to the audience portion, Health Canada is considering a prohibition of marketing to children when the proportion of children in the viewing audience is over 15%. For media channels where the proportion of children in the viewing audience is less than 15%, the marketing of unhealthy food will be restricted only if the advertisement is found to have clear child appeal. With regards to determining advertising techniques with child appeal, it must be understood that a wide range of powerful techniques are used to advertise foods to children. Therefore, Health Canada will need to determine whether the design, technique or characteristic of the advertisement target will influence or appeal to children. For example, an ad for confectionery treats depicting child-appealing elements such as cartoon images and/or children's toys would be prohibited.
Over the past several months, there have been concerns that there could be a negative impact on access to community sports if sponsorships were prohibited. In its proposed regulations, Health Canada will exempt children's sport sponsorships to address these concerns, with only specific techniques designed to appeal to children under 13, such as mascots or product giveaways, being prohibited.
Marketing to children would be allowed for community sports teams, sporting events, sporting leagues and associations, and individual child athletes. For example, in the context of a sporting event where a company is supplying sports jerseys to the team, its logo can appear on the sports jerseys.
Working on this legislation has been a long yet rewarding process. When I was practising medicine, I would too often treat patients suffering from the numerous medical complications due to obesity. While I am not in the emergency room to treat patients suffering from these illnesses now, I am here, in the House of Commons, as a representative of my community, to address the preventable issues that are hurting our society and burdening our health care system.
We now have an opportunity to address childhood obesity, which should frankly be a non-partisan issue. That is why I am calling upon all members of this House to show their support and prove we are united in fighting this epidemic.