Child Health Protection Act

An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children)

Sponsor

Patricia Lattanzio  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (House), as of May 6, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-252.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Child Health Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2022 / 2 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Christine Normandin Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-252, which was introduced by the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Basically, this bill seeks to amend the Food and Drugs Act to specifically prohibit the marketing of “foods and beverages that contribute to excess sugar, saturated fats or sodium in children’s diets” to persons who are under 13 years of age. As a result, this bill specifically targets the marketing of sugary drinks, for the most part. The bill also provides for a review of the results of these measures by a House, Senate or joint committee in five years.

This bill seeks to address a rather serious problem. One need only consider the statistics. A 2016 report by the public health officer for Quebec indicated that 52% of the population, both adults and children, were overweight and that 18% were obese. According to the most optimistic projections, we can expect those numbers to increase to 54% and 21%, respectively, by 2030. That is a rather sharp rise.

If we focus on the statistics for children across Canada, we can see some marked differences over the past decades. For example, between 1978-79 and 2004, the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among children aged two to 17 increased from 15% to 26%. Increases were highest among youth aged 12 to 17 years, with overweight and obesity more than doubling for this age group, from 14% to 29%.

This is an urgent problem that must be addressed, in light of all of the comorbidities associated with being overweight or obese, such as cardiovascular diseases. These diseases are the first to come to mind, especially since they were the leading cause of death in 2012. Another example is diabetes, which can be connected fairly directly to sugary drinks. Other examples would be various musculoskeletal disorders, such as arthritis, and other degenerative diseases that are generally highly debilitating. I also want to point out the higher prevalence of certain cancers that are comorbid with overweight and obesity, such as endometrial, breast, ovary, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney and colon cancers. This is a global problem that will become worse if nothing is done.

The bill specifically addresses advertising aimed at children. It is interesting to look at the impact that advertising can have on children in general. We can see that, without realizing it, our little ones are increasingly being seen as prospective consumers. We tend to forget that. Here are some interesting facts.

As we know, children have both direct and indirect economic power. They influence nearly 40% of family purchases. Direct spending by children is also on a steady rise around the world. In Canada, in 2004, children aged four to 12 influenced $20 billion in family purchases. This is indirect influence. In 2002, four million children aged two to 12 were estimated to have spent $1.5 billion of their pocket money. In 2006, the figure was $3 billion. The same thing is happening in the United States, where the amount doubles from one decade to the next.

We also know that there is a business strategy behind advertising aimed at children. The goal is to build customer loyalty at an early age. We know that, from the age of six months, babies have the ability to form mental images of corporate logos and mascots. By the age of three, one in five American children demand specific brands of products. Of the six brand names most recognized by toddlers, four are from the food industry.

In all, 93% of children aged three to five recognize the McDonald's logo. The fact that they recognize it is one thing, but does it work? Here is an interesting fact. When researchers present children aged three to five with fries in McDonald's packaging and the same fries in other packaging, they systematically prefer the fries in the McDonald's packaging. Clearly, it has an impact.

This takes me back 15 years to when I was starting my law studies. One of the first courses I took, and loved, was a consumer rights course taught by Pierre-Claude Lafond, who encouraged me to pursue my training. We were already seeing the impact of legislation on advertising, such as American drug ads, which are very long and state the name of the drug, what it is used for, its many side effects and more. In contrast, in Canada, companies cannot say both the name of the drug and what it is used for. Ads here encourage people to talk to their doctor.

It is the same thing for children's toys. I remember that when I was very young, I would always change the channel to see American ads because they were so much more interesting to me. As children, we saw toys of all kinds, so it obviously had an impact.

The bill does have its limits. I therefore encourage the committee that will study it, and the committee responsible for the five-year review, to look closely at certain issues.

For this to be effective, for us to really combat obesity and overweight among children, we need to look at more than just advertising. This bill must be part of a broader movement. Take Quebec, for example, which in 2019 introduced an action plan to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks and to promote water. Quebec not only has its own legislation to prohibit advertising to kids under 13, it also has its own policy on the subject.

I would remind members that Quebec did not take part in developing any federal framework. If the goal is to create legislation to restrict advertising, it is important that this be done in conjunction with the provinces. The member for Sarnia—Lambton pointed out that kids are less active than they used to be. Everything related to health, in general, falls under provincial jurisdiction. We must therefore ensure co-operation between the federal government, in terms of the Food and Drugs Act, and the provincial jurisdictions. I therefore suggest that this be studied in committee.

As I mentioned to the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, we also need to make sure that we are truly able to eliminate false advertising. That is something that Professor Lafond talked about in the course I took with him.

Quebec has an excellent law, but our consumer protection board, the OPC, which is responsible for monitoring compliance, was unable to keep up with demand. Professor Lafond explained to us that only the most blatant cases were taken off the air because the OPC did not have the necessary resources to deal with all of the requests and complaints. By the way, a complaint has to be filed in order for an ad to be taken off the air.

Since this is a private member's bill and these types of bills generally do not involve any expenditures, perhaps we should consider how the terms of this legislation can be implemented effectively.

It is important to remember that there can always be a sort of grey area between what is considered an ad directed specifically at children and what it not. The industry is quite creative on that score.

In 2019, Quebec produced a report on food advertising directed at children, and it listed several ways that companies get around the law. Think of food in the shape of a toy. To what extent is that an ad directed at children? Think of seasonal packaging and designs based on popular current movies. Are they directed more at children or adults, depending on the film? Think of the use of popular or trademark characters, funny wordplay, and products designed in a smaller size or with a toy included to appeal specifically to children.

What about ads posted in family areas? Are they directed specifically at children? We also have to look at how food is displayed on grocery store shelves. What about the font used in an ad, or references to magic or fantasy? I suggest that all these things be studied by the committee that will be reviewing the bill to make it as effective as possible, or so we hope.

Child Health Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2022 / 1:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-252. This is a well-intentioned bill that is trying to address a serious issue in Canada, obesity in children.

In one of the previous Parliaments, I was actually the health critic when the former version of this bill came forward from the Senate. We know that Senator Nancy Greene Raine had brought that bill forward. In fact, she received a bit of teasing about it. As many of us will know, she was quite a famous skier but did a lot of promotional work for Mars bars, so when she came with Bill S-228, there was some teasing going on.

However, this is truly a very serious issue, because almost a third of children in Canada are obese, and it is just getting worse. Certainly, the pandemic did not make things better. I think we would all agree, even for those of us who are not children anymore, that we probably spent too much time at home snacking and putting on weight.

The bill is trying to address reducing obesity in children by controlling marketing that is intended specifically for children. If we look at places that have put this in place, there are a lot of them. Quebec was mentioned. Chile has had this program in place for a long time. The problem is that it is not working. That is the biggest problem. What happens is that they are measuring success by the number of packages they are able to have altered so that they are not directing it toward children, when, really, the measure we are looking for here is a reduction in the obesity of children. This is important because obesity is not just a serious health issue, but a cause of death.

If we look at obesity, we know that some of the related health problems are high blood pressure or heart disease. This is the number one killer of Canadians, heart disease and stroke. Type 2 diabetes is another very serious impact. Right now, there are 11 million Canadians who have diabetes or prediabetes. It is very well known that, through a mixture of diet and exercise, many Canadians who develop type 2 diabetes could have been prevented from doing that. There are many other health conditions, such as liver disease, sleep apnea and joint problems, not to mention the emotional toll. In school, we can imagine the teasing and bullying that often accompany those who are obese. This can be permanently damaging as well.

I am definitely very supportive of addressing obesity in children. It has actually tripled in the last 30 years in Canada. It is truly at an epidemic stage. The problem is that, in 2012, Quebec put in similar legislation to this and it still had a 30% increase in obesity over this length of time.

I think that if we look at the root causes of obesity and what medical science is saying about it, it is really saying that there are four factors that we need to address, or four factors that are the most important.

One is genetics and, really, we cannot do much about that. We are sort of born into the family that we are born into. I know of families who are all skinny forever and they eat way more than I am able to eat. Certainly I am envious, but I can do nothing about my own genetics, so I think that is not something the government can control.

Metabolism is another one, obviously, the metabolic rate. Generally, men have a higher metabolic rate than women, so that can be a factor. Of course, those with thyroid issues can also have metabolic impacts. Again, there is not much the government can do there.

Then there is lifestyle, such as diet and physical activity. This is a place where the government really can make some impacts. There have been studies around the world and if we look at places that have the best outcomes and the lowest obesity rates in the world, those are places like Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia and Norway. If we take a look at what they are doing that is working, we see that there is more walking and cycling going on in many of these European countries than we have here. There is an effort in the schools to serve smaller portions of food, food that is not fried and has more vegetables. In France, they have three recesses to run around, as well as the weekly gym classes, so they are incorporating that into schools.

I certainly remember when I was in school. Keep in mind it was a different time back then, so I am more aged than many members here in the House, but in terms of diet, our household was not stellar. There were Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Alphabits for breakfast. My mother used to let us dip our toast in maple syrup. We ate baloney sandwiches on white bread and Kraft Dinner, Beefaroni and things like that. Sprinkle sandwiches were a thing when I was growing up, so none of that diet would be considered a healthy diet today.

At the time, there were no obese kids anywhere to be found in our area because we were running around all day. We were running around at school playing soccer. After school we were playing hide-and-seek, running to the park and jumping off the monkey bars. It was all about activity. There was a specific effort called Participaction at the time that was designed to get kids moving and to get kids active. I definitely think that is something worth focusing on, in addition to the move toward healthier foods.

Environment is the fourth factor that experts are saying is important. We have talked about the environment at school and the things that can be done there. Access to sports facilities, and getting people involved in sports, and access to nutritious food are important things. Right now, the affordability of life is impacting that. That is something that the government can have an impact on. If we think about it, the increases in the carbon tax have caused home heating prices to go up, gas prices to go up, and food prices, especially fresh produce, to go up beyond what those living on lower and maybe fixed incomes can actually afford. This is something that would translate into people not eating as nutritious a diet, so that is something that the government can impact by improving the affordability of life.

At the same time, because of the squeeze on everybody's pocketbooks, a lot of the money in the child tax benefit that we expect would be used to get kids into sports and help them to afford those things is actually being used to help pay the bills. The sports tax credit that we used to have was a specific thing that motivated people to get their kids involved in sports. Those are ideas that the government can implement that can have a really big impact.

In terms of the unintended negative consequences when the discussion came to committee in the last go-round on this bill, there were a lot of organizations like Tim Hortons and McDonald's and whatnot that sponsored children's sports efforts. There was a desire to have an exemption to make sure they would not be punished but could continue to market their products, which some would consider to be unhealthy. When the bill comes before committee, it would be worth looking at those exemptions.

The other discussion was about enforcement. All of the regimes that have put bills like this in place have had difficulty enforcing them, and it has become that much more difficult now that we are in a digital age. Kids have access to the Internet. It is very difficult to control what country they are viewing content from, so the enforcement part of this is a difficult one as well.

There are those who will point out that parental responsibility is important: that parents making healthy choices and helping their children learn to make healthy choices is what this ought to be about. There are those who will say that everybody needs to have their freedom. For me, if chips are in a dark bag with a skull and crossbones on it, I would probably still eat them, but people should have individual choice. There is something to that, and I think about everything in moderation. That said, I do not think that these measures have been effective, but we need to do everything possible to reduce obesity in our country and help our children.

Child Health Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2022 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Madam Speaker, I shall proceed. As per the FDA, “food” includes beverages, and “advertisement” is defined in broad terms, including any representation by any means by promoting directly or indirectly the sale of products controlled by legislation.

The notion of advertisement is media neutral, which encompasses the latest technologies and evolving methods.

Clause 4 of Bill C-252 adds a new section to the FDA, entitled “Advertising directed at children”, whereby provisions and regulations will define the marketing and advertising mechanisms that would be prohibited and would be part of the bill.

Clause 7.3 allows, after five years of the adoption of Bill C-252, a review mechanism, possible by a committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament, in order to evaluate if there has been an increase in advertising of foods and beverages that contribute to excess sugar, saturated fats or sodium in children's diets in the next group of kids, that is persons who are between 13 and 16 years of age.

Lastly, clause 6 of the bill stipulates that the act would come into force one year after receiving royal assent.

By supporting Bill C-252, we are ensuring that marketing and advertising cannot bypass parents and target children directly.

To conclude, we all have an opportunity to advocate through meaningful changes to our food environment. The government has taken important steps to create conditions to make the healthier choice the easier choice for all Canadians, but still, more work remains to be done.

We are committed to advancing the remaining key healthy eating strategy initiatives to further improve the state of healthy eating in Canada and have a meaningful impact on the long-term health of Canadians. This includes taking actions to support children's healthy eating habits to mitigate risks of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. A healthy population, including healthy children, is not only key to reducing the likelihood of serious health problems, thus requiring fewer health care services, but would also contribute to a healthy economy as well.

Some parliamentarians may recall that a similar bill, Bill S-228, was initially tabled in the Senate in 2016, spearheading the approach to introducing restrictions on advertising and marketing to children. It had passed in the Senate, was debated and amended in this chamber, and was subsequently returned to the Senate, but never reached the final vote before the dissolution of Parliament in 2019.

In the meantime, industry stakeholders have taken initiatives to tackle the issue of advertising to children, but their attempts at self-regulation have been on a voluntary basis only and lack proper monitoring. As a result, Canadian children continue to be exposed to these ads.

It is worth noting that restricting marketing to children has become mandatory in countries such as Portugal, Mexico and Chile, and Argentina and Spain are in the process of advancing new legislative regulatory initiatives. More importantly, the U.K. tabled legislation imposing restrictions on advertising of HFSS products, those that are high in fat, salt and sugar, in July 2021. It received royal assent just last Thursday, April 28, and will come into effect in less than a year, on January 1, 2023.

Dear colleagues, Canada must follow suit. The issue on hand is non-partisan, and I hope to count on the support of all parliamentarians in this House, as well as all senators, for the adoption of Bill C-252, which will benefit our children and future generations. I would like to thank the researchers, especially Dr. Monique Potvin Kent, la Coalition Poids, the Quebec coalition, the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, the allied health agencies, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Childhood Obesity Foundation, who have worked and supported the objectives of Bill C-252 and of its prior version.

I look forward to the final implementation of Bill C-252.

Child Health Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

May 6th, 2022 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved that Bill C-252, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to take part in the discussion on Bill C-252, which aims to support restrictions on commercial marketing and advertising on certain foods and beverages to children.

Today's food environment is diverse and includes access to fast foods and ultraprocessed foods, which makes it difficult for Canadians to make healthy food choices. The issue has less to do with our individual will and more to do with what foods are available and aggressively marketed to us.

The advertising of these types of foods is all around us. As a result, Canadians are exposed to and consume too many foods that contribute to excess sugars, saturated fats and sodium in their diets. It is no wonder that Canadians continue to face challenges as they navigate through the food environment and strive to make healthy eating decisions.

There is no denying that we are facing a chronic disease crisis in Canada, and unhealthy diets are playing a key role. The scope of the crisis is staggering, and unhealthy diets with excess intakes of sugar, saturated fats and sodium are a key modifiable risk factor for obesity and chronic diseases. It has been reported that, for the first time in history, we have children who have spent their whole lives eating diets high in ultraprocessed foods and of low nutritional value. In fact, Canadians are the second-largest buyers of ultraprocessed foods and beverages in the world, second only to the Americans. Furthermore, studies have shown that one in three children in Canada is overweight or obese, and as a result is more likely to develop health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer later in life.

In 2019, dietary risk factors contributed to an estimated 36,000 deaths, and the burden of chronic diseases impacted mainly by diet and other modifiable risk factors has been estimated to cost $13.8 billion in Canada. With these alarming rates and statistics, it is undeniable that the issue of our food environment requires our attention as a growing matter of public health concern.

While a number of contributing factors influence our diet, food advertising is one of the more prevalent. Advertising has a considerable impact on children's preferences and consumption patterns. A report presented in 2016 by the World Health Organization's Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity concluded that there is unequivocal evidence that the marketing of food and beverages that contribute to excess sugar, saturated fats and sodium in children's diets has a negative impact on childhood obesity and other diseases. It recommended that any attempt to tackle this serious health issue should include restrictions on the advertising and marketing of certain foods and beverages to children.

Even before the pandemic of COVID-19, it had been reported that over 90% of food and beverage product advertisements viewed by children online, and/or on TV have been for products that are high in sugars, saturated fats and sodium content. Kids aged nine through 13 years of age get more calories, almost 60%, from ultraprocessed foods than any other age group.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the urgency of tackling unhealthy eating habits as children who were confined in their homes through the lockdowns were subjected, through various media and settings, to unhealthy diets and food and beverage ads at an alarming rate. Statistics have shown that one-third of Canadians increased their consumption of junk food or sweets just three months into the pandemic as a way to deal with the stressful circumstances.

It is widely acknowledged that children are particularly vulnerable to advertising, and succumb to its persuasive influence over their food preferences, attitudes, purchase requests, consumption patterns and overall health. Children are highly exposed to food advertising through various forms of media, packaging or displays that promote foods that contribute disproportionately to excess consumption of sugar, saturated fats and sodium. The Canadian food and beverage industry spends approximately $1.1 billion per year on marketing to children. It uses product designs, cartoons, identifiable characters, fantasy and adventure themes to market to kids.

The exposure, frequency and power of the ads can successfully reach a child as young as three years of age. Given this evidence, it is clear that the government needs to do more and take immediate action to protect children from unfair and deceptive marketing and advertising practices in order to protect their health. That is why part of the Minister of Health's mandate is to promote healthy eating by advancing the healthy eating strategy.

Evidence has shown that many factors in our food environment influence our ability to make healthy food choices, such as access to and availability of healthy food options, lower prices and the promotion of certain foods. The food we find in our grocery stores, on restaurant menus, on social media and in food advertising greatly impacts our choices. With widespread availability of foods high in sugar, saturated fats and sodium, we need to take action in order to restrict ads from targeting children.

Our government recognized these challenges in 2016 and subsequently launched the healthy eating strategy in order to make the healthier choice the easier choice for Canadians. The strategy aims to improve nutrition information and literacy, facilitate healthier food options, and protect and support marginalized and vulnerable populations.

The Government of Canada has made significant progress to date. In 2016, the government improved the nutrition facts table and list of ingredients, which helped Canadians make more informed food choices; in 2018, it prohibited industrially produced trans fats; in 2019, the revised Canada's food guide was launched, providing Canadians with relevant, consistent and credible dietary guidance; and in 2020, sodium reduction targets were published to encourage sodium reduction in food supply. However, more remains to be done.

The government is committed to advancing the outstanding initiatives of the healthy eating strategy and pursuing the implementation of preventive measures aimed at promoting healthy eating lifestyles. These include finalizing the front of package nutrition labelling to promote healthy food choices, and supporting restrictions on the commercial marketing and advertising of certain foods and beverages to children. Having the right tools to access, understand and use nutrition information will support Canadians in making healthier choices.

However, other factors, particularly the constant stream of commercial messages and endorsements, also influence what we buy. These aggressive marketing techniques are used to promote foods with excess amounts of sugar, saturated fats and sodium. Children are particularly vulnerable to food advertising and, therefore, must be provided the necessary protection for their health and well-being; marketing directed at them must be regulated. Their parents should be provided with the support needed as they help their children develop healthy eating habits and food preferences.

Bill C-252 aims to protect children's health and well-being. Bill C-252 proposes to amend Canada's Food and Drugs Act in order to prohibit any marketing of food and beverages directed at persons under the age of 13. Clause 2 of Bill C-252 adds the definition of “children”, stipulating that it means persons who are under the age of 13.

As per the FDA, “food” includes beverages, and “advertisement” is defined in broad terms, including representation by any means of promoting directly or indirectly the sale of products controlled by legislation. The notion of advertisement is media neutral, which encompasses the latest technologies and evolving marketing methods. Clause 4 of Bill C-252 adds a new paragraph to the FDA, entitled “Advertising directed at children” and—

Child Health Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

February 9th, 2022 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Patricia Lattanzio Liberal Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-252, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children).

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to introduce my bill today, which proposes to amend the Food and Drugs Act by restricting the marketing of food and beverages high in sugar, saturated fats or salt directed at children. Studies have shown that even before COVID-19, 90% of food and beverage ads for such products were viewed by our children on TV and/or online. We can only imagine how much more dire the situation has become over the past two years.

Eating and drinking such foods and beverages is linked to increased health risks including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. A healthy population, including healthy children, is not only key to reducing the likelihood of serious health problems but contributes to a healthy economy. This issue of concern has been previously debated in this chamber and is being reintroduced, for the time has come to protect our children, ensure that their health is no longer compromised and support parents across the country as they help their children develop healthy eating habits and food preferences.

I look forward to the support and ultimate adoption of the bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)