Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to rise to speak in support of Bill S-228, An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (prohibiting food and beverage marketing directed at children).
With the introduction of this bill last fall, the hon. Senator Nancy Green Raine took a significant step forward in protecting Canada's children from the negative influence of commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages. The bill before us today represents an effective means to bring about real change in this area. That said, I also believe that the new amendments to be moved by the sponsor at committee are critical to the success of this important endeavour.
Taken together, the decision to change the definition of children to “under age 13” and the inclusion of a mandatory review of the legislation within five years of its introduction will strengthen Bill S-228. Specifically, the amendments will be effective in protecting children under the age of 13 from the negative influence of the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages now, while monitoring the impacts on teenagers aged between 14 and 17.
We cannot underestimate how important this piece of legislation is to the health and well-being of our children. We are all well aware that a nutritious and balanced diet is important to promote good health. In fact, a healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent obesity and devastating chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Over the past few decades, the Government of Canada has made great strides in supporting Canadians by promoting good eating habits, through the long-standing Canada's food guide, the introduction of the nutrition facts table, and improvements in the way foods are labelled.
However, a number of factors are challenging public health efforts and making it increasingly difficult for Canadians to eat a healthy and nutritious diet. Because of this, we are seeing alarming rates of obesity and chronic diseases in this country. More than one in five Canadians lives with chronic diseases, and the rates is increasing. The social and economic costs have become unsustainable. Chronic diseases caused by poor diets have been costing the Canadian economy at least $27 billion every year, and that cost is growing. Perhaps even more disturbing is that our most vulnerable population, our children, are beginning to carry this heavy burden.
Our children are being brought up in an environment where processed, unhealthy and fast food is the norm. Children are not only eating fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, but they are also exceeding the amount of sugar, salt, and saturated fat they should be consuming. The statistics are alarming. Recent research shows that toddlers are consuming up to 27% of their calories from sugar, and nearly a third of Canadian children are overweight or obese. As a result, this population is now more at risk than previous generations for developing health problems later in life, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
This is a serious health crisis that requires our immediate attention. More needs to be done to improve the health of our children and to reduce their consumption of foods that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
Current public health efforts to curb this growing crisis are being hampered by the powerful and pervasive marketing messages for unhealthy food, particularly those high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. These marketing strategies often appeal to children's emotions and influence their eating habits.
To be clear, we are not only referring to the commercials that play during children's television programming. Modern food advertising to children takes on many forms going well beyond traditional media. Today's advertising includes sophisticated strategies that make use of online venues, product placement, and brand recognition. For example, according to a recent study, today's children, collectively, are exposed to a shocking 25 million food and beverage ads every single year on their favourite websites alone. Children are also exposed to marketing every day in schools, restaurants, cinemas, and grocery stores. These industry practices include celebrity endorsements, promotions and incentive programs designed to entice children to remember, prefer, and select specific company brands.
Ninety percent of foods advertised online to children are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. It is not surprising that marketing has been identified by leading experts as a major contributor to childhood obesity.
Bill S-228 puts forward a legislative strategy under the Food and Drugs Act to address marketing to children by imposing prohibitions on the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages directed at children. Most parents are not aware of the extent to which their children are exposed to these advertisements, or the potential negative impacts on them.
We are not alone internationally in battling this problem. The World Health Organization and the United Nations have endorsed government action against harmful, unhealthy food marketing to children. Several countries have already taken action, including the United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile, South Korea, Sweden, and Ireland.
Here at home, voluntary efforts on the part of industry have not proven to be effective, and the time has come for Canada to take stronger action. I would like to remind the House that the Minister of Health has also committed to restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children as part of her mandate requirements. These restrictions will complement Health Canada's comprehensive healthy eating strategy, which aims to make the healthier choice the easier choice.
The strategy also includes other initiatives, such as revising Canada's food guide to provide dietary recommendations based on the latest scientific evidence. Health Canada is also improving food packaging labels to make it easier for Canadians to understand what is in the food they are buying. In addition, Health Canada is pursuing sodium reduction targets, and the Minister of Health has already banned industrial trans fat in packaged foods with regulations that will come into force next year.
Getting and keeping our children active is key to their living long, healthy, and productive lives. To support this goal, the Minister of Health has made it clear to me that she will advance regulations under Bill S-228 to exempt the sponsorship of community sporting activities from marketing restrictions. Many community organizations have expressed concern about the impact this might have on important sporting activities, and the minister has listened to them and is prepared to respond appropriately.
Community sporting activities provide social and health benefits to our kids. However, since we also know that sponsorship is a powerful marketing tactic, the government will engage with the sports community to better understand the risks and benefits of sponsorship to ensure that our policy approach achieves our goal of the best health outcomes for our children.
I commend the Minister of Health for her leadership in this area. Together, these measures will result in real change for Canadians and, in particular, Canadian youth.
I urge all members of the House to support this legislation so that our children have a chance to grow up healthy without the negative influence of the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages.
It is important that our children and future generations have the tools they need to make healthy food choices. With the right tools and with restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods, I am confident that we will be able to bend the curve in the obesity and chronic disease crisis.