Mr. Speaker, Canada ranks sixth among industrialized countries in respect of its percentage of children who are obese. The number of obese children in Canada is rising dramatically, and it is having a considerable impact on the health of Canadian families and our health care system. It is time that the government took action and remedied this situation.
I am therefore rising to support Bill S-228, which seeks to find solutions to the serious problem of childhood obesity resulting from children's exposure to food marketing. The World Health Organization itself considers the marketing of unhealthy foods as one of the main contributors to obesity.
The NDP have strongly supported this initiative for a long time. In 2012, we introduced Bill C-430, which sought to ban any advertising specifically targeted at children under the age of 13. We therefore applaud the work that was done in relation to the Senate committee's 2016 report on obesity, which led to the drafting of this bill. This report showed that it is essential that we reduce children's exposure to advertising in order to address the issue of childhood obesity. That is an important issue.
Children are being directly targeted by food and beverage marketing. That is why this bill is so important. As the critic for families, children, and social development and the deputy critic for health, I am proud to be speaking on this issue.
I will point out that the committee should discuss the age threshold this bill sets for marketing to children. The only existing legislation on this subject is the Quebec law, which prohibits advertising directed at children under the age of 13, not 17, the age specified in this bill. The bill originally set the age threshold at 13, but after discussion, it was raised to 17. That will require further discussion.
This bill will have to harmonize with Quebec's law. We need to respect the provinces' jurisdiction. The bill should draw on Quebec's law, not contradict it. This bill will make it illegal to market a food or beverage directly to children, which obviously includes the way the labelling and packaging are designed. It also makes it illegal to offer or give gifts or surprises with the purchase of food or beverages.
Urgent action is needed to protect our kids. The numbers are frightening. According to this study, the number of obese children has tripled since the 1980s. It is critical that we take swift and early action on childhood obesity. An obese child is 20% more likely to struggle with weight problems in adulthood. Obese teens are an alarming 80% more likely, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
It is a well-known fact that childhood obesity has terrible effects on children's physical health, and the same is true of their mental health and social lives. Children with poor self-esteem can be in for a lifelong struggle. On top of all that, another harmful effect of childhood obesity is additional health care spending.
Indeed, as obesity rates increase, the associated costs also increase. Once again, the numbers are extremely troubling. The annual economic burden of obesity is estimated to be in the billions of dollars. It is unbelievable. The Senate committee put that figure somewhere between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually in health care costs and lost productivity.
That is why the government has to put Bill S-228 to a vote. People should no longer have to wait to protect their children from the harmful influence of food and beverage marketing. Parents have enough to worry about without having to fight the influence of marketing on their children.
Francine Forget Marin, director of health promotion and research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, is certain that children are very vulnerable to advertising because they cannot distinguish between good food and bad.
Marketing directed at children influences their food preferences and eating habits. For example, they will have a tendency to want products that are adorned with a familiar logo or character, such as superheros or princesses. Young people even think that those products taste better than the same product in a different package.
The problem is that most of these advertised products are low in nutritional value. Research by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada showed that children see more than 25 million food and beverage ads on their favourite web sites every year. That is unbelievable. They are completely bombarded and led to believe that the food is good, but it is quite the opposite. More than 90% of the food and drinks advertised online are unhealthy. By limiting access to ads for young audiences, this bill seeks to prevent young people from adopting their parents' unhealthy eating habits by eliminating the problem at the source.
My team presented the bill to Jeunes en santé, an organization in my riding that works to protect and promote the health and well-being of children and adolescents. The organization's coordinator, Véronique Laramée, told us how important it is for messaging directed at young people to focus on healthy eating. For Jeunes en santé, making sure kids know that eating well is good for them and eating foods with lots of sugar and trans fats is bad for them is crucial. Jeunes en santé is to be commended for promoting healthy eating to young people in my riding.
Imagine a world where children are no longer bombarded by ads for products that are bad for their health. The time has come for the federal government to do something to support parents who are trying to make good choices. Children and parents need an environment free from the influence of food and beverage advertising, one that supports healthy, nutritious choices.
I want to congratulate the province of Quebec for its leadership in protecting children from aggressive advertising tactics. In fact, Quebec is the only province that already has legislation in place. Its Consumer Protection Act was passed in 1980. After an almost 10-year battle, the Supreme Court finally decided in 1989 that the Quebec law was constitutional. Since then, the Quebec law has had a very positive impact on the health of our children. According to a 2011 study, Quebec has the lowest rate of obesity among children aged 6 to 11, and the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables. This shows how important and useful legislation is.
There are very clear differences at the provincial level. I had the opportunity to meet with members of Quebec's Weight Coalition, who confirmed that there is a striking difference in children's exposure to advertising from province to province. It is time that the federal government remedy this situation.
Bill S-228 has been well received in Quebec, since it will complement the existing legislation. In that regard, Quebec's Weight Coalition reminded me that the exceptions in the Quebec law continue to pose a problem. The Quebec law still allows packaging and advertisements in store windows and displays, and of course, that marketing targets children in particular.
The time has come for the federal government to take action. Studies and research have been done and recommendations have been made, yet the epidemic of childhood obesity has still not been stopped. This bill is the first real step in the right direction.
Our children need to be able to make the right choices, and we need to be able to regulate advertising. If we want a healthy population, we need to act now in order to offer our children the greatest gift of all, the gift of health.
This bill makes the health of all of our children a priority and emphasizes the importance of having all the necessary tools to protect them. Quebec addressed this issue nearly 30 years ago. It is high time the federal government did the same.