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 second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand here today as the sponsor of Bill S-228, the child health protection act.
I would like to begin by commending the hon. Senator Greene Raine for introducing this bill last fall, and for her tireless efforts to support healthy choices for our children.
This bill was grounded in the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology's own study on obesity in Canada, published in March 2016, and was debated by that committee during its review of the legislation.
It has long been established that advertising works. What I mean by this is that advertising is an effective tool for influencing potential customers' attitudes and behaviours. If this were not true, then advertising would not be a long-standing multi-billion dollar industry. This principle applies to all potential customers, including children. Now, more than ever, our children are exposed to a barrage of advertisements for unhealthy foods and beverages. It therefore follows that those who are marketing their products to children will be affecting children's eating decisions. In fact, recent trends confirm that this is indeed the case.
One in three Canadian children is either overweight or obese. We know that obesity is linked to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. During my career as a physician, I witnessed these trends first-hand on a regular basis. I noticed more of my patients who presented were overweight or obese, and I was seeing instances of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in younger and younger people. Public health data across many countries confirms that this trend is widespread. Alarmingly, whereas 20 years ago type 2 diabetes was a disease primarily of older adults, this diagnosis is increasingly being made in children. It is obvious that we need to take bold action now. Our children's health and lives are at stake, and they deserve better.
This issue falls squarely within the Minister of Health's mandate to introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
The extent to which our children are exposed to the advertising of foods and beverages that are high in sugar, salt, and saturated fats cannot be overstated. For example, according to a recent study of the 25 million online food and beverage ads that Canadian children see every year on their favourite websites, 90% are for unhealthy products. As a result, our children are eating fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended and more unhealthy foods and beverages.
Taking action today to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages means that we can help children have a healthy start in life, based on a foundation of healthy eating choices, and protection from the influence and manipulation of those who would market unhealthy foods and beverages to our children. Bill S-228 serves to provide such protection.
If Bill S-228 is to give our children the protection they deserve, it is imperative that, before being passed into law, we take steps to ensure that this legislation will withstand any legal challenges that may come about. This is why I will be introducing amendments to this bill.
The first amendment would change the definition of “children” from under 17 years old to under 13 years old. Although some stakeholders have expressed reservations with changing the age, it must be understood that there is a very real potential that this bill could be challenged in its present form under the law.
In recent months, as Health Canada has consulted with stakeholders, it has become increasingly obvious that any regime built on restrictions aimed at older teenagers would be subject to considerable legal risks associated with the restriction on freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These are risks I cannot ignore, because a court loss could jeopardize this entire effort. The proposed change will allow us to take bold action to protect our most vulnerable populations now.
There is a strong precedent for defining a child as under 13 years of age in the context of advertising restrictions in the province of Quebec. In fact, the Quebec legislation withstood a charter challenge and was fully upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. That clear precedent supports the decision to amend the definition of children to those under 13. However, I will not stop there.
Recognizing there is evidence showing 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 will move an additional amendment to Bill S-228 at committee. Specifically, I will move an amendment to require Parliament to conduct a mandatory review of the legislation, with a particular focus on the definition of children, within five years of the act coming into force.
The objective of the parliamentary review will be to monitor whether the lower age limit results in increased advertising to teenagers and whether any provisions of the act need to be adjusted to ensure the continued and full protection of our children.
I have also been informed that the Minister of Health has instructed Health Canada to invest significant resources over the next five years and to work closely with the health stakeholder community to ensure the necessary research is undertaken to determine whether new forms of advertising are impacting children and whether teens are being exposed to more marketing as a result of restrictions on marketing to younger children. I applaud the minister for her leadership in this area.
Through the parliamentary review of the legislation, the government will 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 will ensure that, if necessary, we will have the data needed to support a broadening of restrictions at a future date.
While parents have an important role in choosing what their children eat, it is difficult for them to compete with or to completely control their children's exposure to marketing. Parents and caregivers deserve a supportive environment where children are not constantly targeted by unhealthy food marketing.
Bill S-228 is but one effort to tackle the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease in our country. If anyone doubts my resolve or the resolve of our government, he or she need only look at the comprehensive suite of measures we have under way. These initiatives range from restricting marketing to children; to new front-of-pack labelling to flag foods high in sugar, salt, and fat; and to a revamped Canada Food Guide.
One of the fundamental responsibilities of a government is to protect its most vulnerable citizens and few citizens are more vulnerable than our children. I expect that everyone in the House can appreciate how significant Bill S-228 is for the health of our children today and for generations to come.
We will not let up in the fight to reduce obesity and chronic disease. I ask all members for their support on this important issue.