TORONTO – A latest report that appears on the prevalence of promoting to children inside grocery stores and restaurants suggests regulation is required to assist reduce unhealthy food temptations.
The report, funded by Heart and Stroke and published on Tuesday, audited displays at greater than 2,000 restaurants and 800 stores across Canada and says children could also be bombarded with messages that make junk food seem appealing.
Researchers found nearly 53 per cent of stores had “junk food power partitions” at checkout aisles, which it says are prime areas to market to kids because products are placed inside their reach.
The research said that placement encourages “pester power” — when children nag or pester their parents to make impulse purchases.
“Parenting is tough enough without having to cope with environments which might be explicitly designed to get our children pestering us for junk food that’s not supportive of their health,” said Leia Minaker, the creator of the report and an associate professor on the University of Waterloo.
“We’re set as much as fail by the stores and the restaurants that we go into,” Minaker said.
“It’s really hard to make healthy selections on your kids on this context.”
Designs and themes corresponding to “magic, adventure and zoo animals” are also commonly seen in beverage and ice cream fridges, Minaker said.
The report comes as Bill C-252 for “prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children” is into account by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.
“Given the high proportion of child-directed marketing observed in each stores and restaurants on this Canadian research, it’s clear that policies aimed to limit marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids – something long promised by the federal government – should include point-of-sale locations,” said Doug Roth, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in a news release.
Stores can assist by creating “healthy checkout policies,” where checkout aisles wouldn’t feature junk food and sugary drinks, the report said.
Prohibiting toy giveaways with unhealthy children’s meals in restaurants could also help reduce consumption of unhealthy food, it said.
The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) said it “questions” the report’s findings, including how often certain kinds of promoting displays are directed at children.
“(That) appears to be offside for us,” said Michelle Wasylyshen, spokeswoman for the council, in an email on Tuesday afternoon.
“The main target mustn’t be on retail, but on the national and global supplier brands that own and sell these products across quite a lot of channels since they’ve control over packaging and design and ultimately promoting,” she said.
“RCC has been working closely with Health Canada and other stakeholders on this and related issues.”
A spokesperson for Ad Standards, the Canadian self-regulatory organization for the promoting industry, said they couldn’t comment specifically on the report.
But they directed The Canadian Press to the Code for the Responsible Promoting of Food and Beverage Products to Children, which restricts promoting of products that don’t meet certain dietary standards to children under 13 years of age.
Ad Standards will begin administering the code later this 12 months, spokeswoman Jessica Yared said in an email.
But based on the code, the restrictions don’t apply to many point-of-sale marketing tactics, including “displays, in-store flyers, posters, menus, menu boards and other on-premises communications and material a couple of food or beverage product.”
Nonetheless, those marketing media “may not include language that directly urges a toddler to purchase the product, or directly urge a toddler to ask one other person to purchase it for them,” Yared said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2023.
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