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This article was published 30/10/2017 (233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — A Winnipeg MP expects to be criticized for getting behind a proposed ban on the advertising of unhealthy snacks and drinks to children.
"I expect a lot of opposition, but our diabetes and obesity rates are skyrocketing," said Winnipeg Liberal MP Doug Eyolfson, who is shepherding a Conservative senator’s bill through the House of Commons.
The multi-partisan support suggests the bill has a chance at becoming law, but the companies being chewed out by the bill say it’s based on junk science.
Bill S-228 would prohibit marketing, advertising and packaging of unhealthy food and beverages directed at children under the age of 17. B.C. Sen. Nancy Greene Raine tabled the bill last November. It cleared the Senate this month.
Eyolfson stepped up to become the bill’s House of Commons sponsor, without which MPs couldn’t study or vote on the bill. The former emergency room doctor said it’s a matter of protecting children, who are vulnerable to advertising messages.
Greene Raine agreed, pointing to studies that say the number of obese children in Canada has tripled since 1980. She said children are targeted by video game ads and sports sponsorships that shape consumption habits for life.
"They’re being, in a sense, brainwashed," she said.
Unhealthy children will further strain provincial health services, she said.
Industry groups have pushed back, with the lobbyist registry showing advertising, food and beverage producers and even a broadcaster meeting with senators. Conversely, the Canadian Cancer Society and a subset of the Heart and Stroke Foundation have lobbied in support of the bill.
Advertising Standards Canada launched a voluntary program in 2007, crafted with Health Canada’s help, which restricts food advertising to kids under the age of 12.
Eyolfson said he regularly sees unhealthy foods using cartoon characters and TV commercials aimed at children.
"It isn’t enough. I’ve seen lots of companies that aren’t complying… with the spirit of it," he said.
Greene Raine claimed some companies would welcome a ban — to crack down on the companies that don’t follow voluntary guidelines.
"They said they would welcome a level playing field," she said.
But the Association of Canadian Advertisers has pushed back, arguing there’s little evidence such a ban would cut obesity rates, and objecting to potentially including sugar-sweetened yogurt and fruit juice.
Available research can lead to mixed conclusions on the effect of restricting advertising.
Quebec banned the advertising of unhealthy food to children under 13 back in 1980. A 2012 University of British Columbia study suggests Quebec has a lower childhood obesity rate. The Senate bill originally proposed a cut-off age of 13, but senators raised it to 17 in the summer.
But in a University of Manitoba study published last year, researchers found a decline in childhood obesity between 2004 and 2013 from 30.7 per cent to 27 per cent.
Eyolfson said there’s even more work to do, such as targeting claims from makers of so-called super-foods. He was stunned to see a package of quinoa that claimed it would prevent cancer.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"