Nancy Greene and Wayne Gretzky

Senator Nancy Greene Raine champions bill to stop junk food being marketed to kids

Rossland’s hometown hero, Nancy Greene, has introduced a bill in the Canadian Senate that would stop companies from advertising to children.

Rossland’s hometown hero, Nancy Greene, has introduced a bill in the Canadian Senate that would stop companies from advertising to children.

Senator Nancy Greene Raine who grew up in Rossland, became an Olympic skier and won the first World Cup 50 years ago in 1967 introduced bill S-228 in September 2016. As the bill currently reads, it would prohibit the marketing of food and beverages to children under the age of 13, but Raine is currently working on an amendment.

“Just before Christmas I had a meeting with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Heritage, who’s responsible for CRTC [Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications], which regulates the broadcasting in Canada,” explains Raine, “and they have asked that I change the age to under 17 and add ‘the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages.’”

Raine said she’s amending the bill because recent research has shown that teens are very susceptible to certain kinds of marketing. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recently released its 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians, titled “The kids are not alright: How the food and beverage industry is marketing our children and youth to death.” The report cites the work of Dr. Monique Potvin Kent, who looked at the advertising on children and youth’s preferred websites from June 2015 to May 2016 at the behest of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Kent founds that “in one year children viewed over 25 million food and beverage ads on their favourite websites.” Of those ads 90 per cent were for unhealthy foods. During the same period teens saw 2.5 million food and beverage ads on their favourite websites, and over 90 per cent were for unhealthy foods.

Addressing advertising directed at children and youth over their mobile devices, whether it’s through a website or an app, is not something Raine thought would be a challenge seven years ago.

“I remember sitting around with a group of us that were working on the bid committee for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and it would have been probably the fall of 2009, and we’d all been working on the games and we were sitting there saying ‘Gee, when it’s all over, how will we say was it worth it or not?’ And we all agreed that it would have been worth it if we’d changed Canadians’ attitudes, especially young Canadians, their attitudes towards personal fitness,” said Raine. “None of us would have predicted that less than five years later the majority of kids would have smartphones.”

The fact that children access so much advertising through non-Canadian media presents its own problem. Bill S-228 will regulate marketing delivered through Canadian publications and broadcasts, but will not affect advertising in imported publications or broadcasts. As many websites and apps visited or used by children and youth are of American origin, it limits what the Canadian government can do about regulating the ads Canadian kids see.

As for the term unhealthy, Raine is depending on the World Health Organization’s definition of what is unhealthy.

“Some things that most people would consider unhealthy are allowed in the voluntary guidelines that are out there for the advertising industry, but I’ve been reassured that there’s been a lot of work done in the last few years by the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization to define what unhealthy is,” she said. “And as long as I can be assured that that’s how they’re going to define it, I’m okay with the word unhealthy.”

Raine’s bill has passed the second reading, and she believes it will appear before the Social Science and Technology Committee sometime in March. If the bill is passed at the committee level it will come back for final vote in the Senate, before, Raine hopes, continuing on to the House of Commons.