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Marketing junk food to kids is nothing new and has been a topic in public health for many years. Most of us can remember either a fast food restaurant commercial with a catchy jingle or a brightly-coloured cereal box that seemed to speak directly to us from the grocery store aisle. We may not have known it then, but they were speaking directly to us. In fact, in a study commissioned by the Heart & Stroke Foundation, University of Ottawa scientists found that in one year children viewed more than 25 million ads of unhealthy junk food targeted specifically at them.

It’s not just television or print media, but also movies, video games, apps and social media. Many of which are covert ads imbedded in games and packaged as part of the story. Unfortunately, when it comes to screen time most children can’t distinguish the difference between entertainment and advertising.

Is this something that needs to be addressed in our homes, city and province? At this time Quebec is the only province in Canada that bans commercial advertising to children under thirteen years old; they also have the lowest childhood obesity rates in the country. Many European countries such as Norway, Sweden and the U.K. have followed suit and implemented their own bans on advertising aimed at children.

Because a proactive approach is always the most successful, dietitians recommend educating children about advertising that targets them. Use resources such as MediaSmarts to help teach kids how to navigate the digital and media world with savvy.

Encourage a child’s interest in what they eat – involving them in meal selection and preparation. As children get older they can participate in cooking meals for the family. Taking part in hands-on activities builds self-confidence and can overcome fear of trying new things. Great ideas for getting your child cooking can be found on the Parenting in Ottawa website.

Keep it fun and remember that both the child and the adult have a role to play in their own nutrition. Instilling healthy eating habits from a young age can help set them on the path to becoming healthy adults.

Ottawa Public Health has consulted with residents, businesses, sports groups, city departments, school boards and childcare facilities to find out their thoughts on the marketing of unhealthy food to children. Youth aged 12-19 are also invited to speak out at discussion groups being facilitated by Ottawa Public Health.

To find out more information about youth discussion groups visit the Eventbrite registration site.


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  • Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
  • Ottawa Public Health



  • Heart and Stroke Foundation