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A Necessary Food Fight: Marketing of Foods and Beverages to Children

March 14, 2017

This blog is part of NRC’s Nutrition Month, a Dietitians of Canada initiative, blog series. This year’s Nutrition Month theme is “Take the fight out of food! Spot the problems. Get the facts. Seek support.” 

By Carol Dombrow

Imagine this: Your child comes home from school and watches some kids’ programs on TV. The shows are segmented by multiple ads telling them how useless education is, that the cool kids don’t bother with school work, and to just have fun instead.

Your child then goes online and is bombarded with similar ads and messages: school is for nerds, life is for having fun. Over time, people start noticing that test scores are falling and dropout rates are skyrocketing.

If that was our real world, we would quickly acknowledge we have a problem and change it.

Well, we do have that problem – not with advertising to kids downplaying education, but with advertising that promotes unhealthy eating.


Recent research from Heart & Stroke found that, collectively, Canadian children aged 2 to 11 are exposed to 25 million food and beverage ads per year from just their top 10 favourite websites alone. As much as 90 per cent of foods and beverages marketed on TV and online are for foods high in salt, sugar and/or fat.

Is it any wonder that parents have a tough time encouraging healthy eating for their children, and even eating healthy themselves?

In the meantime, childhood obesity rates keep going up – they have tripled since 1979. A quarter of children aged 5-19 consume sugary drinks every day, and less than half of teenagers get the recommended five fruits and vegetables per day.

Parents want the best for their children and for them to grow up healthy, with healthy eating habits. But by allowing an environment that encourages exactly the opposite, is it any wonder there’s so often a food fight between nutrition and junk when it’s time to buy groceries or make meal choices?

We need to give parents the same support in making healthy food choices as we do in helping them in encouraging their children to get a good education. That means not undermining parents’ desire to give their kids healthy foods by allowing the marketing a

Marketing of food and beverages to children is a food fight we should be having. 

What can health professionals do?

  • Educate Canadians about the risks associated with unhealthy food and beverage consumption, including through public awareness and education campaigns
  • Advocate for healthier food and beverage environments so that healthy choices are the easy choices for Canadians
  • For more information and to take action visit

About Carol Dombrow: Carol Dombrow is a Heart & Stroke dietitian and has been has been providing strategic nutrition advice to the Foundation for 30 years. She is also a Heart & Stroke media spokesperson on nutrition issues and acts as the government liaison with Health Canada and CFIA.


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