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By Maria Browne

Last March, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology announced a countrywide campaign to end obesity.

This campaign includes a possible sugar tax on sweetened beverages, a review of Canada’s food guide, changing nutrition label information, making healthy food more affordable and ending fast food advertising to children. Perhaps these ideas would be helpful, yet, the rise of obesity is far more complex than simply instilling a few measures.

Accessibility of fast food

According to one statistic, the obesity of children has tripled since 1980. Although this campaign could help ensure children eat healthier, problems such as fast food accessibility and affordability will make it difficult for customers to stop buying unhealthy food just yet.

“When I drive by my neighbourhood Dairy Queen it can be tempting to approach the drive-thru and order an Oreo Cheesequake Blizzard.” — Maria Browne

While making healthy food affordable could be helpful, the accessibility to fast food is an ongoing issue. In my neighbourhood alone, a Dairy Queen and Tim Horton’s are both a 10-minute walk away or 2-3 minute drive. There is also a McDonald’s restaurant about a five minute drive away. These restaurants are not just conveniently located, but are easy to purchase through the magic of drive-thrus.

When I drive by my neighbourhood Dairy Queen it can be tempting to approach the drive-thru and order an Oreo Cheesequake Blizzard. Sometimes I’m guilty of doing this. For two working parents, I can only imagine the difficulties of driving past these restaurants at the end of a long work day. It’s so much simpler to purchase fast food meals instead of spending hours cooking something healthy.

Product placement

Ending advertising of food and drink products to children could be difficult if these advertisements still exist for adults. While fast food advertising is still prominent during television commercials, advertisers have found new ways to target children. Promoting fast food brands before YouTube videos is common. Product placement of fast food and drinks in films and television channels also targets children.

This can particularly promote false ideas if child actors eating and drinking fast food are thin. Advertisers don’t have to explicitly communicate such products to children but can still influence them. In this way, ending these types of advertisements to children would be tricky and difficult to monitor.

Of course, children don’t have their own money. So when they view a McDonald’s commercial advertising for a Happy Meal, often the first instinct is to ask their parents to bring them to the restaurant to get one. The ball is now in the parent’s court. Will they give in and buy their kids unhealthy food? Or will they say no in favour of a visit to the local grocery store?

Onus on parents

Ultimately, while the senate’s campaign to end obesity has good intentions, the problem is much greater than simply instilling these few measures. Although making healthy food more affordable could be effective, it is upon the parent(s) to purchase and cook meals.

Furthermore, children can still be susceptible to food advertisements even if it’s not directly communicated to them. Although the government can instill measures to end obesity, fast food chains are still prevalent and popular, food and drink advertising will continue and the onus will mainly be on parents to decide what food they want their children to eat.


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