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Sweet solution
New legislation would restrict the
marketing of sugar-laden drinks
and foods to kids
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By Amanda Nash
Jan/Feb 2019

As a registered dietitian, I spend a lot of time thinking about the food we consume and the things we can do as a society to help all of us make healthier eating choices.

That is especially true when it comes to sugar.

Excess sugar consumption is a significant health issue in Canada, and is linked with heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The single largest cause of excess sugar consumption is sugary drinks. Just one can of pop contains 40 grams, or 10 teaspoons, of sugar. But the problem doesn't start and end with soft drinks. High levels of sugar can be found in numerous other beverages, including sports drinks, flavoured waters and milk, flavoured coffees and teas, and 100 per cent fruit juice.

Sugary drinks have little or no health benefits and do not provide the same feeling of fullness as solid food for the same number of calories. Even more concerning is that young people consume the most sugary drinks. The average youth drinks about 16 teaspoons of sugar each day.

Clearly, Canadians can help themselves by swapping sugary foods and beverages in favour of healthier choices. But I'm pleased to report that there are also a number of initiatives currently underway that can help support Canadians in making those choices.

Many of these plans are outlined in the federal government's healthy eating strategy, which includes proposals to modernize and update Canada's food guide, improve the nutritional labelling on the front of food packages, and restrict marketing of foods and beverages choices to kids. In each case, these initiatives promise to help raise awareness about the health issues associated with excess sugar intake and help reduce consumption.

For example, it is expected that the new version of Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, which provides nutritional guidance for individuals, families and school lunch programs, among others, will no longer list juice as an alternative to whole vegetables and fruit. The guide, released last month, also discourages consumption of sugary drinks and recommends water as the beverage of choice for hydration.

Photo of a young girl holding a glass of water
Canada's new food guide recommends water as the beverage of choice.

The strategy also contains plans to add nutrition labels that are clearly visible and easy to understand on the front of food packages for products high in nutrients of concern. This will help steer Canadians away from products high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat and towards healthier options. Sugary drink containers will also have an alert symbol.

Perhaps one of the most important elements of the strategy is Bill S-228, which is intended to restrict the marketing of food and beverages that are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat to children under the age of 13.

We know that marketing works. Advertising on TV and other digital platforms has the power to influence children's food preferences, purchase requests and choices. We also know that 90 per cent of the foods marketed to kids are high in sugar, salt and saturated fat. This bill has the potential to protect our children from this kind of marketing. It will also support parents who are trying their best to instill healthy eating habits in their children.

Some have criticized the bill for being too restrictive. But it is important to note that it is based on evidence and is consistent with recommendations from the World Health Organization. It also avoids potential unintended consequences by exempting community sports sponsorships, and will not affect what people can buy or what is advertised to adults.

In fact, a restriction on marketing to kids has been in place in Quebec for over 20 years. The Quebec advertising ban has been shown to significantly decrease the tendency to consume fast food, and is linked to lower obesity rates as well as higher vegetable and fruit consumption. Similar positive health outcomes have been found in other jurisdictions with marketing restrictions.

The good news is that this bill has been passed by the House of Commons. The bad news is it's stalled in the Senate and is apparently falling victim to industry bullying.

This is unfortunate. As a society, we have a duty to keep children safe and give them the best start for a long, healthy life. Passing Bill S-228, and implementing other elements of the healthy eating strategy, will go a long way toward doing just that.

For more information visit: www.heartandstroke.ca.

Amanda Nash is a registered dietitian and the Health Promotion and Nutrition Manager for Heart & Stroke Manitoba. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, January 18, 2019.