Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's medical officer of health, is calling on Canadian politicians to address the country's growing obesity rate by banning junk food advertising to children under 13.
In an interview yesterday, Dr. McKeown said it's important to exert influence on what children are eating because dietary patterns established early in life tend to persist.
"Most of the food and beverages advertised heavily to children are poor in nutrients and high in calories," he said.
In a report, MPs said children are consuming too many calories through larger portions, fatty foods and sugary drinks.
"It's not the kind of food that children should be eating to lay the foundation for health both in childhood and adulthood."
Last week, acting on a recommendation by Dr. McKeown, the Toronto Board of Health unanimously adopted a motion that urges federal and provincial governments to impose a ban on food and beverage advertising aimed at children.
This week, Dr. McKeown will take part in a two-day Ottawa policy forum on obesity and the impact of marketing on children.
The forum, sponsored by the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, will examine evidence for and against new advertising restrictions.
A panel of Canadians will listen to the arguments and draft a "consensus policy statement" on the issue.
Tomorrow, Dr. McKeown is to urge the panel not to rely on industry self-regulation -- a practice that he believes allows food companies to continue to market unhealthy products to children.
"The rules don't mean that the food being advertised is, in fact, healthy and the basis for a healthy diet for a child," he said. "It just means that it is somewhat less harmful than their less healthy choices."
In provinces outside Quebec, he said, cardboard cereal boxes could be marketed as a "healthy" food choice for children.
"The standards are based on limiting direct harm rather than advertising food that would actually be healthy for children to eat," he charged.
Quebec is now the only province with a ban on children's advertising.
Recently, however, 16 of Canada's largest candy, fast-food and soft-drink companies pledged either not to advertise directly to children under 12, or to market only their healthier products to them.
Ban junk food ads aimed at children: doctor