July 07, 2017 By Kimberley Hanson
Overcoming the tyranny of Brussels sprouts

My kids are pretty sure I’m torturing them, and that's just fine by me.

Most days, when I’m on my game, I don’t let them drink soda or buy that sugary cereal they beg me for in the grocery store. I make them eat two kinds of vegetables at each meal, and disappoint them with snacks like almonds and carrots instead of something from a cellophane wrapper.

But every day is a struggle. The selection of sugary, fatty snacks around us seems enormous, and the disappointment on their faces can sometimes weaken my resolve.

Getting kids to eat healthily can seem impossible. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a ring of Dante’s Inferno whose inhabitants struggle to feed their kids Brussels sprouts and water. It’s a never-ending battle that can leave parents exhausted and kids frustrated.

This is made even harder by the constant (and deliberately placed) advertisements for unhealthy food and drink aimed squarely at our kids. According to this Health Canada infographic, kids see a whopping 25 million food and beverage ads every year online, and 90 per cent of those are for foods high in sugar, salt, saturated fat and calories. 

Let’s be honest: many unhealthy foods are hard for even us adults to resist. And these ads, with their bright colours, cute cartoon characters and catchy jingles, make these foods especially irresistible to kids, whose brains – and consequently critical reasoning and impulse control – are not finished developing.

The consequences of children consuming sugary, fatty or salty foods and drinks are scary. Diet is the number one risk factor of a number of chronic diseases, notably type 2 diabetes. Canadian kids eat five times as much sugar as they should. Kids are heavier and unhealthier than ever – so much so that if we maintain the status quo, this will be the first generation in history that won’t live as long as their parents.

With figures like that, it might feel like we parents are fighting an unwinnable war.

But if we can help kids resist unhealthy foods, we go a long way toward changing that, preventing countless people from ultimately developing debilitating illnesses that may have been avoided.

That’s why, as a mother and a person living with diabetes myself, I am thrilled to see Health Canada considering restricting marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children. This summer, as part of the Healthy Eating Strategy, Health Canada is asking Canadians for their views, and I encourage everyone to have their say.

Diabetes Canada is part of a coalition that encourages Minister Philpott in this work, and I’m proud to stand behind that effort.

A couple of disclaimers here: change can be hard, so we need to understand that and take baby steps as we work towards tuning up our kids’ diets. And let it never be said that I deprive my kids completely of treats – everything in moderation, as the saying goes.

But if we can limit the appeal of junk foods by limiting their marketing powers, that will make it easier on all of us to achieve a better balance.

Not only would a break from the whining and demanding junk foods at the grocery store be a welcome reprieve to me and many other parents I know, but so would a reprieve from the jingles and slogans bombarding our families.

So give your input to Health Canada’s consultation and help stop #marketing2kids.

Maybe then, Brussels sprouts won’t be quite so hard to sell.

Kimberley Hanson is the Director, Federal Affairs at Diabetes Canada.

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