Report calls for restricting marketing to kids in stores and restaurants

Study looked at 'junk food power walls' at checkout aisles and designs that appeal to children.

A new report that looks at the prevalence of marketing to children inside grocery stores and restaurants suggests regulation is needed to help reduce unhealthy food temptations.

The report funded by Heart and Stroke audited displays at more than 2,000 restaurants and 800 grocery stores across Canada and says children may be bombarded with messages that make junk food seem appealing. Convenience stores were not included in the study. 

Researchers found nearly 53% of stores had "junk food power walls'' at checkout aisles, which it says are prime areas to market to kids because products are placed within their reach.

The research says that placement encourages "pester power" when children nag or pester their parents to make impulse purchases.

"Parenting is hard enough without having to deal with environments that are explicitly designed to get our kids pestering us for junk food that's not supportive of their health,'' said Leia Minaker, the author of the report and an associate professor at the University of Waterloo.

"We're set up to fail by the stores and the restaurants that we go into,'' Minaker said. "It's really hard to make healthy choices for your kids in this context.''

Designs and themes such as "magic, adventure and zoo animals'' are also commonly seen in beverage and ice cream fridges, Minaker said.

The report comes as Bill C-252 for "prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children'' is under consideration by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health.

"Given the high proportion of child-directed marketing observed in both stores and restaurants in this Canadian research, it's clear that policies aimed to restrict marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids - something long promised by the federal government _- should include point-of-sale locations,'' said Doug Roth, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in a news release.

Stores can help by creating "healthy checkout policies,'' where checkout aisles wouldn't feature junk food and sugary drinks, the report said.

Prohibiting toy giveaways with unhealthy children's meals in restaurants could also help reduce consumption of unhealthy food, it said.


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