Report calls on government to fight junk food ads

Dana Ismail (second from left) and other participants in the Stop Marketing to Kids initiative at St. Mary High School.

Dana Ismail really likes Starbucks. Her favourite drink is the Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher, which contains 21 grams of sugar and has no significant nutritional value.

Dana, a grade eight student at École Vickers School, said it’s hard to stay away from the drink. Starbucks advertising is everywhere, especially on Instagram – a photo platform that virtually every teen has on their cellphone.

She said that the advertising is sneaky, popping up as you swipe through your friends’ photos. And it’s targeted right at her interests.

“The ads will come up for things I follow and things I like,” she said.

Dana is atypical, in a sense. Since Grade 6, she’s been learning about smart nutritional choices through the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Stop Marketing to Kids (M2K) initiative. So she knows how to stay on the lookout for advertisers playing on her weakness for sugary drinks.

But she’s also typical. According to a Heart and Stroke Foundation report, released on Wednesday, Canadian teens see a cumulative total of 2.5 million food and beverage ads each year on the ten most popular sites alone.

For children under the age of 12, that number swells to 25 million.

And those aren’t ads for bananas and pasta salad. The researcher who assembled that data, Monique Potvin Kent, also found that 90 per cent of the ads she studied were pitching unhealthy foods with excess sugar, salt and fat.

For more on this story, please see the Feb. 2 print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.