Policies to protect kids’ health good for future health spending too

Banning e-cigarette flavours and restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children are vital to making our kids healthier adults.

The short and long-term health consequences of what people consume are dramatically different.

In the short term, indulge in something a little too much and you are likely to suffer for a day or two. But you can fix it by giving your body a little TLC.

In the long term, unhealthy behaviours eventually catch up to you with big consequences – personally and for our health system.

Federal government health policies also have two timelines – the short-term and the long-term. While short-term policies providing immediate results are popular, long-term policies are critical to ensure future generations grow up in an environment that protects their health to the greatest extent.

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Successful long-term policies prevent the types of short-term challenges the government faces today, while ensuring a healthier population in the future. What better legacy could a government leave?

To their credit, the current federal government has recognized the need to make long-term policy decisions to improve the health of Canadians. Many of these initiatives have, laudably, received multi-party support, including enacting front-of-package nutrition labelling requirements which will make shopping for healthier food choices much easier.

But there is more the federal government can, and must, do to protect the health of Canada’s youth. We suggest starting with two vital policies addressing youth vaping and nutrition.

The first is to expand the proposed ban on e-cigarette flavours to include mint/menthol – an initiative that would help limit the attractiveness of vaping to young Canadians. Nine out of 10 young people cite flavours as an important reason why they started vaping and why they continue to do so. The allure of vaping flavours, the popularity of vaping among youth, and the nicotine addiction which occurs so rapidly are concerning due to the adverse health impacts associated with e-cigarettes.

Five provincial and territorial government have adopted or implemented policies that include mint/menthol in the flavours they prohibit, allowing only tobacco flavours to be sold.

The federal government is in the process of banning certain fruit and candy flavours, but has not included mint/menthol, which it must do to be truly effective in preventing young Canadians from starting to vape and becoming addicted to nicotine.

The second is finally making good on a long-standing promise: introducing regulations to restrict the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to protect the health of children in Canada. This crucial element of the government’s long held healthy eating strategy has had a tortuous legislative journey, having been supported in 2019 by the House of Commons but never completing the process before that year’s federal election.

We are in a long-term epidemic of poor dietary health for our kids, fueled by ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks and driven in large part by their daily, unrelenting exposure to marketing of unhealthy food and beverages across all media in many settings.

The marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, often using attractive and well-known cartoon characters or mascots, increases our children’s vulnerability to wanting, even demanding, these products. It is an onslaught against which even the most determined parent can be found wanting.

It is time to speak up for our kids and prevent them from being unfairly influenced by food marketers – we have a duty to protect them.

The government must introduce comprehensive regulations restricting the marketing of food and beverages high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat to children under 13 years by this fall, as committed to by Health Canada. Industry self-regulation simply is not sufficient to control this marketing onslaught.

Improving the health of Canadians is a big effort. It takes immediate short-term measures such as increasing health funding to meet urgent needs, but we also have to play the long game. We need to make policy decisions today, particularly those affecting the long-term health of our children, that will have a big positive impact on their health, and our health system, for years to come.

Andrew Pipe, MD, is a board member with Heart & Stroke and a clinical researcher at the University of Ottawa. He has been described as Canada’s foremost expert on smoking cessation and the former chief of the division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

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Source: Quoi Media