Why my 5-year-old is helping with my PhD thesis

My five-year-old daughter is helping me with my PhD thesis. I wish she didn’t have to.

No, she’s not a prodigy (even if she is very clever!), and I’m not that desperate for assistance. She just happens to be a subject matter expert.

My thesis in human nutrition is on food marketing to kids and every time we go to a grocery store together, I see that marketing at work. She is drawn like a magnet to the colorful, cartoon-heavy packages of appealing treats – almost all of them laden with saturated fat, sugar, and/or salt and minimal nutritional value.

Of course, most of the items are readily visible at a five-year-old’s height—especially in the checkout line, where we are usually forced to wait. It’s a struggle to leave without buying something.

My experiences with my child are certainly not unique. Likely every parent can relate. Food and beverage marketing to kids is everywhere, in the physical world and online, and it’s harming our kids. They are consuming too much junk food, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke.

That’s why moving forward with the federal government’s commitment to adopt new regulations to limit such advertising and marketing is so important and urgent. Canada needs to do what has already been done in many other jurisdictions to limit kids’ exposure to unhealthy food and beverage marketing. It is one very important way we can help our children eat and drink healthier products.

This is a promise the federal Liberal government made when it came to power in 2015 – nine years ago. The required regulations to make this happen need to be issued now, before the end of June, to ensure they are finalized and in place before next year’s election – and before it becomes ten years without fulfillment of this key promise.

The new regulations are needed now because parents can’t do it alone.

I know because since I’m still in my 20s, it’s not that long ago I was a kid myself and was being targeted by the endless marketing of food and restaurant companies. I realize now that I was greatly influenced by that marketing. My mother is a great cook and always makes nutritious and delicious home-cooked meals for me. But whenever I had an extra allowance, I wanted to go to the nearby McDonald’s to get a kid’s meal so I could collect the toys that came with it. It was irresistible because they made it so.

Today’s kids are bombarded with even more marketing than I was, as I can see with my own child. Most Canadians agree—polls show that more than seven out of 10 Canadians want action to prevent the onslaught of marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to our kids.

It’s time for the federal government to take children’s health to heart and for the Prime Minister to fulfill his promise to protect Canadian children from being the targets of manipulative junk food marketing.

From my own recent experience, I know that it’s impossible for even the most dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring parents to overcome the huge influence of marketing everywhere. They need the kind of help and support that will come from the anticipated new regulations limiting what marketing activities can take place.

Fortunately, I am not alone in seeking change.

I’m very pleased to participate in the Marketing to Kids Youth Council of the Heart & Stroke Foundation, a group of young professionals like me who share my concerns about this issue. Though we are a very diverse group, we all share direct knowledge of the negative impact marketing has had on our own diet choices and are committed to helping the next generation have an easier road toward choosing healthier food and beverages.

I hope my daughter will help lead the way. And I hope the Prime Minister and his government will keep the commitments they made years before she was born. We need action on food marketing regulations now.

Qiuyu Julia Chen is a post-graduate student in human nutrition.

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