Infographic: Food and beverage advertising to children and teens in Canada

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Organization: Health Canada

Published: 2023

Advertising is an important influence on children's food choices in Canada

Obesity and chronic disease are major health concerns for Canada's children and teens

Chronic diseases, like diabetes, are on the rise in children and teens in Canada.Footnote 1, Footnote 2, Footnote 3

Nearly 1 in 3 children and teens in Canada (ages 5 to 17) lives with overweight or obesity, putting them at risk for chronic disease.Footnote 4

Diet is one of the most important factors in preventing obesity and diet-related chronic disease

Good nutrition is the foundation of children's health and development. Poor childhood nutrition harms physical and cognitive development.Footnote 5

Advertising influences diet

Exposure to advertising affects children's food preferences, requests and intake.Footnote 6 This influence can continue into adulthood.

Some foods can contribute to excess intakes of sodium, sugars and saturated fat. We know that a lot of exposure to ads for these foods contributes to diet-related chronic disease.

We're taking action to monitor food and beverage advertising to children and teens in Canada

Food and beverage advertising makes healthy eating initiatives less effective and makes it harder to follow Canada's Food Guide. That's why we're monitoring food and beverage advertising to children and teens in Canada.

Monitoring food and beverage advertising supports evidence-based policy, and strengthens our understanding of what influences healthy eating. It also lets us evaluate trends over time and identify gaps in evidence.

What our monitoring and other data tell us so far

Advertisers reach children and teens where they live, learn and play

Children and teens reported seeing food and beverage advertising in many settings, including:Footnote 7

These percentages of children and teens reported seeing ads for these products at least once a week:Footnote 7

  1. Fast food (76%)
  2. Snacks (64%)
  3. Sugary drinks (63%)
  4. Desserts and treats (62%)
  5. Sugary cereals (57%)

Advertising is pervasive on TV and online

On average, children and teens aged 2 to 17 saw nearly 5 food ads per day, adding up to more than 1,700 food and beverage ads on TV in 2019.Footnote 8, Footnote 9

From June 2015 to May 2016, there were 14.4 million food ads on children's and teens' (ages 12 to 17) top 10 preferred websites.Footnote 10

On Instagram and Facebook, the top 40 food and beverage brands posted 1,484 times over just 3 months (April to June 2021).Footnote 11

Most of this advertising is for food that undermines healthy eating

The vast majority of food and beverage ads on TV (92%) and on children's and teens' favourite websites (93%) were for products that undermine healthy eating.Footnote 8, Footnote 10

On TV, fast food restaurants were by far the most frequently advertised food category.Footnote 8, Footnote 9

Top food categories children and teens were exposed to on TV advertisements in 2019
Food category % of exposure (ads/child/year)
Fast food restaurants 42%
Non-fast food restaurants 8%
Cold cereals 7%
Snack foods (e.g., chips, puffs, popcorn) 5%
Chocolate bars, chocolate candy 5%

The most frequently advertised food categories on children's and teens' top 10 websites between 2015 and 2016 were:Footnote 10

  1. cakes, cookies, and ice cream (32.5%)
  2. cold cereal (20.5%)
  3. restaurants (18.0%, 97.3% of which were for fast food)
  4. sugar-sweetened beverages (12.0%)

Lots of strategies are used to advertise to children and teens

On TV, some of the top techniques used to advertise to children included:Footnote 8, Footnote 9

  1. child-appealing products
  2. special effects
  3. child actors

For teens, the use of teen themes and teen actors were most common.Footnote 8, Footnote 9

On social media, the top techniques used to advertise products directed at teens were:Footnote 11

  1. viral marketingFootnote 12
  2. calls to actionFootnote 13
  3. celebrity endorsements

On food packages, the most common techniques used to advertise to children wereFootnote 14:

  1. child-appealing visual or graphic design
  2. appeals to "fun" or "cool"
  3. presence of branded characters or spokespersons

Overall, teens tended to see more advertisements with sports teams or athletes, while children saw more advertisements with food company characters.Footnote 7

Percentage of children and teens who reported seeing foods and beverages advertised with the following strategies in the last 30 days, 2021Footnote 7
Strategy % "Yes"
Children (10 to 12) Teens (13 to 17)
Cartoons/characters made by food companies 41% 38%
Famous people 33% 34%
Sports teams or athletes 28% 32%
Cartoons/characters from movies or TV 29% 28%

A lot of money is spent on food advertising to children and teens

Overall, more than $628 million was spent on food advertising in Canada in 2019 acrossFootnote 15:

Of this, approximately $95 million was spent on food products or brands commonly advertised to children. $115 million was spent on food products or brands commonly advertised to teensFootnote 16.


Footnote 1

Public Health Agency of Canada. Diabetes in Canada: Facts and figures from a public health perspective. Ottawa, 2011.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Lazarte J, Hegele RA. Pediatric dyslipidemia – beyond familial hypercholesterolemia. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 2020;36(9)1362-1371.

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Footnote 3

Saini P, Betcherman L, Radhakrishnan S, Etoom Y. Paediatric hypertension for the primary care provider: What you need to know. Paediatr Child Health. 2021;26(2):93-98.

Return to footnote 3 referrer

Footnote 4

Statistics Canada. Table 13-10-0795-01. Measured children and youth body mass index (BMI) (World Health Organization classification), by age group and sex, Canada and provinces, Canadian Community Health Survey – Nutrition.

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Footnote 5

World Health Organization. Fact Sheet: Healthy Diet. 2020.

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Footnote 6

Smith R, Kelly B, Yeatman H, Boyland E. Food marketing influences children's attitudes, preferences and consumption: A systematic critical review. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):875

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Footnote 7

Hammond D, Acton RB, White CM, Vanderlee L, Rynard VL, on behalf of the International Food Policy Study research team. International Food Policy Study Youth Surveys: Summary of Findings 2019-2021. November 2022.

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Footnote 8

Potvin Kent M, Soares Guimaraes J, Remedios L, et al. Child and Youth Exposure to Unhealthy Food and Beverage Advertising on Television in Canada in 2019. Report to Health Canada. November 2, 2021.

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Footnote 9

Data source: Numerator 2019. Based on analysis of 57 selected food and beverage categories across six media markets and all available television stations.

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Footnote 10

Potvin Kent M, Pauzé E. The Frequency and Healthfulness of Food and Beverages Advertised on Adolescents' Preferred Web Sites in Canada. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2018;63(1):102-107.

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Footnote 11

Potvin Kent M, Pritchard M, Bagnato M, et al. Exposure and Engagement with Adolescent-Targeted Food and Beverage Marketing on Digital Media in Canada. Report to Health Canada. December 22, 2021.

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Footnote 12

"Viral marketing" was defined as posts encouraging peer-to-peer marketing (e.g., sharing, tagging friends, retweets, likes, hashtags, encouraging commenting, @ mentions, etc.)

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Footnote 13

"Calls to action" were defined as sending viewers online to access a brand website or app, including posts where exact website link is not included (e.g., "Go to link in our bio").

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Footnote 14

Mulligan C, Vergeer L, Potvin Kent M, L’Abbé MR. Child-appealing packaged food and beverage products in Canada – prevalence, power, and nutritional quality. PLOS One. 2023;18(5): e0284350.

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Footnote 15

Potvin Kent M, Pauzé E, Remedios L, et al. Monitoring Food and Beverage Advertising Expenditures in Canada across Multiple Media Channels. Report to Health Canada. November 2, 2021.

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Footnote 16

Products and brands "commonly advertised to children and teens" were defined as the top 50 most advertised food products or brands on children's or teen's specialty TV stations in Canada.

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