In honour of Canada’s Nutrition Month, NDP MPP France Gélinas for the Nickel Belt riding tabled a Temptation Be Gone Act. As the name suggests, the bill targets junk food and would discourage the promotion of high fat, sugar, and sodium foods, and restrict the display of unhealthy foods in attractive areas like by the cash register.
The bill would also authorize the government to regulate, restrict, or prohibit the sale and marketing of unhealthy food products in brick-and-mortar and online stores. Gélinas said that the pandemic was a major impetus for the act as state-mandated public health measures and adjustments to our daily lives have also altered our interactions with foods.
“Since the pandemic started, lines at the cash register have gotten longer as have the waits,” Gélinas said in a press release. “Marketers know that strategically placing high fat, sugar and sodium foods in those line-ups pay off. It’s time to stop tempting Ontario’s consumers to eat more junk food.”
According to the Official Opposition critic for Health, this initiative began in the UK, and she wants Ontario to follow suit.
In addition to determining what constitutes as a high fat, sodium, or sugar food, the bill may also regulate the placement and marketing of such food items in food premises, including entrances, exists, aisle ends, and checkout counters, which often triggers impulse purchases.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), food product display is often strategic. “Placement can prompt a purchase,” and products situated at children’s eye level can whet their appetites for — usually unhealthy — foods and beverages.
“Simply seeing a product can activate an urge to consume it, and the fact that a product is immediately available to be consumed can intensify this urge,” the CSPI stated, adding that the sight of food alone can activate a desire to eat it that does not reflect a physiological need for sustenance.
Moreover, the food industry reaps generous rewards when placing products at the eye-catching locations like the checkout counter, according to the CSPI.
“Supermarkets sell about $5.5 billion of food, drinks, and other products from checkout each year,” the CSPI stated. “Non-food stores — including book, toy, hardware, clothing, and home goods stores — also push foods and beverages at checkout.”
The Temptation Be Gone Act will also extend its reach to the eCommerce of food too, creating a new regulatory power that would permit the Lieutenant Governor in Council to moderate or prohibit the sale of any food online.
“The evidence is mounting; there are serious health implications from the chronic consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are high in sugar, fat and salt and low in fibre,” Pharmacist Rachelle Rocha said in the press release.
“Individuals suffer, and the payers of the health care system face higher and higher costs.”
Enticing junk food displays during long queues in the grocery store, however, is not the only connection between unhealthy eating habits and the COVID-19 pandemic. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published March 8 found that about 78% of Americans who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were overweight, and out of that 78%, 50.2% were obese.
According to the CDC, “Obesity increases the risk for severe COVID-19–associated illness.”
Among the 148,494 US adults that contracted the virus, a high body mass index (BMI) was also a risk factor for invasive medical ventilation as well as hospitalization and death — especially among adults 65 years and over.
The CDC wrote that the findings “underscore the need for progressively intensive illness management as obesity severity increases.” “Continued strategies are needed to ensure community access to nutrition and physical activity opportunities that promote and support a healthy BMI,” the report concluded.
That said, however, “community access to physical activity opportunities” have been few and far between since the mandatory closure of fitness facilities, particularly during the frigid winter months in Toronto, where outdoor exercise is simply not feasible.
While the city is in the Grey lockdown zone and outdoor dining has since reopened, gyms still remain closed.
In a March 18 press conference, Premier Doug Ford indicated that he would be open to loosening restrictions on gyms and dining in the Toronto and Peel Region, The Canadian Press reported.
“Would I be in favour of letting people get outside and get some air? Absolutely,” Ford said. “But I’m sticking with the health and science. And if all three doctors agree, then we’ll take their advice.”
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