Episode 60: Navigating the Canadian Food Environment with Dr. Lana Vanderlee
In this week’s episode, Dr. Lana Vanderlee, an Assistant Professor of Nutrition at Laval University joins us to to talk about nutrition food labels, especially front-of-package labelling in Canada, and how they influence consumer choices and public health. She compares Canada’s labelling strategies with global practices and discusses the impact of food marketing on children. Tune in for an informative session on making healthier food choices in today’s complex food environment.
Marciane Any 0:04
Hello. Welcome to The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.
Tamara Petresin 0:14
If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for healthy, balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.
Marciane Any 0:30
Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home
Welcome back to The Healthy Habits Happy Homes Podcast. I’m Marciane.
Tamara Petresin 0:49
And, today we’re excited to have Dr. Lana Vanderlee join us. Dr. Vanderlee is an assistant professor of nutrition at Laval University. Dr. Vanderlee’s research focuses on examining the impact of population level policies and interventions that influence the food environment. Dr. Vanderlee’s research aims to identify ways that the public and industry stakeholders can promote healthier diets among Canadians and globally. Welcome to the podcast Dr. Vanderlee
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 1:15
Thanks so much for the invitation. I’m happy to be here.
Tamara Petresin 1:18
Amazing. We’re really excited for our conversation today. And, to get us started, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your current role and how your education and experiences led you to where you are now?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 1:28
Sure. So I am an assistant professor at Universite Laval in Quebec City and I’m also a researcher at Centre NUTRISS – Nutrition, santé et société, here at Universite Laval in Quebec City. And, so I lead a research program that really aims to understand and evaluate food policies, how food policies influence what we buy, and what we eat, and how healthy we are. In particular, in an effort to prevent and reduce obesity and other diet-related, non-communicable disease. So, I have a PhD in Public Health from University of Waterloo. And, then I did some postdoctoral research at University of Toronto, and again, at University of Waterloo, before I ended up here in Quebec City.
Marciane Any 2:21
That’s awesome, and what important research, and I feel like I would love to — I know we’re focusing on a few things today — but ,definitely love to speak with you more, just in depth about all of your research. And, I also just love hearing you speak French. My family and I speak French at home, but I’m originally from the States. So, it’s usually English and Spanish. So, coming here and seeing everything in English and French is really cool.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 2:49
Great. I recently learned French when I moved here to Quebec City. And, so, it’s a major challenge. But, working in the world of policy, it’s certainly nice to be to be bilingual now.
Marciane Any 3:00
Exactly. My first question is, what are nutrition food labels and how are they used?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 3:08
So, nutrition food labels or the information that we find on food labels, is actually one of the most commonly used sources of information for people living in Canada. So, we often use the information on foods to understand if a food is healthy, if we want to buy it, how it might fit into our overall diet. So, on food labels, we find quite a bit of different types of information. Obviously, there’s the obvious: the nutrition facts table, that’s the information that’s really controlled by Health Canada. It’s required on all packaged food, and it tells us specific nutrient amounts, as well as percent daily value. So, how much there is in a serving of food. So, really, this is the required information that has to be on all food products. There’s also other information that’s required: information about the ingredients and allergens for people who want to know a little bit more about what’s in their food. And, then, the other element of nutrition information on food labels is nutrition claims and health claims. So, this is information that is voluntarily provided by food companies, members of the food industry. It’s meant to showcase, I guess, products that are higher in nutrients that we want to consume more of, or lower in nutrients that we’re trying to avoid. And, so, these claims are often used by the food industry to market the information, market their products, I should say. And, they are somewhat controlled by Health Canada, in terms of what information is allowed to be on products, but, it’s not always, sort of, controlled or regulated by Health Canada.
Tamara Petresin 4:58
Yeah, but thank-you for providing that overview. I think it’s really important that it kind of sets the stage for our podcast today. And, I’m just curious if you could comment at all on, like, the prevalence of how many people really use nutrition food labels in Canada, like, are Canadians looking at this? And, to just give it a bit of context for this question, too, I am a dietitian, and so a really big part of nutrition education in our sessions, we talk a lot about the nutrition fact tables, and reading that. And, so, I’m just curious if, throughout your research and your experience in this area, if you have come across anything that, kind of, gives us an idea of how many Canadians are looking and reading this information.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 5:36
When we do surveys among Canadians about the types of nutrition information that they use, nutrition labels are the most frequently cited as the source of nutrition information. So, they’re very, very commonly used. And, I expect that’s in part because we see them all the time, you know, we see them in the grocery store, we see them on our shelves at home. And, so, we’re very often in the presence of nutrition labeling. And, so, that’s probably why people use it so often. And, I can’t give you a specific statistic but it’s certainly the most commonly used source of nutrition information in Canada.
Tamara Petresin 6:13
That’s amazing. That’s wonderful to hear, because it is such a great source of nutrition information. So, that’s really awesome that Canadians are looking at it.
Marciane Any 6:21
Can you explain what front-of-package labeling is, and a bit of the history on the evolution of Canada’s food labels?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 6:31
Sure, so the information that I was talking about, that nutrition facts table, historically, that’s on the back of packages, so, it doesn’t have to be on the front of packages. Consumers don’t see it when they’re walking down the grocery store shelves, for example. They have to pick up a product, they have to have a look at it, and, then, they have to try to understand and interpret that information. And, so, in the world of food-labeling policy, we have been moving towards this idea of front-of-package labels. Essentially, front-of-package labels take the information from the back of the package and put it on the front, so that it’s easily accessible for consumers, either when they’re buying it or when they’re about to consume it. It’s not quite as just as simple as putting the information from the back to the front. But, also front-of-pack labels aim to make that information a bit more interpretable, easier to understand for consumers. I have a PhD in public health, and I work in nutrition, I think about nutrition pretty much all the time. And, yet, those nutrition facts labels are incredibly hard to interpret and understand. And, so, the idea with front-of-pack labeling is it includes some symbolism or some ways for us to interpret that complicated nutrition information and make quicker judgments or have a better understanding of whether a product is healthier or less healthy. And, so, in Canada, up until last year, we didn’t have any regulations for front-of-package labeling. And, so, food companies could really use any style or type of front-of-package label or a front-of-package symbol to share information with consumers. But, as of last year, we now have a new policy, which is going to make mandatory front-of-package labels on the front of food products. And, I had a really great week this week, because I saw my first front-of-package label on a product. So, that was super exciting. I got really excited in the grocery store; my husband got really embarrassed. And, I had to take some pictures because we’ve been waiting for a really long time for this policy to come into place. And, so, as of January 2026, all products in Canada that are high in sodium, sugar, or saturated fat, are going to have to show that on a symbol, a black and white symbol, on the front of food products. And, there’s a little magnifying glass, as well, which is meant to indicate to consumers: “have a look at the nutrition information on the back.” And, it’s going to say, “High in…” and, it’s going to have those nutrients. So, that’s essentially what our front-of-package labeling landscape is going to look like over the next few years.
Marciane Any 9:27
That’s awesome. I would have the same reaction. I wouldn’t be really excited, as well. And, my partner would probably look at me weird, but, I think it’s phenomenal that Canada is adopting this policy. Because, you know, from personal experience, I have family members who struggle with diabetes or hypertension, and it can be really hard to make those, you know, food, kind of, decisions on what to eat, and, then to understand, just like you said, if you, with a PhD can find those labels tricky, you know, the everyday person, they have also found it a struggle, as well. And, so, I think just pointing it out, making it more manageable is going to be so helpful. And, hopefully we can see the management of these chronic conditions be easier; hopefully we can see just the prevalence of a decrease, things like that. And, then, just as a health professional back in the day, it was also, I could understand how patients with these chronic conditions were exhausted, just on managing this on a daily day-to-day basis and all that they have to think about. And, so, this can ease a lot of those frustrations and burden for them to have this information more digestible.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 10:44
That’s a great point. And, the three nutrients, we call those the “nutrients of public health concern” in my work, so: sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. Those are all really linked to those non-communicable diseases that we are talking about, about diabetes and obesity and some types of cancer that we know are related to diets. And, so, the labels are actually based on that information on the back. Any product that has higher than a 15% Daily Value is considered a lot, or “high in,” in Canada as part of Health Canada’s, sort of, messaging around healthy foods. And, so, for most products, that’s what those symbols mean, is that a product has greater than 15% of the daily value for those three nutrients. And, so, that’s quite high. And, we would want to try to avoid it, if possible.
Speaker 3 11:39
Yeah, definitely. So, with that, how is front-of-package labeling important in guiding consumer choices? And, how does it impact public health as a whole?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 11:48
So, we know that front-of-pack labeling is one of our policies that can help to contribute to healthier food environments, which we’re going to talk about, I think in a little bit, and healthier food policy. But, it does help support informed consumer choices. So, consumers don’t have to base their choices on the information that we have on the front of packages. But, at least what front-of-package labeling does is make that information easily accessible and easily interpretable for the general population. So, we know, from scientific studies, and from what we’ve seen with similar labels, and other countries, consumers do, in fact, change some of their behaviours. They’re less likely to buy foods that have these warnings. You know, we know that it does influence consumer behaviour, you know, consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. And, they have a right for that to be clearly communicated. And, so, those are sort of two of the principles. But, the other thing that I think we often forget to talk about in Public Health, is that front-of-package labeling, like the ones that we will have in Canada, can also influence the food industry. And, so that’s really great news. Because, if I’m a food company, and my product has to carry a high-end warning on the front for sodium and sugar, and saturated fat, and consumers might not want to buy my products because of that, I might be likely to reformulate my products to create healthier products, or to take some of the sugars or sodium out. And, we know, from research that in other countries, that does indeed happen, that we see slowly the food supply shift towards a healthier food supply, because food companies don’t want to have those labels on their products.
Marciane Any 13:46
That’s encouraging to hear I think. Just again, being around family members who can struggle with different chronic illnesses. That has been a conversation that we’ve had a few times, just about, like, in some ways, the responsibility of the food industry. And, so, I think that this is going to be amazing to, kind of, hold them accountable, and make it more clear what exactly is in our food. And, how can we make it more nutritious. So, I am really looking forward to the positive impacts that this front-of-package labeling can have. How does Canada’s approach to front-of-package labeling and regulations compare to other countries?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 14:29
That’s a great question. So, there are a number of different approaches that governments are taking in order to try to communicate better to consumers. So, this “high in…” symbols, or sometimes they’re called warning symbols, that’s really evolved in Latin America and Central America. So, in Chile and Mexico, for example, those countries have already had these types of policies in place for a couple of yours, and, so, that really informed a lot of the policy decisions in Canada — what was happening and in Mexico and Chile, but also Israel and Peru and others. So, a number of other countries do have this type of warning symbol. Now, they don’t always have this magnifying glass; many other countries opted for stop signs to, sort of, also be an element of symbolism, to symbolize, you know, “Stop and have a think before you before you eat or purchase this food.” But, this idea that these are, sort of, the warning symbols. And, the nice thing about this policy is that it’s mandatory. So, other countries like Australia, have a Health Star Rating System. And, I think we, as a society, have become quite good at reading things with five stars, whether it’s our, you know, our Uber driver, or our meal, or our Netflix show. And, so, the idea in Australia, is that five stars is good and zero stars is bad. So, they use a Health Star Rating approach. In the United Kingdom, they use traffic lights, where they have some select nutrients on the front-of-package. And if it’s green, it’s good, and if it’s red is bad, and if it’s yellow, it’s sort of moderate. So, there’s all sorts of different approaches. They have different pros and cons. But, Canada’s is really the only one, so far we’ve seen, that’s become, sort of, a really mandatory policy, I guess. Sorry, I’ll add that also, there are logos that some countries use, so just for a healthy product, if it has an overall healthier nutritional profile, then some countries have a voluntary logo that companies can put on their products. It seems to me that we’re moving away from that a little bit to providing a bit more information that’s a bit more interpretable. Yeah, that’s, sort of, where we’re at globally.
Tamara Petresin 16:59
It’s really interesting to actually hear about how countries around the world have tackled this, and what approaches they’ve taken. And, yeah, it’s interesting, the symbols like the magnifying glass here in Canada, the traffic lights, red, yellow, green, you know, the stop sign, it’s interesting how there’s so many different approaches that have been used across the world. But, it’s really nice to see this, like front-of-package labeling thing, take, you know, precedents and importance here in Canada, because it just makes it so much easier on the consumer, I think. And, I personally actually really love that it’s a magnifying glass. I’m just kind of thinking like, as, you know, a dietitian, what, kind of, like, implications with the traffic light approach, green, red, yellow, and how that can, kind of, influence somebody’s relationship with food. So, I kind of appreciate that a magnifying lens is almost a bit more neutral in that sense. And, I think it’s really amazing how we do have this mandatory approach now in Canada, too.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 17:48
Yeah. And, it is hard to balance because for, example, we know that consumers are actually more likely to take note of something if it has colour. But the food industry doesn’t particularly like red warnings. And, so, there were a lot of conversations around that. And, you know, there’s Public Health evidence, and there’s food industry influence, and what comes out at the end is, sort of, a policy. And, you know, in Canada, we’re the first English-speaking, high income country to have a mandatory front-of-pack labeling policy. And, so, that’s a big deal. And, globally, we’re going to learn a lot about it, well, we have a great opportunity to evaluate and understand how consumers use it, how it might change behaviours, and hopefully, eventually, how we can improve our own policies so that we can, you know, make it really intuitive for consumers and really help for that to be a part of their decision making.
Tamara Petresin 18:45
Yeah, that’s a really, really impactful way to put it actually, like, what a massive opportunity this is for us, and how much we’re going to be able to learn from it, too. So, we did, kind of, touched on earlier, hinting at that food-environment piece. So, can you explain, to our listeners, what a food environment is, and how does front-of-package labeling fit in?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 19:05
When we use the term “food environment,” I’m really talking about all of the things that influence what we buy, and what we eat. And, there are a number of different factors that influence our food environment. So, things like the cost of food, things like the marketing of food, things about something fundamental, like, the nutritional quality of the foods in our food supply. Obviously, that is a major influence on how healthy our dietary patterns are. And, we can even think more upstream to things like, our trade and investment policies. So, how does our global trade or international investment influence the foods that we have in our surroundings and the foods that we buy and the foods that we serve to our families on our tables? And, so, food labeling is just one piece of this larger food environments puzzle. And, we have, obviously a lot of work to do, because it’s a pretty challenging food environment to navigate right now. And, so, you know, as I mentioned, front-of-packaged food labels might be one piece of navigating that environment. But, obviously, there’s a whole lot of other policies that we need to look at in Canada, so that we can help make healthy choices easier and make healthy dietary patterns easier.
Marciane Any 20:31
So true, I appreciate you explaining that. And, even just bringing to light that our decisions around food is complicated, like, there’s a lot of factors that go into it. I’ve heard some messaging, like, “Just be healthy,” or, “just, you know, pick up an apple,” and it’s like, “well, is the apple available? Is it marketed well?” like, all of this. “What’s the price of the apple compared to a pop tart?” You know, there’s so many factors that go into why we choose the foods that we do. And, so, I just appreciate you bringing that to attention. Now, children are often the target audience for food marketing. So, how does marketing influence their food preferences?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 21:15
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, obviously, food marketing is a big component that influences children, and adults. In fact, it influences all of us. And, we know that for lots of scientific research shows us that, but for me, one of the biggest ways to show that is because the food industry invests billions of dollars each year in marketing food to us, which must mean that it works, because they wouldn’t invest billions of dollars if it didn’t. For children, you know, globally, there’s quite a lot of discussion starting to go on about how we can better protect children from food marketing, because it does influence their food preferences. So, it influences what children want to buy, what they ask their parents for, we call that pester power. When kids see foods marketed to them in particular foods that are made really appealing to them, they’re much more likely to ask their parents for it, whether it’s in the cereal aisle, I know that’s the story of my life with my two young ones at the in the cereal aisle, or at the checkout, in a million other places throughout the day. And, so, we know that it certainly influences their preference or their attitude towards foods. So, they think that things would taste better, or they are more likely to want to buy it. And, we also know that influences their consumption, as well. So, if they see food marketing that’s targeted to children, kids are more likely to consume more of a food product, for example. And, you know, children are a really important group to consider when we think about marketing, because when kids are young, that’s when they start to form a lot of their dietary patterns that will stay with them throughout their life course. And, we also know that children, they create these relationships with brands throughout their life course, and I’m sure, you know, you and listeners can reflect on some of the, you know, those classic characters that we have seen in grocery stores forever. I’m thinking about KitKat Kaka, Snap, Crackle Pop from Rice Krispies or Tony the Tiger. These are great examples that, historically, they’ve been around for a very long time. And, we know that they are tempting for children. Children, they create these brand relationships, and then they love these products; they’re more likely to eat them. And, the last thing that I’ll just add on that is that we know that, typically, foods that are marketed to appeal to children are often the less healthy ones. So, not always, but we find that the vast majority of foods that are marketed directly towards children are, in fact, less healthy options.
Tamara Petresin 24:14
Yeah, for sure. And, you know, what you mentioning how we have these, like, brand relationships like you mentioned Tony the Tiger, I’m like, I remember that. I remember like the Kool Aid Man. And, like, I remember there was these commercials, you know, Saturday morning watching cartoons, and there was, like, for gushers I think that’s what they were called. And, they’re, like, heads would, like, turn into fruits and then explode, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever as a kid. And, like, I still remember that now. And, I’m sure, too, with children now, I mean, for us, for myself and for Marciane, you know, it was mostly from TV, like watching cartoons and like those commercials but now children are exposed to, you know, social media, right? Like, there’s so many more ways of getting that marketing across that it’s, kind of, interesting how much more there is to it now right? Beyond just TV.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 25:00
Absolutely. So, we talk a lot in this space about digital food environments, because they are a bit trickier in terms of, you know, yes, technically Facebook, you know, you can’t have a Facebook account if you’re under 13-years-old, or you can’t have a TikTok account or an Instagram account. But, we know that’s not the case. We know that younger children often have those accounts so that they are exposed to a lot of social media. You know, kids are on YouTube all the time. Sometimes, at school, for example, there’s school assignments where kids are on YouTube searching for things. And, so, yeah, the environment is changing. You know, we also talk about outdoor advertising. So, in bus shelters and things like this, there’s so many places where kids are exposed… don’t get me started about hockey, little Timbits hockey. And, you know, I understand, and my kids are in sport, and I think that it’s incredibly important that those sports are supported. But, it just seems unfair that we have to do that by putting a logo for a food company on their back.
Tamara Petresin 26:15
Marciane Any 26:16
That’s so true, though. It actually brought to mind an example that I remember. One, when you were talking about the cereal aisle, that brought back so many memories. I pestered my parents about it. And, again, being from the States, when I came here, they were, like, “Oh, your cereal aisles are amazing.” I didn’t realize that, like, we had so many more, like, varieties of cereals, which isn’t always the best. There was a lot. One of my favourite cereals as a kid was literally, like, I think it was called Cookie Crisp or something. It’s just chocolate chip cookies, that you add milk in a bowl, and you eat it. But, you know, even as you were bringing up, first of all, I’ve never heard of “pester power.” And, that makes so much sense. And, then in the sports realm, you know, it is supposed to be the promotion of, like, a healthier lifestyle and physical activity. But, you know, usually it’s like, Pepsi, Coke, food companies are the big sponsors. And, I remember, years ago, famous soccer player Ronaldo had, like, soda in front of him, and he put it aside and he drank water. And, I remember that whatever soda company it was, whether Pepsi or Coke, took a huge hit in profits. Because, you know, the viewers were, like, “Oh, wow, maybe I should drink water.” And, so, just like you said, they’re putting in billions to invest in marketing because they know it works. And, then, also, if people really show themselves making the more nutritious choices, how much more that can really have an impact on consumers, especially children, because a lot of those fans grew up watching the soccer players, which means they started watching as children. And, so, that was just a really important topic that that you brought up. And, so, with that, I wanted to ask what regulations exist restricting marketing to children in the context of food?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 28:16
Currently, in Canada, marketing restrictions are limited to actions that the food industry is taking on a voluntary basis. So, the food industry has a marketing code, that they, a self regulatory approach, they pledge that they’ll follow it that they won’t market food to children under the age of 13. And, oftentimes, regulations are aimed at children under the age of 13. Because, there’s quite a bit of research to show that certainly younger kids aren’t able to really distinguish between what’s advertising and what’s truth, what’s real. And, so, they aren’t able to understand that advertising may be trying to target them in some ways, or trying to influence them. And, so, the food industry right now regulates themselves, except in the province of Quebec, where, here, since the 1980s, they have a Consumer Protection Act in place that doesn’t allow any marketing of anything at all, to go directly to children under the age of 13. So, we have a bit less marketing of food to children because of that here in Quebec. But, essentially, other than that, it’s really just the industry saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we won’t market,” but, you know, we just talked about the cereal aisle, which is full of marketing to kids. And, so, you know, there are perhaps some instances where the food industry does limit their marketing to young children, but ,it’s not, in fact, working all that well. So, Health Canada is actually in the process of trying to establish, so they’ve proposed a policy that would restrict some marketing of unhealthy food to children that’s still under quite a bit of discussion. And, it would only cover TV and digital marketing, mostly. So, it wouldn’t include, for example, product packaging; it wouldn’t include product sponsorship. There’s some other challenges with that, what the proposed regulations that Health Canada has, you know, asked and is consulting about right now. But, there is certainly some discussion happening at the federal level to see if we can try to restrict some of that marketing to children.
Tamara Petresin 30:32
Yeah, and that’s great to hear that there is, kind, of some movement there. And that’s, yeah, like, that’s, kind of, crazy to me that it’s on a voluntary basis, because, just going back to that, like, cereal aisle example, like, all of those characters on all of those colourful boxes, like, who like those aren’t targeting adults, right? Like, that’s pretty clear who that’s, kind of, aiming for. And, so, it’s a really important area to get involved in. And, for sure, it’s great that they’re doing these consultations, and especially with the ever expanding digital market, as well, digital marketing, sorry, excuse me. There’s so much more to it there. And, it’s just so much more accessible. And, so it’s so easy for children to come across these ads, and the products and these characters, and everything like that. So, definitely hoping to see a bit more traction on that. I know, it can take a long time for something to become a policy. But, it’s good to know that it’s getting some traction. And, it’s great to hear that Quebec actually has that Consumer Protection Act. It’s nice to see that they’ve, kind of, taken those steps to protect, I guess, everyone actually it’s not limited to an age there.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 31:51
Sorry – It is just for children13 and under, but, it’s for all products. So, they can’t advertise toys directly to children, as well, or clothing, for example. So, it’s really just reducing all marketing directed to children, which is great. Yeah, but I’m just going to add one little thing. It is great. And, a lot of the global policies really do focus on children who are 13 and under, but I just want to mention that, you know, while we know that children are, because of their stage of cognitive development, that younger children may be more vulnerable to marketing. It’s important to add that some research shows that even up until the age of 18, that children, I say children, because we often we refer in my work up for everyone up to the age of 18 are children, and, so that even adolescent brains, for example, are still somewhat more vulnerable. And, also, I think we can all imagine adolescents in their social situations are also incredibly vulnerable to external influence. And, so, there’s also, you know, a need for us to think as a society, I think, about how, maybe, we can limit the exposure of marketing of unhealthy food to adolescents, as well. So, you know, Snoop Dogg might not be attractive to my three- and five-year-olds, but Snoop Dogg might be attractive to a 15-or 16-year-old. And, you know, some of those elements of how we can protect older children as well.
Tamara Petresin 33:28
Yeah, definitely. And, this, kind of, brings up something, kind of, more recent in my head. And, this is probably like a whole other podcast on its own, but, I’m just gonna say it now, with like the Prime energy drinks, like, and how heavily those were marketed to adolescents. And, like, the craze that it created based off of the social media influencer, that was promoting this, you know, caffeinated beverage. It’s just so important to think about it, you’re right, not just under 13, but up under 18 is really important, because adolescents are very much so influenced by these things. And, so, what can parents do to empower their children to make healthier choices despite all of these influences?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 34:10
It’s a tough question. And, in a way, I dislike the question, and I only say that, because I hate to think that it’s parents who should be responsible for having to, you know, limit the influence of marketing on their children. So, let me just say that outright, that I really think that this is something that the government or governments need to focus on, and that it shouldn’t fall into the laps of parents. So, parents solidarity on that one. But, I do think that there are some ways that, you know, parents can help to make their children more aware of some of the food marketing, and, actually Health Canada as part of Canada’s Food Guide, there is a section on how you can talk to your children about food marketing, so, increasing their awareness, just so that they know that, you know, why are these fun characters on foods while they’re doing it, because they’re really trying to make you want to like it and talking to kids about that. And, I’m not an expert in that, but there are some resources that I could point to in Canada’s Food Guide that could be useful for parents, when they’re thinking about food marketing for themselves and for their kids.
Marciane Any 35:28
Thank you for that response. Honestly, when you said that I was like, “That is so true.” I think that, you know, there’s a lot of responsibility that’s put on consumers, and I’m so glad that there’s policies that are happening, or in talks that are that are trying to put the responsibility back on the producers, because it’s very, very difficult to have, you know, these billions of dollars worth of commercials, and these athletes they look up to and influencers they look up to and social media posts that look cool and engaging, and then Mom and Dad are like, “This might not be the best choice.” And, it’s, like, “But! But!” like, look at all that they’re being fed. And, then just like you mentioned before, even the social aspect of it, as well. I think more than food, like you mentioned with what Quebec is doing the clothes, the toys, if you don’t have it, there’s a sense of, like, social exclusion, because you don’t have what other people have; you’re not consuming what other people are consuming. And, so, I think that your response was, it was a great. I really just appreciate that because there is a lot already put on parents, just in general, with trying to keep their kids alive and happy and healthy and growing up, that, you know, there needs to be some responsibility put back on those who produce these things, and who advertise and market these things. So, I just appreciate that.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 36:57
And, you know, you bring up the social element of that, and now I’m just gonna tell a personal story. My five-year-old is in kindergarten and, so, she came home from school the other day — do you know what Bear Paws are? Yeah, parents definitely who are listening know what Bear Paws are, because they are, you know, these perfectly little packaged, not particularly healthy cookies that are so easy to have in your purse or to put in your lunch. And, I try not to have a lot of Bear Paws in my world, but I do. The other day, my daughter came home and she just said, “Mom, everyone in their lunch had Bear Paws today, and I was the only one who didn’t have any Bear Paws.” Oh, like, “Am I making my child a social outcast?” Because, I’m trying not to have those foods that have, you know, the marketing directly to them. And, it’s just those social, you know, that’s hard as a parent too, but, yeah, it’s not fair to me thats my job. You know, I’m trying to make healthier choices, and it’s just extra barriers, which we all know, we already have enough barriers to making healthier choices and supporting healthy choices for our kids.
Tamara Petresin 38:28
For sure, you know, parenting is hard enough, right? Like, it’s, hard enough, there’s a lot on parents plates, and this certainly doesn’t feel like it should be another thing that needs to be on their plates. But, it’s just a bit unfortunate, now. I think until we get those, kind of, policies in place, and, you know, the food industry navigates the new policies that come into play, too, it’s unfortunately going to be something that, you know, parents continue to have to deal with, but it’s definitely not easy. To close out the podcast, we like to give families three practical take-home tips. So, considering all the topics we’ve discussed today about nutrition labels, healthier food environments, and informed food choices, what are three tips that you can share with our listeners to help them make informed food choices, especially in the context of the new food regulations, and the ever changing food environment?
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 39:06
Sure, so three things that I think might help parents. So, as I mentioned, the new front-of-package labels, we’re going to start seeing them appear in stores, but, they’re not going to be on all products until 2026. So, I think in the meantime, we actually do have the information that’s going to be on those already in the nutrition facts table. So, if parents are looking at that nutrition facts table and trying to figure out, “Oh, is this good or bad?” We can use the Percent Daily Value information — those are the little percentages on the right side of the table — to see if a product has a little or a lot of a nutrient. And, so, front-of-pack labels have sugars, sodium and saturated fat. And, so, if a product has more than 15% of the daily value, in general, you can think that it probably is pretty high in those nutrients. And, so, you might want to have a second think about it. So, that would be my first tip. My second tip, this is a little bit of a less practical one, perhaps, but you know, there are lots of products that don’t carry food labels that can be easy and healthier choices. So, I’m thinking about fresh fruits and vegetables, and, you know, apples and bananas and oranges, they already come prepackaged. So, that’s nice. And, they can be easy to, you know, throw in a lunch or a purse. And, sometimes, I think for me, my head automatically goes to throwing in a Bear Paw into my purse instead of throwing in an apple, which usually they kind of make it out in the same state. There are some products that, I think, we can all agree on that are healthier, like fresh fruits and vegetables, these are kind of no brainers. And so, finding these types of foods that work for your families and your kids, they’re, you know, not at all processed, they don’t have any added ingredients. Those are, sort of, easy ones to identify and to buy if they fit within, sort of, your family’s practices. So, the last recommendation is just to be kind to yourself. We just talked about how parenting is hard. And, the truth is, with all of the academic research that I do, it’s just so clear to me that making healthier decisions is really hard in our current food environment. And, so, until we have some of these policies and practices in place to help support healthier food decisions and make those easier or default choices, small efforts here and there will add up and can have a really positive impact on your health.
Marciane Any 41:42
Great tips. I really enjoyed this conversation. And, I took a lot of notes; I took a lot out of it. And, we really appreciate you coming on our podcast and speaking with us. We gained a lot from this conversation.
Dr. Lana Vanderlee 41:58
Well, thanks again for the opportunity to be here.
Tamara Petresin 42:01
You’ve provided us with such helpful tips and we really hope that our listeners can take away some of these useful tips that you shared, especially to be kind to themselves, you know, navigating the food environment is certainly not easy. So ,thank you again for joining us on the Healthy Habits Homes podcast, and we’ll see you next time.