Until about 8 months ago, The Health Junction was employed by one of Canada’s largest media conglomerates. Each day, I would wake up, eat my oatmeal (flax-seed enhanced, thank you very much) and hop on my bicycle for the daily commute to work. Riding my bike was the often the best part of my day as it started with Toronto’s beautiful High Park and continued along the lake for a total of 12 delicious kilometers.
In my personal life, I was trying to keep myself physically and mentally healthy by swimming, cycling, yoga, reading, meditating, spending time with friends and family, etc. All of those efforts were seriously compromised upon arriving at work everyday – to say that my job was “stressful” doesn’t really capture the essence of life as a Marketing Project Manager at this particular media conglomerate. It was a job where there was a lot of responsibility, very little decision-making control, and the type of role where we had to put up with egomaniacal clients who truly believed that their wish was our command no matter who ridiculously outrageous their request was.
On top of this all, I was often working on absolutely rubbish products that to this day, I believe are contributing to unhealthy eating habits in our society; frozen pizza’s, microwave popcorn, yogurt claiming probiotic advantages (by the way, all yogurts have probiotic), sugary drinks and breakfast cereals, atrocious after school snacks, “healthy” soup laden with sodium and uninspiring plastic toys. Creating commercials for Dora The Explorer underpants, jam, and furniture is not how I envisioned my life turning out.
There came a point where I could no longer reconcile what I knew to be true about food and health from my job and the products I was pushing out to the universe via TV so I decided to take a chance and quit my job to study nutrition full-time and teach children healthy eating habits and cooking at a middle school here in Toronto. While in the kitchen, I try to teach kids that you can eat real whole food that tastes good without all the added sugar, fats, and additives. We also focus on media literacy which brings me to the crux of this post.
In Canada, in order to get a commercial to air, it must be submitted to a regulatory body called Advertising Standards Canada. I truly believe that the staff at ASC are careful in screening, reviewing, and approving or providing comments to advertisers. The staff that review commercials for on-air suitability are basing their approval on The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
The issue is that ASC is a self-regulating body that is funded by the membership from advertisers who submit their commercials for clearance. Have a look at the Board of Directors, and you’ll see that it is made up of big wigs from major consumer packaged goods companies. When a consumer has a complaint, it may ultimately go to these folks who will determine what, if any, action should be taken (note: of the 45 members of this council, only 16 are public representatives – the rest for from the advertisers).
Is there a huge pink elephant in the room or is it just me? The fact is that the advertising industry both funds, and has a majority stake in decision-making of ad suitability. Regardless of the best intentions of the council members, I believe that one cannot be unbias when they are embedded in their own best interests. This, in my opionion, leads to less that accurate commercials with questionable claims as to the products impact on our health.
Want to become a more informed television viewer? Come back tomorrow to learn how to decipher tricky advertising and make sure you really understand what you’re putting in your mouth.