Examining the relationship between sugars contents of Canadian foods and beverages and child-appealing marketing



In 2016, legislation to restrict child-appealing marketing (M2K) of “unhealthy” foods and beverages (“foods”) (i.e., foods that exceed roughly 5–10% of the Daily Value (DV) for total sugars, sodium, or saturated fats) was proposed in Canada. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between foods with on-pack M2K and excessive free sugars contents (≥ 10% calories from free sugars) and the potential for a 5% total sugars DV threshold to restrict M2K on these products.


Cross-sectional analysis of the University of Toronto’s Food Label Information Program (FLIP) 2013 database (n = 15,259, after exclusions). Odds ratios were used to determine the association between excess free sugars contents and presence of M2K, stratified by major food category. The proportion of products with excessive free sugars levels, or with M2K, that would be restricted from M2K if a 5% DV threshold for total sugars was implemented was also determined.


77.8% of foods with M2K had excess free sugars levels compared with 38.4% without M2K. M2K was more likely to be present on foods with excess free sugars levels in 8 of 14 food categories that contained products with M2K. A 5% DV threshold for total sugars would restrict M2K on 83% of foods with excess free sugars levels and on 75% of current foods that had M2K.


Findings demonstrate that foods with M2K are less healthy, particularly in regard to free sugars levels. This highlights the importance of ensuring policies aimed at supporting healthy dietary habits among children carefully consider free sugars levels.



En 2016, des mesures législatives ont été proposées au Canada pour limiter le marketing destiné aux enfants (MDE) d’aliments et de boissons (« aliments ») jugés « malsains » (c.-à-d. les aliments qui dépassent de 5 à 10 % la valeur quotidienne (VQ) totale pour les sucres, le sodium ou les graisses saturées). L’objectif de la présente étude était d’examiner la relation entre les aliments comportant de la publicité destinée aux enfants sur l’emballage et les aliments ayant une teneur excessive en sucres libres (≥ 10 % des calories provenant de sucres libres) et d’envisager l’imposition d’un seuil de 5 % de la VQ totale pour les sucres afin de limiter le MDE de tels produits.


Analyse transversale des données de 2013 de la base de données du programme FLIP (Food Label Information Program) de l’Université de Toronto (n = 15,259 après exclusions). Des rapports de cotes ont servi à déterminer les associations entre la teneur excessive en sucres libres et la présence de MDE et de stratifier ces associations par grande catégorie alimentaire. Nous avons également déterminé la proportion de produits ayant des niveaux excessifs de sucres libres, ou comportant du MDE, qui ne pourraient plus être commercialisés auprès des enfants si un seuil de 5 % de la VQ totale pour les sucres était imposé.


77,8 % des aliments comportant du MDE avaient des niveaux de sucres libres excessifs, contre 38,4 % des aliments sans MDE. Le MDE était plus susceptible d’être présent pour les aliments ayant des niveaux de sucres libres excessifs dans 8 des 14 catégories alimentaires contenant des produits commercialisés auprès des enfants. Un seuil de 5 % de la VQ totale pour les sucres limiterait le MDE pour 83 % des aliments ayant des niveaux de sucres libres excessifs et pour 75 % des aliments actuellement commercialisés auprès des enfants.


Nos résultats montrent que les aliments commercialisés auprès des enfants sont moins sains, surtout en ce qui a trait à leurs niveaux de sucres libres. Il est donc important que les politiques qui visent à favoriser de saines habitudes alimentaires chez les enfants examinent attentivement les niveaux de sucres libres.

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This work was supported by funding from Canadian Institutes of Health Research Operating Grant: Sugars and Health (MRL), Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canadian Graduate Scholarship–Master’s (CM). C.M. completed a Mitacs graduate student internship at Nestlé Canada. None of these companies/organizations were involved in any way with regard to the present research.

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Correspondence to Mary R. L’Abbé.

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Bernstein, J.T., Christoforou, A.K., Mulligan, C. et al. Examining the relationship between sugars contents of Canadian foods and beverages and child-appealing marketing. Can J Public Health 111, 239–246 (2020). https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-019-00276-3

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  • Sugar
  • Marketing to children
  • Nutrient composition
  • Food marketing
  • Food advertising
  • Public health policy


  • Sucre
  • Marketing destiné aux enfants
  • Teneur en éléments nutritifs
  • Marketing des aliments
  • Publicité alimentaire
  • Politiques de santé publique