This week, we sat down with Voices for Healthy Kids Action Center leader Joe Belfontaine, of Heart & Stroke Canada, to learn about how him and the newly-launched 16 and Under campaign. Read on to learn more about Joe.
Name: Joe Belfontaine
Title: Executive Director for the Ontario Mission at Heart & Stroke Canada
Organization: Heart & Stroke Canada
How did you end up here today, and what motivates you to work on issues to help our kids grow up healthier?
I’ve been at Heart & Stroke for a about fifteen months now. My connection with the organization is through my dad. About 15 years ago, he had a series of TIA’s and I had never heard of what they were or the severity. Heart & Stroke was the place I looked to for information. When I was looking for a career change, this was the top of the line for me. My previous position was with one of Canada’s strongest retailers, Canadian Tire Corporation. Canadian Tire’s charity, Jumpstart, gave me an opportunity to help kids and communities across Canada. That was very motivating for me so coming to Heart & Stroke was a natural transition.
How are you working to change the environment to make it healthier and create a culture of health?
I rely heavily on the strength of our teams across the country and their deep policy experience. I am more of a generalist with corporate, government and health promotion experience, who is playing a small role in promoting health public policy through a strong federal law that protects children (16 and under) from food and beverage marketing and strong restrictions on the access and price of sugary drinks.
What are your biggest accomplishments in helping children achieve a healthy weight? [personal and professional]
In my current role, I am really proud of the work that we’ve done to develop a national nutrition advocacy campaign with employees and supporters across the country. We’ve recently unified into one national organization and this level of collaboration is still relatively new. Realizing that we can run more effective advocacy campaigns as one organization and being able to manage this national campaign has been very rewarding.
What is the change you would like to see most in communities, or where do you see the greatest unmet needs, in helping children achieve a healthy weight?
The relationship Canadians have with food and food companies is a lot different from when I was a kid. As a kid, sugary drinks were a unique treat and we only went out to eat occasionally. These aren’t the current trends. The sights, the smells, the sounds, and the emotional connection to food and beverages are omnipresent. This has made it difficult for parents and children. I would love to see meaningful change and a better balance in the connection that Canadians have with food and beverages.
If you were starting out in your career, what would you recommend to your younger self? Tip of the day from the person.
Work hard now or work twice as hard later. There is always this desire to do your work and then get back to socializing, spending time with friends. I would suggest to my younger self that he spend more time working on his career early because it’ll pay off in the long run. It’s tough to trade a weekend with friends for a weekend of work but, however much fun you might have as a young person, pales in comparison to what can be enjoyed when you get older.
What can you tell us about the Heart & Stroke’s 16 and Under campaign?
16 and Under is a public facing campaign, aimed to raise awareness of the problems caused by marketing to kids. The vast majority of the food and beverage ads young people are for very unhealthy foods and beverages, high in salt, sugary and fat.
From an advocacy perspective, this has been a priority for Heart & Stroke for many years, thanks to a commitment that began with our team in British Columbia. And now, with a new government who made a commitment in their election platform to restrict marketing to kids, we have an incredible opportunity to accomplish this goal.
We had a plan to pursue this endeavour, but our efforts received a huge boost of confidence through strategic partnerships with Joannah and Brian Lawson, and the Sprott Foundation whose generous support and belief in healthier food environments brought the campaign to another level.
- We conducted extensive research, including a national poll of 2,400 people, to understand awareness levels and motivations, as well as who was most likely to take action. Our research told us to engage parents of kids 6 to 16 because they are most interested and willing to be active on the issue.
We based our Heart Month Report on marketing to kids that included strong policies, told in-depth stories and shared with legislators from the municipal to state and national level.
It’s not a typical advocacy campaign where we want people to contact their legislators. Rather, it’s designed to be shareable, through a mockumentary-style video, compelling facts, and links to the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition website, which has a deeper-dive into the issues. We encourage everyone to visit our 16 and Under website to learn more!
What should people take away from the 16 and Under campaign?
Depending on the interest of the individual, we certainly want everyone to share this information with their personal and professional networks. This is a big issue globally, not just in Canada, and although it is designed by a Canadian NGO to convince a Canadian government to implement Canadian legislation, there is nothing in the video is unique to Canada. Everything that viewers see in the video could take place in the United States, Europe, and beyond.
How can people get involved?
People can visit the website over at https://www.heartandstroke.ca/16andunder.
Interested in making a difference? Join our Junk Food Marketing Action Team today!