Friday, September 29, 2006

Food Industry Spin Doctors

Yesterday I was given the honour of speaking in front of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on the subject of childhood obesity.

The panel I was on included one other clinician (a dietitian from London), an indigenous person's nutritional advocate, and then 3 corporate spokespersons representing a diverse range of companies from the restaurants, to Coca Cola, to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Amazingly, but entirely not surprisingly, the industry spokespeople did their best to spin things in their favour.

The party line of course is that because obesity is so complex and multifactorial, to pick on any one thing as a cause would be inappropriate. I actually agree with that statement to a degree, but have a difficult time with the conclusion of all of these industry reps that therefore we should not pick on any of the various and multiple factors.

The Restaurant Industry's spokesperson tried to explain how mandatory labeling on menus of calories would be impossible due to supply chain variety. Amazingly she did that in the same breath that she mentioned the 42% of restaurant chains who voluntarily carry nutrition information in brochure form. I highly doubt that these brochures change with the supply chain.

She also questioned the value of putting calories on menus and stated that there has never been any evidence to suggest that calories on labels help. In fact that's not true. In a study available online, a high school, without providing any extra classes on the subject, simply posted calories on their cafeteria's menuboard. Immediately they noticed students choosing lower calorie options.

Certainly it would not take a degree in dietetics to know that the 2900 calorie Aussie Fries appetizer at the Outback steakhouse might be a poor choice.

Next was the beverage industry where there was much bragging about how they voluntarily took pop out of schools and replaced it with fruit drinks, juice and sports drinks. The spokesperson even bragged about the size of their containers: 250ml (8oz) containers for elementary schools, 300ml (10oz) for middle schools and 355ml (12oz) for high schools.

I of course had to point out that the expert advisory panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics with representatives from the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend that for children between 1-6 years old juice intake should be limited to 125-175mls (4-6oz) and from 7-18 years old limited to 250-355mls) and therefore every child through grade 9, with a single serving from the vending machine, actually exceeds daily recommended intake of juice. I would also like to note here that the daily recommended intake of fruit "drinks" and sports drinks is 0ml.

Remember drop per drop there are more calories in orange juice than Coke.

Now I don't blame the industry at all. They're doing their job. It's just a shame that more often than not, there's not someone there to unspin them.