Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check tells Kids Chocolate Muffins are Healthy

This came in the mail yesterday.

"Mothers Like Him, Kids Love Him"
That's the quote from the ad for new iGOR muffins and they are the subject of today's inappropriate Health Check which of course is prominently displayed at both the top and bottom of the ad copy.

For those of you who don't know what a "Health Check" is, it's an invention of the Heart and Stroke Foundation that provides their seal of approval on a product.

To qualify for a health check you must meet certain product requirements which in turn are all based on Health Canada's oh-so-awful Food Guide.

Looking at the criteria for a Health Check, I'm dismayed but not shocked to see that Calories don't matter and nor does sugar. Last time I checked eating high amounts of Calories or sugar wasn't good for you - it might even lead you to develop problems like obesity and type II diabetes which in turn might lead to, you guessed it, heart disease and strokes.

To put it simply, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check criteria are based on outdated and non-evidence based fat phobic criteria and the outdated belief that fibre is miraculously good for cholesterol. Bottom line - if your product's low fat and high fibre - there's a really good chance it'll qualify.

The criteria for muffins are clearly spelled out - there are two options: 100gram serving sizes, low fat and "starch value is evaluated" OR 100gram serving size, low saturated fat, total fat less than 10grams and a source of fibre.

Problem is for most products, especially baked goods, low fat means high sugar.

Looking at these iGOR muffins, replete with the cartoon monkey beckoning children to grab them and throw them in the cart, we see that a full one third of the muffin's weight comes from sugar.

If that doesn't scream healthy at you, I don't know what does.

And I have to ask, should the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check be endorsing these things at all? Should it be endorsing products that are clearly designed to prey on children in grocery store aisles? You might make the argument that perhaps iGOR cookies/muffins are healthier than other cookie options, but frankly that still doesn't make them healthy. While I agree cookies should be a part of every child's life, they should be, as Cookie Monster himself now states, a "sometimes food". By slapping their Health Check logo on a package of them, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is enabling parents to feel guilt free about using these cookies as snacks because they're "healthy" - but really only as healthy as a pile of pure sugar wrapped in chemicals and preservatives can be.

Also don't you think that the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check, something meant by them to serve as a nutritional yardstick for consumers, should care about sugar content or Calories of foods? Perhaps even more so when it comes to products aimed specifically at our children?

I would urge the Heart and Stroke Foundation to take the blinders off their Health Check program. Its criteria for inclusion are not only antiquated, they are being abused by corporations like Vachon who use the criterion's broad-based laxity to promote cookies for children as a healthy snack choice.

Heart and Stroke Health Check folks - please stop telling Canadians that sugar is healthy and Calories don't matter because all you're doing with those messages is drumming up business.

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  1. Kristy11:12 am

    YES - the Heath Check program SHOULD care about sugar and calories. No question.

    Something else I found interesting about their inclusion criteria - shouldn't they also care about Trans fat? Ex – option #1 for meat pies is 10g or less of total fat. That meat pie could easily have 1 or 2 grams of Trans fat and still meet their criteria. Umm, isn’t there a clear link between Trans fat and heart disease? Isn't it the Heart & Stroke Foundation that is screaming to rid the food supply of all Trans fat? Didn't they lead the Trans fat task force? I am confused about that one.

    I agree that the criteria is outdated and focused too heavily on fat and fibre. It is also far too lenient. However, I don't think the Heart & Stroke Foundation has much incentive to make their criteria more rigid. The yearly licensing fees that companies pay to display the Health Check symbol are not small. And they pay a fee for every product that displays the symbol. Some companies have more 20 or 30 products with the symbol. Making the criteria more rigid would reduce business and profits.

  2. Absolutely - they should care both about trans-fat and unsaturated fat with steerage away from trans-fats and towards unsaturated fats.

    One study demonstrated if we replaced just 5% of dietary saturated fat with unsaturated fat risk of heart disease would decrease by 40%!

    If anyone out there sees a Health Check'ed product with trans-fat in it, please chuck it my way.

  3. Will definitely send you a product with trans fat that has the Health Check approval. It's hard to believe that they even allowed 5% of this garbage, especially when they said how dangerous it was.
    I echoed the CMAJ article and your info at my blog to spread the message.
    (Jan. 18, 2008)
    Keep up the great work!