Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check Sells Junk Food to Children

It's a dream made in marketing heaven: Disney plus the Heart and Stroke Foundation, plus misleading advertisements, plus a scared public = $$$

The ad shouts out,

"No artificial colours.
No artificial flavours.
No added hydrogenated oils
Unfortunately it leaves out,
"Plenty of added sugar.
Lots of unhealthy foods.
We're preying on your good intentions.
Let's look at a few examples:

First up, we've got the Heart and Stroke Foundation teaming up with Buzz Lightyear to entice your children to have Milk Buddies.

It's a sugar sweetened milk beverage whose second ingredient is sugar. In fact, it's got 22 grams of sugar per serving along with 140 calories. That's 5.5 teaspoons of sugar and 140 Calories for 200mls. Drop per drop that's the same amount of sugar found in Coca Cola and almost double Coke's Calories. Super Healthy!

Next up is Clubhouse Diner - pasta and cheese.

Here we've got the Heart and Stroke Foundation teaming up with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The front of the box screams out, "Good Source of Calcium", but leaves out "even better source of metabolic syndrome inducing refined white flour" and, "a fantastic source of sodium", as this white flour based pasta dish provides your kids a mind-numbing 850mg of Heart and Stroke Foundation endorsed sodium per serving. That's more than three quarters of the sodium the Heart and Stroke Foundation wants your kids to eat in a day. Yay?!

Next we've got Mickey Burgers.

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the Heart and Stroke Foundation team up to sell our kids "healthy" red meat. The box even tells parents,
"Good source of protein which helps build and repair body tissues. Source of calcium to help build strong bones."
Good source of Calcium? How about good source of colon cancer? Yummy.

Lastly, here are Alpha-Taters.

Yes, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Toy Story's Woody are indeed encouraging your children to consume Tater-Tots. Yes they have fewer Calories than real tater tots, yes they contain less sodium, but does that mean that they're healthy? They're still processed potatoes with as noted before, potatoes being a food that increases the risk of diabetes development due in part to the body's almost instantaneous conversion of potato starch to sugar.

So to summarize, using the much maligned practice of using cartoon characters to market unhealthy foods to children the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Disney are marketing sugar sweetened drinks that have more Calories than sugared soda, wallops of sodium, refined white flour, burgers and tater-tots as healthy.

Kind of telling to me that this partnership was featured in Kids Screen Magazine where Kid Screen is an actual organization dedicated to teaching marketers how to target children through advertisements.

Gee thanks Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check, you guys are a phenomenal help.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heart and Stroke Foundation Pours on the Salt

So what's a Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check again?

If you remember, Health Check is a program run by the Heart and Stroke Foundation who note,

"When you shop, look for the Health Check symbol. It's a simple tool to help you make food choices that are part of a healthy diet. Every food with the Health Check symbol has been evaluated by the Heart and Stroke Foundation's dietitians to make sure it is part of a healthy diet."
So what foods have Health Checks?

In the past I've posted about the Health Check on red meat, a food that study after study identifies as a major health risk - from breast cancer (in post-menopausal women, intake of just 60 grams per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 57%), to colon cancer (people who ate the most red meat were almost 40% more likely to develop colon cancer), to diabetes (for every increase in the number of daily servings of red meat there was a 26% increase in the risk of developing diabetes).

I've posted about the Health Check on chocolate muffins for children where the 8 teaspoons of sugar per muffin literally make up a third of the muffin's weight.

I've posted about the Health Check on French fries and even putting aside the horrifying contradiction of a Heart and Stroke Foundation recommending that we consume French fries, potatoes increase blood sugar and insulin levels nearly as fast as pure white table sugar which is potentially why in a 20 year study looking at 84,555 women there was an increased risk of type II diabetes in women with higher potato consumption.

I've posted about the Health Check on refined white flour, a substance that dramatically increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

I've posted about the Health Checks on restaurant foods where they have endorsed foods with a full day's worth of sodium.

Lastly I've posted about the Health Check on "natural" sugar where they endorsed a juice product that effectively is a glass of water, sweetened with 10.5 teaspoons of sugar, along with a smattering of vitamins.

Today I've got one more. The Health Checked beverage that contains 600mg of sodium in just two thirds of a cup. It's called V8Go Smooth and Seasoned.

Let me ask you, putting aside for a moment the fact that it's just mind-bogglingly stupid for the Heart and Stroke Foundation to be endorsing a product where in 2/3rds of a glass you'll get over half their recommended daily sodium intake, how many folks out there are only going to pour 2/3rds of a glass? Fill your glass and now you'll get 961mg of sodium - almost a full day's worth.

Unbelievably, it gets worse. While I've always held out hope that this was all reflective of a woeful lack of oversight by the Heart and Stroke Foundation on their arm's length Health Check program, last week I realized this wasn't the case.

Last week I received the Heart and Stroke Healthy Living Calendar 2008.

On the cover it states,
"Make a date with health! Fourteen months of recipes and health tips brought to you by the Heart and Stroke Foundation"
So would you assume that all the recipes therein are healthy?

Let's look at two (click 'em for enlargements).

First, Chicken-Lemon Stir-Fry.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation's recipe, it's made with butter, 1% milk and is that really 3tbsp of soy sauce? Did you know that soy sauce, per tablespoon, has 335mg of sodium? Did you know that there was such a thing as light soy sauce with less sodium? Did you know that each serving of this stir-fry has 999mg of sodium?! Do you think maybe the vegetables could have been stir-fried in a non-stick wok with a few sprays of cooking oil rather than a tablespoon each of butter and oil? Can you believe that that Heart and Stroke Foundation just suggested butter was a healthy choice to cook with? Also, isn't there such a thing as skim milk?

Next let's look at the Superb Rigatoni and Cauliflower Au Gratin.

Once again the Heart and Stroke Foundation's recipe includes a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of vegetable oil and 3 cups of 1% milk. This Heart and Stroke Foundation endorsed recipe gives you 965mg of sodium per serving.

To put these sodium numbers back into perspective, here are the Heart and Stroke Foundation's recommended sodium targets published in the National Sodium Policy Statement they co-released last week.

  • Ages 4-8 - 1,200mg daily
  • Ages 9-50 - 1,500mg daily
  • Ages 50-70 - 1,300mg daily

  • I can't think of enough adjectives to describe just how plain wrong it is for the Heart and Stroke Foundation to be endorsing these unhealthy choices as good for you. If I were working at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, heads would roll.

    But I'm not done. Stay tuned for tomorrow when we'll talk about how the Heart and Stroke Foundation pushes junk food on your children.

    Monday, October 29, 2007

    The Hypocrisy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation

    You know, it upsets me to have to write these posts about the Heart and Stroke Foundation. They are a tremendous organization and are advocacy champions for a healthy lifestyle and tireless fund raisers in support of much needed valuable research into the treatment and prevention of cardiovascular disease.

    Unfortunately, their organization and affiliated organizations, while exemplary in many aspects, also suffer from some egregious shortcomings - shortcomings that dramatically undermine their own solid recommendations to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and reduce dietary sodium consumption.

    By means of introduction, let's start with something positive - the National Sodium Policy statement that was released last week and endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

    The statement, available online here, calls for a dramatic reduction in sodium intake by the year 2020. According to the statement, here's why:

  • The World Health Organization estimates hypertension is the leading risk factor for death.

  • Hypertension is the most frequent diagnosis for Canadian adults visiting a family physician.

  • Antihypertensive therapy is one of the most expensive categories of medications.

  • In Canada almost 46% of women and 38% of men aged 60 and over are taking antihypertensive medications.

  • Hypertension is a multi-factorial condition associated with obesity, family history, physical inactivity, alcohol, smoking and dietary factors, including high sodium intake.

  • Limited attention has been focused on the importance of reducing dietary sodium as a key measure in reducing the risk for and management of hypertension.

  • The average Canadian diet contains about 3500 mg of sodium per day.

  • The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for sodium intake for health is 2300mg per day as recommended by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

  • It is estimated that one million Canadians have hypertension caused by excess dietary sodium and that this generates more than 430 million dollars per year in direct health care costs.

  • Reducing dietary sodium intake within the context of a healthy diet can substantially reduce the incidence of hypertension among Canadians who have normal blood pressure. Therefore a population health approach to reducing dietary sodium is an appropriate strategy.
  • The report also provides sodium intake targets by age and I'm going to highlight 3 age groups:

  • Ages 4-8 - 1,200mg daily
  • Ages 9-50 - 1,500mg daily
  • Ages 50-70 - 1,300mg daily

  • So just how great would it be if we were actually able to achieve that type of sodium reduction? According to the policy statement this would:

  • Prevent 1 in 7 stroke deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 11 coronary heart disease deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 14 of all deaths
  • Prevent 1 in 6 cases of high blood pressure

  • Stay tuned this week as I revisit how despite their signature on the National Sodium Policy statement, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program allows you to meet your total daily sodium requirements in one meal, how Health Check advertises and pushes junk food on your children, and how Health Check blindly avoids considering Calories or sugar ingredients worth actually checking.

    Friday, October 26, 2007

    Are you a Grease Blotter?

    Do you use your napkin to try to blot the grease out of your food?

    I've seen plenty of folks blotting away at fast food restaurants (might make an interesting study - how much can physically be blotted out), but I've never seen any of them do this....

    Today for Funny Fridays (again, lots of new subscribers this week - Friday's are my day off commentary and my day on Funny.....videos often need to be viewed on site rather than through email's is worth a visit) is the best use of McDonald's french fry grease that I've ever seen.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    New York vs. Calories Round II

    Back in good old Ottawa after a great conference. Saw some fascinating talks and met many very interesting folks.

    Came back and saw New York is going to take another swing at Big Food.

    City health commissioner Thomas Frieden has reworked the regulation following the original's defeat in appeals court.

    The regulation would only affect restaurants of 15 chains or more thus sparing smaller mom and pop establishments the cost of determining Calorie counts and making menuboard changes.

    The defeated regulation had only applied to those restaurants that already had posted information online or in brochure form. The new one applies to any chain with 15 or more locations regardless of whether they've already posted Calories.

    Remember, Big Food won the case not because of their fabulous arguments (like the one that says that it'd be too confusing for consumers to understand the new menus like the one above from Subway), but rather because it broke some federal statute.

    I'm guessing that without an Arnold-style veto, this one's going through.

    Quiznos must not be thrilled.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Lose Weight by Osmosis

    Today I'm going to talk about a study that I had thought of doing and now clearly don't have to.

    It's about something I've termed, "osmotic weight loss"

    Simple study - 357 husbands and wives weighed themselves and completed self-reported food and lifestyle inventories at the onset of an intensive lifestyle intervention and 12 months later. They then compared these with the same data from a control group of 357 husband and wife teams at the beginning and end of a diabetic education program. The catch is, only one member of the husband and wife teams was actually enrolled in the weight loss, or diabetes education, programs.

    The untreated spouses at 12 months also completed a questionnaire detailing the number of high and low fat foods in the home, the number of snack foods in visible locations and something called the Exercise Environment Questionnaire.

    The results?

    Untreated spouses in the diabetes program lost 0.19% of their starting body weight while the spouses from the intensive lifestyle intervention weight loss program lost 2.7% of their starting weights. The untreated weight loss spouses also reported decreased availability and access to high-fat and snack foods in their homes. Exercise wise, there was no difference.

    So what does this teach us? Lifestyle interventions affect more than simply the program participant. The reason I wanted to do this study was the simple fact that I observe the same phenomenon constantly in my patients' families.

    The next study I'd like to see would be a comparison of osmotic weight loss between different weight loss programs and approaches.

    My hypothesis would be that less sustainable approaches (all liquid diets, heavy use of supplements, highly restrictive approaches, etc.), would not share a spousal osmotic relationship perhaps due to the non-enjoyable and non-sustainable nature of the participants' interventions.

    Remember, unless you actually enjoy your lifestyle as you lose your weight, you're liable to gain it back and here clearly if you in fact do enjoy your lifestyle, others around you might well take notice and learn from your successes.

    Osmosis works.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Maybe You Didn't Earn that Latte

    Yesterday was another fine day at the Obesity Society conference with so many fascinating abstracts presented.

    I'm going to fill you folks in on the work of a very dynamic speaker and clearly talented researcher, Dr. Tim Church.

    Tim's gang wanted to explore whether or not exercise led patients to "overcompensate" with food - meaning they wanted to see whether or not we rewarded our exercise with more food than we earned.

    It was truly an elegant experiment.

    Firstly individuals had to sign an informed consent paper that explicitly stated that the study being conducted was not in fact a weight loss study, but rather a study on the effects of exercise on blood pressure and fitness. The authors simply didn't want people influenced by the thought that they were involved in a weight loss study.

    For 6 months, 464 post-menopausal women were randomly assigned to a control group of no supervised exercise, 72 minutes, 136 minutes or 192 minutes per week of exercise. The exercise was kept at moderate intensity and it involved using a treadmill or an exercise bike and all of the exercise was supervised exercise so that they would not have to rely on unreliable self-reported amounts.

    Retention for the study was great with 94%, 87% and 93% retention in the treatment arms.

    Fitness showed a non-surprising and beautiful dose dependent response with more exercise leading to greater improvement.

    Weight however was a different story.

    The 72mins per week group lost on average 1.3kg over the 6 months.

    The 136mins per week group lost on average 1.9kg over the 6 months.

    And the 192mins group, did they lose 2.5kg?

    Nope, they only lost 1.3kg.

    It gets more interesting.

    When they looked at the actual data points what they saw was that weight loss progressed well during the first 10 weeks of the 192mins per week group, but that was during their so-called, "ramping up" period whereby they couldn't have simply started these folks at 192mins per week, so they were ramping them up to 192mins. Almost as soon as they did reach their 192mins mark, weight loss slowed down to a crawl.

    Now remember, I mentioned this was an elegant study. The authors, anticipating the skeptics, wanted to eliminate an obvious confounding question. Did the folks who were exercising the most simply do less the rest of the week because they were either too tired from exercise, or felt that they didn't need to worry about day-to-day activity because they were good at getting their pump on? Nope. Tim and his buddies had subjects wear pedometers daily to ensure that the exercise didn't have an effect on non-exercise activity and steps across the board were in fact the same.

    So what can we conclude?

    It's got to be an intake thing again. Whether the increased exercise led to an actual increase in hunger or whether it simply made folks falsely confident of what they were allowed to eat (the calories they earned through exercise) isn't clear, but what is clear - more exercise led to disproportionate increases in intake.

    Maybe you didn't earn that extra Latte.

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Don't Blame the Escalator

    Today kicks off a week from NAASO (The Obesity Society) as I'm writing from New Orleans where they're having their annual scientific assembly. Every year I come to this conference I'm amazed at the incredible amounts of brains and passion that are being poured into obesity research worldwide. The conference is enormous and boasts over 2,000 attendees from the four corners of the world.

    This week I'm going to try to highlight some of what I feel are among the conferences most interesting presentations and studies.

    The first takes us to Nigeria - rural Nigeria in fact, where Lara Dugas and her colleagues went to study the effects of the energy expended in daily activity on weight gain. They followed 153 rural Nigerian women (over 20% of them subsistence farmers) and measured their total daily energy expenditures (the total calories they burned all day long), their resting daily energy expenditures (the calories they burn at rest) and then inferred the calories they burned through daily activity.

    They then compared the data from rural Nigeria with the same data taken from a group of women from urban Chicago (where over 50% of them were unemployed).

    They then followed these women for 3 years.

    Some of the results were not surprising.

    The Nigerians were much lighter - average weight was 128lbs and BMI of 23.1 vs. those from urban Chicago where average weight was 184lbs and BMI of 31.

    Here's the surprising result.

    Calories burned through daily activity did not differ between the skinny rural Nigerian subsistence farmers and the obese unemployed urban Chicagoans.

    Come again? The subsistence farmers and the unemployed urbanites burned the same number of daily Calories in activity? Haven't we been blaming obesity at least partially on the poison fruits of development? Aren't dish washers, escalators, cars, and elevators stealing our Calories away from us? Shouldn't the skinny Nigerian farmers be burning far more Calories? Isn't that part of why they're so skinny?

    I sure would have thought so - and from the reactions in the room, so did most other folks.

    Second non-surprising result?

    No measure of energy expenditure, not resting, total or that from activity, was associated with weight change in either group over the 3 years and in fact, the rate of change in body weight over the 3 years was virtually identical in Nigeria and Chicago.

    Why isn't that surprising? What that result says is that the Calories you burn don't dictate your weight and that instead what dictates your weight are the Calories you consume. The only surprise here is the fact that rate of weight gain is the same in rural Nigeria vs. urban Chicago where one might have thought greater access to high Calorie foods would have led to a dramatically more rapid gain in Chicago (though I should note, the Chicagoans had higher total energy expenditures as a consequence of their higher weights and consequently for them to gain weight at the same rate as the Nigerians does in fact necessitate eating more, just not tons more).

    So if you take these results as valid (and it really was a very well designed study), they basically conclude that the environment as it pertains to activity, doesn't matter, that you can't blame the escalators, and shocker of all shockers (there's the sarcasm), energy intake matters far more than energy output in the establishment of obesity.

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Colbert 2008

    In case you missed the announcement, Stephen Colbert is running in the South Carolina presidential primary.

    Today for Funny Friday is his announcement (for those new subscribers, Funny Fridays are my day off frustration).

    Have a great weekend!

    (Email subscribers may need to visit the blog to see the clip)


    Yesterday saw the most expensive, "Duh!" moment I've seen in a long time.

    Yesterday the UK Government's think tank Foresight published a study that involved over 250 experts that concluded,

    "The technological revolution of the 20th century has led to weight gain becoming inevitable for most people, because our bodies and biological make-up are out of step with our surroundings"
    Gee, ya think?

    You mean people aren't trying to become overweight? It's not just one gigantic social experiment gone awry whereby the entire world, every person in every single country on the planet, has colluded to flummox scientists by willfully trying to gain weight for the past 50 years?

    Wanna read the bullet points that summarized the whole of their 2 year long, 250 expert advised, so damn big it crashed my browser trying to download it, work?

  • Most adults in the UK are already overweight. Modern living ensures every generation is heavier than the last – `Passive Obesity’.
  • By 2050 60% of men and 40% of women could be clinically obese. Without action, obesity-related diseases will cost an extra £45.5 billion per year.
  • The obesity epidemic cannot be prevented by individual action alone and demands a societal approach.
  • Tackling obesity requires far greater change than anything tried so far, and at multiple levels: personal, family, community and national.
  • Preventing obesity is a societal challenge, similar to climate change. It requires partnership between government, science, business and civil society.
  • Brilliant! Earth shattering! Ground breaking!

    Anyone want to venture a guess how much this report must have cost?

    If there are other governments out there thinking about putting together experts and spending gajillions of dollars researching this - I'll do it for half price and it'll be on your desk in the morning.

    Wednesday, October 17, 2007

    Calorie Awareness has been Terminated

    Boy, I sure wouldn't want to face Big Food in a fight.

    So far they've trounced the Province of Ontario (Bill C-283 to put Calories on menus voted down in the house), the State of New York (a judge ruled a State law requiring Calorie information on menus broke Federal laws) and now they reveal that they control the Terminator as yesterday Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed bill SB120 - a bill that would have required posting of Calories on menus in chain restaurants across the State of California.

    The quote from Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy sums it up pretty well,

    "By vetoing Senate Bill 120, the governor not only denies Californians of the basic information they need to make healthy decisions when dining out but he completely contradicts his commitment to the health of Californians"
    Think it's not important, think having Calories on menus is an overblown issue? Please let me know who you are so I can sell you some stuff without telling you the price - my daughters' college funds need some topping up.

    And now I must placate our new ruling overlords.

    Big Food, I'm sorry I give you such a hard time on this blog. I love Calories. Everyone should eat tons of them and no one deserves to know how many they're having. Restaurants are part of the solution, not the problem. Your voluntary online programs are more than sufficient and anyone too lazy to remember to visit your websites before they go out, anyone too disorganized to decide where they're eating at the start of every day, doesn't deserve your incredible online caloric help. Oh, and of course it makes complete and total sense that putting the exact same information that's found on your voluntary online websites into your menus and on your menuboards would be impossible because of supply chain variability - the fact that the calories and information on your website doesn't change does not for one moment take any steam out of that argument.

    Please don't terminate me....I have two beautiful little girls....I love you!

    Tuesday, October 16, 2007

    A Terrible Way to Start your Day

    Meet Hardee's new Country Breakfast Burrito.

    Here's Brad Haley, one of the marketing geniuses over at Hardee's (not being mean here, actually think they've done a phenomenal job marketing unhealthy, ridiculously high calorie foods) discussing their new breakfast offering,

    "It's an entire country breakfast in the palm of your hand. It represents the first time that hungry breakfast customers can get eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns and sausage gravy in a portable form that can easily be eaten on the go. True breakfast fans are really going to enjoy the Country Breakfast Burrito once they get their hands on it."

    Wanna know what else your $2.69 buys you?

    920 Calories, 60grams of fat and 1,970mg of sodium.

    Today I'm adding a new feature to my Frankenfood segments - cost per Calorie.

    0.29 cents a Calorie - so a penny buys you 3.45 calories.

    And people still hem and haw about how obesity is super complex and we can't figure out how we got to this point?

    How's this for a theory? How about because Calories are insanely cheap and every single one of us is genetically hardwired, after hundreds of millions of years of evolution, to really like them?

    So remember, Country Breakfast Burrito - enough Calories to feed a country.

    [Hat Tip: Angela over from CTV's Healthblog, a place where sometimes my posts visit]

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    Set your Treadmill Free

    For those of us living in the Northern parts of the world, life is starting to get colder and for many of us, that means that the inspiration to exercise is starting to become more difficult as getting yourself out the door for a walk or run in the cold is definitely more challenging.

    You see the thing is that people when it comes right down to it, are consumers of time. If we're lucky we might each find, interspersed throughout our days, a few precious blocks of time where we're not working, where we're not at our children's beck and call, where we're not eating, not on the telephone and not sleeping.

    Those of us trying to include exercise in our lives then hope that somehow, during those fleeting free moments we can inspire our selves to use them to do intentional exercise.

    Recognizing that these free moments vary in time and duration many of us have decided you know what, we might not have the time (or desire) to pack it up during those moments and head out to a gym, so instead we went and brought the gym home by going out and buying treadmills and exercise equipment.

    And what did we do with our great intentions and our new equipment? We banished them to our basements - out of sight, in a part of our homes that often is less welcoming, beside the kitty litter and the boxes, atop the cold unfinished concrete floor.

    We might have used them for a few weeks after that. You see the money spent on them was fresh in our minds and consequently it raised the value of time spent with the equipment - by using it we didn't feel like we had wasted our money. But as our memory of money spent dwindles, too often so too does our use of the equipment.

    If you want to actually use your home exercise equipment, you need to find new ways to increase the value of the time you spend with it and one of the easiest ways is to put it back in your line of sight. Seeing it may remind you you've got it and potentially even of the money and good intentions that brought it into your home. Put it somewhere where you can see it, and ideally somewhere you think might be enjoyable to use it - staring out a window, at a television, whatever.

    If you choose to put it in front of a television, consider "conscripting" your favourite shows whereby you create a rule that only allows you to watch them while on the treadmill (never mind the speed, just get on it). Alternatively you could set up a reward system whereby if you log enough time, you get a specific reward.

    Bottom line, unless you create an environment that includes some measure of enjoyment in your exercise, an environment that increases rather than decreases the value of the time you spend doing it, well guess what, you're probably not going to be doing much of it for long.

    Set your treadmills free!

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    Tortured Words by John Oliver

    If you want to see why the Daily Show's still worth watching, watch today's Funny Friday clip all the way through.

    Would love to see a similar clip with the words, "Healthy", "Whole wheat", "fat-free" and "low-carb".

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    Don't Buy Girl Guides of Canada Cookies

    A patient of mine just brought in a box of Girl Guide of Canada cookies that her daughter is selling.

    I'm frankly gob-smacked that according to the nutrition facts label there are still 1.5grams of trans-fats in 3 of these teeny weeny cookies.

    Girl Guides of Canada are quite aware of this. In fact in their cookie FAQ on their website they state,

    "Girl Guides of Canada is aware of health issues surrounding particular processed foods, including cookies, and is committed to maintaining the quality of Girl Guide cookies while keeping these concerns in mind.

    Currently, saturated fats are the only viable alternative to trans fats in biscuit-type foods and any reformulation in the trans fat levels of Girl Guide cookies will result in a different taste and texture. GGC is currently investigating reformulation options. All options will be examined to ensure that Girl Guide cookies maintain the taste, texture and freshness consumers expect and enjoy, as well as a nutrition profile that adheres to new regulations
    Did they really just try to sell me on a rationale that states there's simply no way to remove trans-fat from cookies without ruining their taste and texture?

    I guess there are no cookies at all in Denmark (where the country is wholly trans-fat free), or at least no cookies that taste good or have good texture.

    Makes me wonder too how Voortman's managed to remove trans fat from every single cookie product they make.

    Now I'm not knocking cookies. Cookies are one of life's pleasures. I'm not knocking Girl Guides, they do great work. What I'm knocking is Girl Guides clearly irresponsible laziness in not insisting that trans-fats be immediately removed from their cookies.

    If this ticks you off at all, feel free to write Girl Guides of Canada, but since we know from their FAQ that they already know about your concerns, I'd suggest that until they're addressed, you simply stop buying Girl Guide Cookies.

    Contact information for Girl Guides of Canada:

    To send Girl Guides of Canada an email, click here

    or you can mail or call them at:

    Girl Guides of Canada National Office
    50 Merton Street
    Toronto, ON M4S 1A3
    Phone: 416-487-5281
    Fax: 416-487-5570


    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Big Beverage Fizzes their Pants

    Big beverage is going to be all over this one.

    This week the British Medical Journal published what the press is referring to as disappointing results for a school-based childhood obesity intervention.

    The intervention, commonly referred to as the, "Ditch the Fizz" campaign involved giving 7-11 years olds 4 one hour sessions encouraging them not to drink carbonated beverages.

    In the original study, the intervention reduced carbonated beverage consumption in the intervention group by 0.6 glasses per day and that group after one year showed only a 0.1% increase in obesity while a control group showed a 7.5% increase.

    Well guess what, three years later and all the differences are gone between the groups.

    Now for these results to be disappointing, I would argue they'd have to be surprising.

    So are they surprising?

    Good lord no.

    So basically there was a public health intervention encouraging kids not to drink soda pop. That's it. No talk of calorie awareness, restaurant calorie contribution, juice equivalency to soda in terms of calories, no teaching of hunger prevention skills and somehow there was an expectation that asking kids who are 7 to drink less soda pop would translate into a sustained long-term weight reducing outcome?

    Even if you want to accept the researchers null hypothesis that a decrease in soda consumption is in and of itself sufficient to change childhood obesity rates longterm, I have to wonder, do the researchers have kids? Do they know the attention and retention span of 7-11 year olds? 3 years later and they're expecting their 4 hour intervention to ask kids to drink less soda, soda that the kids might well describe as "awesome", soda that's promoted to the kids in commercials starring some of their most beloved sports and entertainment icons, to have had a lasting impact on those children's soda consumptions?

    You've got to be kidding.

    Good thing for the researchers I wasn't reviewing their grant application.

    You can bet Big Beverage is going to run with this one.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    The Birth of Body Image

    Body image genesis is incredibly complicated.

    It has roots in comments from our friends and family, strangers, the media and ourselves.

    Dove, the soap company has recently been putting out a series of ads that certainly help to illustrate some of the potential media influence on our body images.

    They are beautifully designed ads that have been winning awards and have been showing up on blogs everywhere.

    I first saw this advertisement on Parke Wilde's great US Food Policy blog. While it's messaging is clear, as I noted in a comment on Parke's blog, it's also the height of hypocrisy.

    Dove's campaign is clearly meant to demonize the messaging that the beauty industry thrusts upon us at every turn. The ads messaging is clear,

    "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does"


    "No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted"
    An odd thing for a company whose parent company Unilever owns Slimfast, Axe body spray and other products clearly contributing to this phenomenon.

    But the ads sure are jawdroppers.

    What are your thoughts?

    (For email subscribers, to see the ads, you'll have to actually visit the blog.)

    Monday, October 08, 2007

    Shovel it in


    I thought we needed something fairly lighthearted for Canadian Thanksgiving.

    I saw these on a baby blog I visit from time to time and thought they were fantastic.

    Not sure how many eaten meals you'd get out of your toddlers before the novelty ran out, but those first few meals - they'd get eaten all up!

    I especially like the food-dozer food pusher.

    To get your set, click here.

    [via Babygadget]

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Welcome to the Heart Attack Grill

    So next time you're in Phoenix Arizona, maybe it's worth a visit to the Heart Attack Grill (warning, automatically playing music on this jump).

    No health food here. In fact on their doors as you walk in is a sign that says,

    "Warning, our food may be hazardous to your health!"
    Single, double, triple and quadruple bypass burgers, served by "nurses". The restaurant's trademark slogan?
    "Taste worth dying for"
    No make believe health claims here, their "Flatliner fries" are proudly promoted as being fried in 100% pure lard and of course they also sell beer and cigarettes. At the end of your meal you can ask your "nurse" to wheel you out to your car in a wheelchair.

    Today for Funny Fridays is the 20/20 piece on the Heart Attack Grill. Apparently the local Arizona Board of Nursing had the Arizona attorney general send a scary letter to the grill owner objecting to the use of the term "nurse" as it is a name protected by law for folks who held a valid nursing license.

    Boy was that a bad plan. The restaurant's now been featured umpteen times on the news and the owner has reported receiving 80 emails an hour asking him if he'd franchise.

    In my mind, the restaurant's certainly irreverent, but really, this is a restaurant where the owner dresses up in a lab coat, calls himself a doctor and describes 3 beers and 3 packs of cigarettes as, "the ultimate dessert", is anyone really going to mistake the folks in the Halloween nursing costumes for real nurses?

    Life's too short not to have a sense of humour.

    Have a great weekend!

    [Hat tip to our office's newest physician, Dr. Erik Howarth]

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Stupidest Potato Chips Ever!

    It's funny, no less than a week ago I was joking that I should make a potato chip product, call them something like, "Super Health Chips" and splash ridiculous statements all over the bag like, "No added sugar", "HFCS Free", "Zero Trans Fats", "Studies prove eating vegetables decreases cancer risk", "Low Cholesterol", etc. and that they would probably sell like crazy.

    Looks like the Golden Flake Potato Chip Company is going to beat me to the punch with their new, "NRG Phoenix Fury chips" which believe it or not are being promoted as chips that will "revitalize" you with their added caffeine, taurine and B-vitamins.

    So how much will a bag of NRG revitalize you?

    One bag will replenish 560 Calories (about a Big Mac worth), 12 grams of saturated fat, and 1,480mg of sodium.

    I feel refreshed and revitalized just thinking about them.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Don't Eat at Wendy's Part III

    I suppose this is becoming a series all by itself.

    In an article published recently by the American Journal of Public Health, one of my favourite nutritional researchers and authors, Marion Nestle, examined the responses of Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's to the past 8 years worth of increasing calls to action on obesity in the form of their portion sizes of soda, French fries and hamburgers from 1998 through 2006.

    The expectation might be that given the public and medical uproar with regards to growing rates of obesity, and the clear involvement of fast food and fast food portions as factors in that rise, that perhaps we might have expected to see decreases in fast food portions.

    To summarize her findings, McDonald's in fact has reduced some of their portion sizes, though they're still in the neighbourhood of 500% larger than those they had when they opened in 1955.

    Wendy's on the other hand, ah Wendy's.....let's start with fountain sodas.

    In 1998 Wendy's Smalls were 16oz, Mediums 22oz and Biggie's were 32 oz.

    In 2006 Wendy's Smalls were 20oz, Mediums 32oz and Large (Biggie's gone) was 42oz.

    Next we'll move onto French fries.

    In 1998 Wendy's Smalls were 3.2oz, Mediums were 4.6oz, Biggies were 5.6 oz and Great Biggies were 6.7oz.

    In 2006 Wendy's Smalls were 5oz, Mediums were 5.6oz and Large were 6.7oz.

    Burgers, probably because the base costs are higher for beef than for soda or fries, haven't changed.

    Do you remember an advertising campaign that mentioned that their sizes had increased across the board for fries and drinks?

    I sure don't.

    Yet another reason to add to the growing list of reasons not to give Wendy's your fast food dollars.

    For those not familiar with the list, to summarize:

    Wendy's seemingly lies to you, apparently thinks you're stupid and continues to increase portion sizes without telling you using descriptive adjectives that might have you believe that in fact you're eating less ("I'm not having their old Biggie, just a Large").

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Why I Love my Job

    You know, I've got a fantastic job.

    Many doctors go into medicine to help people - and they do. They help them manage their illness with the skillful addition and manipulation of medications. They help them navigate their way through the maze we call our health care system. They offer shoulders to cry on and words of support.

    That in and of itself can be tremendously rewarding, but working with weight, I get more.

    I get to help people come off of medications, help them change their habits, teach them to lead the lives they want their children to live, give them hope and watch them as they cultivate courage, pride and confidence.

    Days like this past Sunday really hammer that home.

    This past Sunday was the CIBC Run for the Cure - a 5km run/walk to raise money for breast cancer research.

    Some of my readers here were kind enough to donate - thank you.

    This past Sunday I watched as our 91 team members helped to raise over $30,000 for breast cancer research. I watched some folks run their first 5km race ever. I watched others who up until a few months ago had difficulty walking one block, walk one kilometre. I watched folks who had been having a tough time finding things in themselves to be proud of - beaming with pride. I watched happy family, huge grins and high fives.

    It's why I think I've got one of the greatest jobs in the world, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

    Thank you to my patients who trust me with their care - you enrich my life and inspire me more than you'll ever know.

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Weight Loss is Personal

    Even if you're blogging about it.

    So currently I'm working with one of the local newspapers as one of their panel of experts for a lengthy series on nutrition.

    The launch was last weekend and included in the launch was an article written by a very young man who's just barely overweight. The article was about his month long experiment of following Canada's Food Guide and he's also keeping a blog about his experiences aiming at reaching a numerical goal weight (the weight needed to give him a body mass index of 25).

    Now readers of my blog will certainly know that I'm not a fan of using BMI or "pound" goals because frankly they overlook the bigger picture - reality. Fact is, the best goal is whatever weight you reach when you're living the healthiest life you can enjoy. But put that aside for now. The important question to ask regardless is, "So is he enjoying his life?"

    Not according to his newspaper articles and blog entries he isn't.

    According to them he's been saving up his calories for supper and in so doing often finding himself starving and battling hunger demons (like the ones that live in Pizza shops). He reports being "desperate" for steak because his Food Guide approach doesn't allow him to eat large ones. He reports being tired and finding it difficult to find 60 minutes a day of exercise. He reports that he fell off his new wagon within one month of embarking on it. He notes that on at least one occasion when he ate more than he planned in the daytime he compensated and went to bed following a dinner consisting solely of a plate of green beans with two slices of toast. He reports that the "red numbers" on the scale motivate him and help him with what he feels his efforts require - "focus, attention and willpower".

    In short, he's on a diet.

    Given my chosen career and my experience with quite literally thousands of folks trying to lose weight, reading his article and his blog, I decided that there's no way that he's adopted a long term approach here. He's dieting and both anectdotally and in the medical literature, diets fail in the long term over 95% of the time.

    So what type of diet behaviours does he admit to? By using the scale as a source of support, he's chosen the proverbial dark side of weight loss, letting the seduction of the numbers inspire him to greater acts of willpower - a problem when the scale stops whispering sweet nothings into his ear. By saving calories until the end of the day and cultivating blindly restrictive food limits, he's cultivating hunger which will lead him to battle hunger - a battle that if fought frequently, eventually just gets too irritating and bitter to fight. By trying to cram 60 minutes of exercise a day into likely a very busy and youthfully all over the place lifestyle, he's liable to get frustrated with the exercise and simply let the whole thing go. He appears to be trying to live the healthiest life he can tolerate - and for me, that's the definition of a diet.

    So here's where it gets interesting.

    I decided to write to him and in the email I told him that it seemed painfully obvious that he didn't particularly relish his new healthiest-he-could-tolerate lifestyle and that in the long run, if he didn't enjoy his life, he wouldn't continue living that way.

    I also offered him our help with no strings attached. I recommended that he see our dietitian and told him that should he come and see her, he need not feel that he would have to mention the visit or our help in his blog or in his articles.

    I logged onto his blog the other day and read what sounded to me like a fairly irritated entry from him stating that I had written to him, told him that he was going to fail and that I tried to convince him to join my office's weight loss program.

    Now the later part's simply not true, I had offered him a free visit with out dietitian with no strings attached, but I'll chalk that one up to misinterpreted email, but the former part I suppose is true, and frankly, I'm sorry that I emailed him and more sorry that I clearly have upset him.

    You'd think of all people, I'd know that weight loss is personal. It's my exclusive area of practice and thinking about weight and weight management probably takes up at least 2/3rd of my total waking hours.

    I should have known better than to offer my opinions or even offer to help because the mistake that I made, was assuming he wanted my opinions or my help.

    Weight loss is a personal journey. No one should feel comfortable muscling in on someone else's weight loss effort.

    My mistake was an honest one. For heaven's sake, having a blog and writing articles about weight management pretty much opens the door to having folks comment on your efforts, but frankly I still should have known better.

    Best of luck to him, and should he decide that in fact my opinion and help would be useful to him, he's still welcome to give me a call.

    For all of the friends and spouses of folks trying to lose weight out there, here's the only question you should ever ask your weight-conscious friends, "Is there any way that you feel I can help you". If the answer's "No", then just leave it at that, if they want your opinion or help, they'll ask.