Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The World's Best Holiday Weight Advice

3 words.

Don't. Get. Hungry.

Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Muharram or any religious holiday) isn't preventable.

Hunger is.

Life includes Christmas.

Worst thing you could do to help control portions/foods/calories on Christmas? Save them up for the day because you know you have a big night. If you do that you'll hit your festive meal hungry and way over do it.

Best thing you could do? The day of - eat every 2-3 hours, include protein with every meal and snack, have at least 350 calories per meal and 150 calories per snack and then indulge because it's Christmas and not because you're hungry on Christmas.

Merry everything and Happy New Year!
Yoni

(On Blog-cation until January 5th!)

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Disney Creates World's Vilest Burger?


Maybe.

Served with pride in Disneyland Paris' Buzz Lightyear Pizza Planet is a burger with pizza for a bun.

Only €6.45.

Thanks Disney for providing yet another healthy option for the children.

[Hat tip to loyal blog reader Stefan, via A Hamburger Today and Flickr's Ms Noir for the photo]

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Shocker! Restaurant Food has More Calories!


Sure, common sense already told you so, but now here's proof.

In last weeks issue of Review of Agricultural Economics James Binkley looked at, "Calorie and Gram Differences between Meals at Fast Food and Table Service Restaurants".

His non-shocking conclusions?

  • Calories and portions in restaurant meals are larger than at home ones and restaurants are as bad if not worse calorically than fast food.
  • Breakfasts at table service restaurants typically had 261 more calories than home cooked and fast food 206 more.
  • Lunches at table services restaurants typically had 183 more calories than home cooked and fast food 227 more.
  • Dinners at table service restaurants typically had 219 more calories than home cooked and fast food 120 more.

    Couple those conclusions with the facts that food dollars spent outside the home have increased from 33% in the early 70s to 54% today and that obesity rates have risen dramatically since the early 70s (doubling in adults and trebling in children) and you've got one clear cut puzzle piece.

    My simple eating out rules?

    Keep celebratory meals out. Keep some social meals out (but look for other socializing options). Keep necessary business meals out. Lose all the convenience ones, the because it's easier than cooking ones.

    Quite simply eat out the smallest amount you need to be happy.

    [Via Parke Wilde's US Food Policy blog - because what other blogger are you aware of that reads Review of Agricultural Economics?]

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  • Friday, December 19, 2008

    Toilet Humour - Literally

    I really am a simple man.

    Enjoy Funny Friday and have a great weekend!



    [Hat tip to Rob, BMI's fitness director]

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    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    Surprise! Booze has Calories!

    Surprisingly to me, many patients are shocked when I tell them how many pounds worth of calories they're drinking in booze.

    Perhaps one of the reasons they're shocked is that they truly have no idea and the reason they have no idea is because for reasons that I cannot explain, alcohol is exempt from carrying a Nutrition Facts Panel.

    Well now, thanks to a lovely website from the BBC entitled "Alcohol Experiment" you can plug in your nights' drinks and see how many calories you drank.

    Be forewarned - if you like drinking, you won't like the answer.

    (And for any across the pond readers, can you please leave a comment as to just what the heck is a "jaffa cake" or an "onion bhajji"?)

    [Via the Consumerist]

    UPDATE:
    Thanks to friend and colleague Sara and blog reader Cathy who have informed me that jaffa cakes are, "cake-like (i.e.spongy) cookies with a thin layer of an orange jelly and then a layer of chocolate" and that onion bhajjis are, "onions coated in a spicy batter and deep fried". Apparently both are delicious.

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    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Burger King - the Cologne?!


    Who doesn't love the smell of flame-broiled meat?

    They really are great marketers those Burger King folks.

    $3.99 - It's called Flame.

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    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    My Wife Channels Jamie Oliver


    A ways back I blogged about Jamie Oliver's latest show, Ministry of Food, in which he tries to teach a British town of 250,000 how to cook by teaching his recipes to a few folks, asking them to teach them to a few folks and so on, and so on.

    My wife, inspired by Jamie's social experiment, decided to host one of her own whereby she's organized a group of her friends to share their families' favourite recipes.

    Here's the email she sent out to her friends,

    "So Yoni and I just finished watching Ministry of Food with Jamie Oliver.

    Basically the show tries to teach people in a small town to cook by “passing it on”, whereby each person who learns a recipe passes it on to two more people and so on. Between that and seeing all these advertisements for places like Super Works in Orleans, I had an idea: What if we create our own “pass it on”? We could choose one night a month where we get together at someone’s home (on a rotation) and the hostess chooses the meal that we are going to be making together. This would give us an opportunity to:

    a) hang out (more),
    b) learn a new recipe that comes with high recommendations,
    c) have a nutritious meal ready to serve to our families the next day

    We would each be responsible for providing a list of ingredients needed for the recipe ahead of time and would bring it along, or the hostess could pick it all up and then divide the cost of the groceries amongst participants.

    Let me know if you’re interested! (Can you tell I’m getting bored with our usual repertoire of meals?)
    ."
    Well today I'm pleased to report that the idea was a big hit whereby she and 6 of her friends met at our house and made a chicken curry dish that has proven to be surprisingly child and picky-eater friendly (Recipe Below). They've also already set a date for their next culinary adventure.

    Maybe it's time for you and your friends to "Pass it On"?

    Slow-Cooker Chicken Curry
    • 1.5lbs chicken breast half without skin, cut in 1" cubes
    • 1.5lbs chicken thighs without skin, cut in 1" cubes
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 medium Onion, finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon turmeric
    • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
    • 2 teaspoons paprika
    • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
    • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets, stems discarded
    • 1 cup peas, frozen, thawed
    1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions to the pan and cook until softened.
    2. Add the garlic, chiles, coriander, turmeric, cumin, ginger, paprika, red pepper flakes, and mustard seeds and cook gently for 2 min, stirring constantly.
    3. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice and mix well.
    4. Puree half of the tomato-onion mixture in a blender or food processor or in the pan with a handheld immersion blender.
    5. Coat the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.
    6. In layers add to the slow cooker one-third of the Chicken (dark meat first) and one quarter of the sauce, and sprinkle with one-third of the cauliflower. Repeat the layers two more times and finish with the remainder of the sauce.
    7. Cover and cook on High for 1 hour.
    8. Turn the cooker to Low and cook for 4-4.5 hours.
    9. During the last 30 minutes, toss in the peas, season with salt, cover and cook until tender.
    10. Serve over whole-grain couscous.
    Serves 10.

    Per Serving (excluding couscous): 198 Calories; 7g Fat; 23g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 194mg Sodium.

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    Monday, December 15, 2008

    Thank you!

    Thanks to everyone who voted, Weighty Matters was voted Best Health Blog in the 2008 Canadian Blog Awards.

    Close second place to my friend and colleague Dr. Arya Sharma for his Obesity Notes blog. I'm predicting a first place finish for him next year.

    Thanks again,
    Yoni

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    An Amazing $15.99 Nutritional Stocking Stuffer!


    It's called Mastercook and it's a recipe manager program.

    Like many such programs it'll compile and store all of your family's recipes, it has a shopping list generator and thousands of built in recipes. However there are two things that really set this one apart for me.

    Firstly it's got this great feature that allows you to cut and paste a recipe from virtually any recipe website directly into your cookbooks.

    Secondly it's got a nutritional database built in and with the click of a button you can immediately get a nutritional breakdown of your recipe (calories, vitamins, carbs, protein, sugar, fibre, etc.) and best of all, it's scalable (meaning enter all of your ingredients and then enter how many servings you served and it'll scale the nutritional information down for you).

    I love the program and for $15.99 CAD from Amazon.ca it's tough to go wrong (for some reason Amazon.com charges more - $18.99 USD).

    If you're interested, links to both Amazon.ca and Amazon.com are below.





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    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Holiday Eating - Canine Edition

    As I've blogged about before, unlike in people the cause, and more importantly the treatment of canine obesity is not too difficult to ascertain.

    To illustrate the point is today's Funny Friday!

    Have a great weekend!



    [Hat tip to my friend and sensei - Claudio, from asksensei.com]

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    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Why Your Child's Food isn't "Bone Stiffening"


    I love this story.

    So in 2006 the European Food Safety Authority tightened up the requirements for health claims on packaging. They (gasp) required a more rigorous proof be made by corporate applicants that the front-of-package claim was actually scientifically defensible.

    So what's happening?

    Apparently Big Food is up in arms because sales are suffering as claims like the one put forth by the Beneo-Orafti corporation that was slotted to appear on kids' foods suggesting that the food was "bone stiffening" are not making the cut.

    For icing on this blog post, check out this quote from Shane Starling, editor of Big Food newsletter (and source for many of my blog posts) Nutraingredients,

    "If one of the aims of the health claims process is to build consumer confidence in healthy food messaging, a mass rejection of those claims by an apparently rational and independent body can only do the opposite."
    Yup Shane, it's those crazy rational independent bodies demanding an evidence-based approach to health claims that are going to crush consumer confidence, not asinine and scientifically unsubstantiable claims like, "bone stiffening".

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    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Why Oprah Regained her Weight


    Simple.

    All the money in the world (and I believe Oprah literally has all the money in the world) won't change the fact that at the end of the day the way you live is a choice and not a purchase.

    In Oprah's case, she admits to stopping her exercise sessions, her meditations and going back to eating higher calorie foods.

    Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not knocking Oprah. Frankly I can't imagine what her life must actually be like. The hours she works, her stress levels, her responsibilities - not to mention the incredible amount of meals out that her job likely requires of her.

    Oprah had succeeded in losing weight before because she succeeded in changing her lifestyle. That said, unless you enjoy the way you're living while you're losing, ultimately you're going to gain it back.

    Life's complicated and lifestyle for weight management is a treatment, not a cure. Stop treatment - regain weight. So really, you'd better pick a treatment you actually enjoy.

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    Tuesday, December 09, 2008

    Cultural Arrogance or Brilliant Marketing?

    It's been out for one day and already there is a lot of uproar over Burger King's new "Whopper Virgin" campaign.

    The premise is simple. Take Whoppers to people who've never had them (farmers in Transylvania, the Inuit in Greenland, the Hmong tribe of Southeast Asia) and see how they like them.

    The uproar generally has to do with how dare Burger King take these weapons of mass consumption and unleash them on unsuspecting locals, or how culturally arrogant Burger King is for making a commercial with an overarching theme that the poor indigenous folks don't know what they're missing or even questioning Burger King's journalistic integrity by pointing out that it's not really a documentary.

    Me?

    Frankly I've never cared about Big Food's existence or their marketing (so long as it doesn't exploit children) as we live in a free-market society, and really I'm not worried that the Hmong tribe is suddenly going to start planting Burger King franchises, or that they were culturally offended by the cinematographers who after sharing Whoppers with them also shared their traditional meals, nor do I care that at the end of the day it's a commercial and not a documentary. I wasn't even offended by the clearly staged ceremonial dress which I imagine was meant to convey that we're dealing with modern day savages because my bet is that the locals were paid well to wear cloths that they themselves are likely culturally proud of and really it's our own issues of perception that are being exploited and at the end of the day isn't that what commercials are designed to do

    Me?

    Even with my flea-like attention span I managed to watch the whole thing - and enjoy it.

    And for the record, I prefer Big Macs.



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    Monday, December 08, 2008

    Learn to Count with Doughnuts?


    Came across these stupendous games while speaking at the Family Medicine Forum in Toronto last weekend.

    They're made by a company called Learning Resources from a line of games quobesigenically entitled, "Smart Snacks".

    The box reads,

    "Imaginative Play that Teaches"
    Do you think maybe, just maybe, letting your toddlers play with models of cookies and doughnuts might make them more likely to want to eat more cookies and doughnuts?

    Now I'm not one to forbid my kids or anyone else's kids treats - they're part of life, but do you really think that going out of your way to keep doughnuts and cookies in the foreground of your toddler's consciousness is the best plan?

    (If only they made these in ice-cream sandwich versions that St. Andrew Catholic School could use in local preschool feeder schools - might do wonders for their Grade 1 class' weekly ice-cream sandwich fundraising!)

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    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    Last Chance to Vote!


    A rare weekend post just to let you know that this weekend is your last chance to vote for the Best Canadian Health Blog!

    The other health blogs making it through to the finals are:

    Please have a peek at all the blogs and here's my brief pump of my friend and colleague Arya's Obesity Notes Blog and of the interesting and personal perspective of the blogger behind Salted Lithium who details his life with manic depression.

    When you're ready to vote just click here!

    To see all the other categories feel free to take a trip over here!

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    Friday, December 05, 2008

    World's Most Wanted Wiener

    [BEST HEALTH BLOG FINALIST: The final round of voting is on and today's the last weekday to vote! Please vote for your favourite Canadian health blog by clicking here.]

    Wieners are on on the menu for today's Funny Friday.

    Have a great weekend!

    video

    [Hat tip to Rob, BMI's fitness director]

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    Thursday, December 04, 2008

    My 4 Year Old Donates her Hair to Kids on Chemo


    [BEST HEALTH BLOG FINALIST: The final round of voting is on - please vote for your favourite Canadian health blog by clicking here.]

    My wife too (and yes, that is my daughter having a small lollipop - we're not nutritional ogres and there was a cookie jar full of them at the hair salon).

    You know I've known my wife for 8 wonderful years and during that time we've had 3 houses, 5 jobs, 2 beautiful children, and in my wife's case - 4 haircuts.

    Why only 4 haircuts?

    Because for as long as I've known her my wife has been growing her hair long enough to donate to "Locks of Love", a charity that uses donated hair to make wigs for children who for various reasons (including chemo) don't have any.

    This year my ridiculously kind-hearted, 4 year old daughter (clearly she takes after her mother), decided that she wanted to donate her hair too and sure enough yesterday both of them had 10 inches removed.

    If you've got hair to donate and you live in Ottawa this year's "Mitzvah Day" (translates from Hebrew to Good Deeds Day) which takes place this Sunday is including a Locks of Love station. If you've got 10 spare inches of hair, professional stylists are donating their time to cut the ponytails and style your hair for free.

    Despite its location at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre and its Hebrew name, Mitzvah Day is a non-denominational event with monetary proceeds this year going to Ottawa's Snowsuit Fund.

    It's a great event, a great cause and if you want to come there are many activities for all ages including making hygiene kits for parents of patients at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, birthday celebration kits for children in shelters, cheer kits for seniors and welcome kits for new immigrants.

    There will also be entertainment for the kids in the form of Dr. Kaboom!

    When: Sunday December 7th from 8am through 1pm (free breakfast)
    Where: Soloway Jewish Community Centre, 21 Nadolny Sachs Private, Ottawa

    If you're there feel free to come and say hi!

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    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Is This the Future of Childhood Obesity Treatment?


    [BEST HEALTH BLOG FINALIST: The final round of voting is on - please vote for your favourite Canadian health blog by clicking here.]

    Lord I hope not.

    Last week I attended a talk at the Family Medicine Forum in Toronto (the largest Canadian family medicine conference of the year). The talk was entitled,

    "Childhood obesity in 2008: A growing challenge for family physicians"
    and according to the conference program the learning objectives for this talk included,
    "1. to increase awareness of the importance of childhood obesity,
    2. to improve participants’ clinical skills towards children and adolescents,
    3. to introduce a multimodal, integrative treatment strategy including practical instruction on exercise, nutrition, family
    recruitment, medications, and more invasive options, and
    4. to work to improve advocacy and prevention strategies at the patient as well as community levels
    ."
    To help frame their talk the speakers used a hypothetical case of a 16 year old, obese, socially withdrawn, depressed female and then highlighted what they thought treatment should include.

    Want to know their proposed treatment plan?

  • One hour of exercise daily.
  • No TV.
  • No Internet.
  • No going out to eat.
  • No junk food.
  • Plate regular portions and then take away 10% weekly

    What was not included? Any strategy to reduce hunger (ie. eating every 2-3 hours, including protein with every meal and snack, having sufficient numbers of calories per meal and snack, improving the quality of her carbohydrates by switching to whole grain versions, fueling properly for her hour of exercise etc), any discussion regarding calories and tracking food with a food diary (despite the recent study showing those who keep them lose twice as much as those who don't), any discussion regarding her depression (important given that an active depression is a contraindication to initiating an effort of intentional weight loss).

    Basically they took this socially withdrawn, depressed obese teen and told her that all the things she actually enjoys doing in her life she can't do, that she's got to go from not enjoying exercise to plodding through an hour of it a day (without ascertaining whether or not she's got time), that she's simply going to have to learn to eat less calories than before without any adjustments to how she uses food to minimize hunger and that she's now no longer able to access the only social venue she's got where she doesn't have to be the obese girl (the anonymous internet). There was also no mention of family counselling to determine family habits and lifestyles, no mention of exploring her social history to look for things like physical or sexual abuse, no mention of teaching her how to read a nutrition facts panel, etc.

    This girl needs guidance, not guilt. There was no mention of treating her like a living, breathing, complicated human being and instead the message being given to her was the classic and useless - eat less and exercise more.

    Perhaps the only thing worse than the messages these physicians were providing was the room full of family doctors nodding their heads in agreement.

    If this is the future of childhood obesity treatment in Canada we're all in big trouble.

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  • Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    School Superintendent Defends Pushing Ice-Cream on 6 Year Olds for Fundraising!



    [BEST HEALTH BLOG FINALIST: The final round of voting is on - please vote for your favourite Canadian health blog by clicking here.]

    Readers of my blog may remember a few weeks ago when I posted about a local elementary school that offered 6 year olds weekly ice cream sandwich and pizza days.

    Duly horrified, I wrote the Director of Education of the Ottawa Catholic School Board about my concerns about both the message being sent to children regarding school approval of junk food and about the contribution of such programs and messages to the problem of childhood obesity. My letter was then forwarded to Ms. Diane Jackson, the Superintendent of the School involved.

    She wrote me back and while you can feel free to read her letter in its entirety here are some salient parts.

    First paragraph reads,

    "It is evident that you are the Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute. Based on the information I read on your website www.bmimedical.ca, my understanding is that your business serves the public, for a fee, in the treatment of obesity and its associated conditions"
    Now maybe I'm reading into this paragraph but the inclusion of the words, "for a fee" strike me as a tad odd. Is Ms. Jackson suggesting that 6 months of unlimited one-on-one access to dietitians and trainers along with the use of onsite fitness facilities should be offered for free? Does the fact that my single income from OHIP is unable to pay the salaries of my 9 non-physician co-workers and 4,000 square feet of rent somehow discredit me in her eyes? While it would certainly be nice to be able to offer my office's services for free, clearly that's not possible and I certainly would never feel it important to describe her job as, serving the public, for a fee, in her role as school superintendent.

    Ok, maybe I'm being sensitive and really how she views me isn't the point. Let's get to the issue at hand,
    "Your letter expresses concerns over childhood obesity. Apart from expressing your displeasure with one of our schools, I am not clear as to the purpose of your letter"
    Now I sure don't recall expressing displeasure at a school but rather at what I felt to be an obscene school program. Regarding my "purpose", I thought it was pretty clear but let me spell it out as bluntly as possible.
    Using 6 year olds (or any students for that matter) and their love of ice-cream to raise money for your school is not only nutritionally and medically unsound, I would argue that it's also morally questionable given the global awareness of the risks of our growing epidemic of childhood obesity and consequently I am suggesting it is a practice that should end.
    But who am I? Maybe I'm simply a for-a-fee, crazy, capitalistic nutritional zealot - right?

    Probably not given that every official Canadian Food and Nutrition Policy statement expressly forbids the practice of fundraising with unhealthy food including those of the Provinces of Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick, as well as those produced by the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association and the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health.

    As for why I chose to write my original letter...aside from my obvious and well-founded concern that serving ice-cream to children to fundraise for the school is just plain wrong, I think my friend Bill Jeffery from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest sums up what inspired me to write when he proclaimed in his school nutrition paper, School Nutrition Policies Across Canada: Are Schools Making the Grade?,
    "All Canadians have a stake in the health of the next generation of children. Let’s keep out the junk food, subsidize healthy food offerings like vegetables and fruits and monitor the schools’ success in doing both. Improving (and enforcing) decent nutrition standards for school foods and better subsidizing nutritious school fare would help children improve their diets and establish healthier dietary practices that persist into adulthood."
    In that spirit, I'd like to call upon you, my blog readers, to take two minutes of your time to let Diane Jackson know what you think about the practice of a school that fundraises using weekly ice-cream and pizza days to 6 year olds by clicking here to send her an email . Included in your email will be Mr. Jamie McCracken the Director of Education for Ottawa Catholic Schools, Mr. Brian Kelly the Principal of St. Andrew Catholic School and Ms. Joanne MacEwan the Chairperson of the Catholic School Parents Association (CSPA).

    To avoid confusion, please don't forget to very clearly explain to Diane the purpose of expressing to her your concerns.

    Advocate!

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    Monday, December 01, 2008

    Final Round of Voting Has Begun!


    Thanks to everyone who voted, Weighty Matters has made it through to the final round of voting for the Best Canadian Health Blog!

    The other health blogs making it through to the finals are:

    It's an honour to have made it this far and knowing first hand how much time and energy it takes to keep a daily blog I truly hope you take the time to poke around the other 4 nominee's sites.

    When you're ready to vote just click here!

    To see all the other categories feel free to take a trip over here!

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    Starbuck's Latest Frankenfood!

    Hat tip right off the top to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest's Nutrition Action magazine who highlight Starbuck's new Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate in their Food Porn section.

    So what makes this a Frankenfood?

    How about (for a large with whole milk and whipped cream) 20% more calories and double the saturated fat of a Big Mac and for good measure 20% of the recommended maximal sodium intake of the National Sodium Policy Statement?

    MMmmmmm?

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    Friday, November 28, 2008

    Intimidate your Abdomen! Devastate your Thighs!

    Today's Funny Friday is a commercial for The Iron Gym.

    Just $29.95.

    If you want to see the official commerical head over to the product's website.

    Have a great weekend!



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    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    What do Danish Girl Guides Sell?

    Denmark being trans-fat free and all.

    Somehow that entire country has found the means to make their cookies and danishes (are they called danishes in Denmark too?) trans-fat free.

    Yet despite an entire country figuring out how to make trans-fat free foods taste good, Dare Cookies, the manufacturers of Canadian Girl Guide cookies still haven't been able to figure it out.

    This week Girl Guides of Canada issued a press release touting the fact that after years of being aware that their cookies contained truly unacceptable amounts of trans-fat (ok, it didn't really say that part, I did) that they've figured out how to reduce the amount.

    Of course if you eat two cookies you'll still be consuming 0.1grams of trans fat.

    Doesn't sound like much does it?

    According to the very nice lady I spoke with at the Girl Guide Cookies hotline (such a thing does indeed exist), there are twenty cookies per box and therefore 1 gram of trans fat per box.

    According to the press kit that was sent to me, 5 million boxes of Girl Guide cookies are sold annually in Canada.

    Therefore Girl Guide cookies annually contribute 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) of trans-fat to the Canadian diet.

    Um....thank you?

    So while it's certainly a good thing that Girl Guides have reduced the trans-fat levels in their cookies I'm still not buying them. If Voortman's entire cookie line can be trans-fat free, if the entire country of Denmark can be trans-fat free, surely so too can be Girl Guide Cookies.

    Until they're trans-fat free, I'm Girl Guide cookie free.

    [Hat tip to blog reader and fellow public critic of Girl Guide cookies Peter]

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    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Why Food Guides and Health Checks Matter - Advertising Edition


    So when Dr. Brian Cook did in fact give his talk in Ottawa at the Centre for Science in the Public Interest's recent conference the media took notice.

    The day immediately after his talk, Sarah Schmidt from CanWest Global published a piece about his findings that despite so-called self-regulatory efforts, most of what was advertised to children was junk food.

    Why?

    Self-imposed regulations are about as binding as a rubber band.

    Don't believe me?

    See all those cereals at the top of this post? Dr. Cook pointed out that all of them meet the voluntary guidelines Big Food sets for "healthier" options and hence fair game to them to advertise to children (and just two days ago he emailed me to mention that because of some reformulation Count Chocula will now also meet the Food Industry's "healthier" criteria).

    So why does this post mention the Food Guide and Health Check?

    Well when faced with the accusations laid by Dr. Cook and his Australian colleagues what did the spokesperson for Advertising Standards Canada, the national advertising industry self-regulatory body, use to defend Big Food?

    You guessed it!

    Here's the quote from Sarah's story,

    "Janet Feasby is vice-president of standards at Advertising Standards Canada, a national advertising industry self-regulatory body overseeing the initiative. She said the current approach is sound because products that make the cut for a healthier dietary choice must meet established scientific and government standards.

    They include foods that meet the standards for participating in the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program and foods that meet criteria for nutrient content claims in Canada's Food Guide
    "
    If I was a Big Food executive I'd be sending huge Christmas presents to the folks behind the Food Guide and Health Check - those guys sure know how to help sell crappy food!

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    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    What's Actually Advertised to Kids in Canada


    In 1847, the English Parliament passed the "Infant Relief Act" which was meant to,

    "protect children from, "from their own lack of experience and from the wiles of pushing tradesmen and moneylenders"
    Too bad it's not enacted in Canada where as I blogged about yesterday television channels like Treehouse and YTV target moms and their children in encouraging advertisers to consider them for their incredible reach and "kidfluence".

    So what exactly are YTV and Treehouse advertising?

    Well if Dr. Brian Cook's preliminary results are any indication - a lot of unhealthy food.

    You see Brian recently was involved in a study looking at the top children's television channels in 12 separate countries and even more recently he reported on the Canadian results at the recent Centre for Science in the Public Interest conference.

    So what did he find?

    Well over 4 days of broadcasting in January, with Ontario, Quebec and Alberta's top children's channels recorded from 6am to 10am the following pie chart demonstrates what was being advertised:

    Over a third of ads were for foods and when scored by his Australian colleagues for healthfulness, 95% came back unhealthy with an almost even split between fast food, sugary cereals, high fat/sugar or salt spreads/soups/pastas and snack foods and sugar sweetened snack bars:



    So does that compare with adult advertisements?

    Nope.

    The same group also recorded and scored 3 days of adult programming and found that only 19% of advertisements were for food and of those, 44% were for healthy foods:



    Moral of this story?

    I think Brian said it best at his talk,
    "TV food ads to children are dominated by products that undermine parents’ and public health professionals’ efforts to promote healthy diets and physical activity"
    Perhaps that's why a study produced by U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research and published in this month's Journal of Law and Economics concluded that banning fast food advertisements targeting children would reduce the number of overweight children aged 3 to 11 by 18%, and for adolescents (12- to 18-year-olds) by 14%.

    I tell you one thing, it sure as heck can't hurt!

    [Thanks again to Dr. Brian Cook from Toronto Public Health for sharing his data and giving such a great talk]

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    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Vote for Canada's Best Health Blog!


    It's that time of year again, and this year the Canadian Blog Awards has added a Best Health Blog category and that's where Weighty Matters has been nominated!

    There are two rounds to voting and the first round began yesterday.

    The other health blogs nominated include:

    Feel free to bounce around and take a look at all of these great blogs including my friend and colleague Arya's.

    When you're ready to vote just click here!

    To see all the other categories feel free to take a trip over here!

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    YTV & Treehouse Proudly Exploit your Children


    The tagline reads,

    "Small Hands Hold Surprisingly Big Bucks!"
    and it's an ad encouraging you to spend your advertising dollars on YTV. The ad itself likely comes from the folks at Pester Productions, the in-house kidvertising agency representing YTV, Treehouse and Discovery Kids.

    In fact if you slide over to their respective websites you'll learn a bunch of stuff.

    Treehouse, in their report entitled, "Targeting Moms", thinks that a mom plus a tiny kid equals a, "4-eyed, 4-legged super-consumer"



    They also proudly report that they, "deliver kids with their parents wherever they are".



    YTV builds on the "Kidfluence" theme and lets prospective marketers know that,
    "96% of parents say they "always" or "sometimes" ask their tween's opinion when deciding on a Fast Food restaurant."

    87% of parents say they "always" or "sometimes" ask their tween's opinion when purchasing groceries for the household.

    Almost 3 in 10 parents say they "always" or "sometimes" ask their tween's opinion when deciding on which car to buy for the family.

    20% of parents say they "always" or "sometimes" ask their tween's opinion when deciding which hotel to stay at for the family vacation.
    "
    They also report on the "long term prize" (emphasis theirs),
    "The long term prize: Loyalty of the kid translates into a brand loyal adult customer"
    They then break down where tweens get their $2.9 billion in direct spending (crunching the numbers from their allowances, extra money, birthday money, Holiday money, work money and back to school money") but of course emphasize the more than $20 billion kids control through what they call, "Nag Power", "Pester Power", or "Kidfluence".

    Discovery Kids markets itself as,
    "A 'must-buy' for advertisers trying to reach kids and their parents."
    They go on to state,
    "Discovery Kids not only effectively reaches children six to 12, it allows you to associate your brand with 'parent-approved' television."
    These sites and messages sure don't give me the warm fuzzies! How about you?

    Stay tuned tomorrow to find out the type of products being marketed by YTV and find out how even as far back as 1847 people recognized that advertising to children is simply unethical (I guess YTV didn't get the memo).

    [Hat tip and thanks to Dr. Brian Cook from Toronto Public Health who provided me with the YTV poster and also gave a great talk at the recent CSPI conference]

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    Friday, November 21, 2008

    China's Answer to Andy Rooney

    The Onion News Network strikes again!

    Today for Funny Fridays is ONN International correspondent Poyuan Wei.

    Have a great weekend!



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    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Hoodia - not safe or effective enough for Unilever


    Hoodia, a cactus that grows in the Kalahari desert that was catapulted to fame by 60 minutes in 2004 as a potential weight loss aid and now a fixture on health food and pharmacy store shelves, was dropped yesterday by Unilever.

    Unilever, a product manufacturing giant who had already sunk in over $40 million in the development and research of hoodia as a weight loss aid and who were reportedly grooming their Hoodia product to become a flagship $600 million a year brand reported yesterday,

    "Data suggests using the extract would not meet our safety and efficacy standards",
    leading me to firstly marvel that Unilever has safety and efficacy standards for supplements and secondly to wonder whether or not this will have any impact at all on sales of hoodia in health food stores.

    This report also proves something very important - the pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries spend a tremendous amount of money researching any potential weight loss supplement leads and were they able to prove that a product were safe and effective, it'd land up in prescription form and they'd literally beat down the doors of doctors' offices to try to convince docs to prescribe it.

    Simple statement here - if you're considering a "natural" weight loss supplement, if your doctor doesn't prescribe it to you then it's safe to say it hasn't yet been proven to be both safe and effective.

    Translation - if there really were magic, I'd prescribe it.

    Oh, and Unilever didn't disclose the data that led it to abandon its $40 million investment but I think it's a good bet to suggest that if you are taking Hoodia, it's probably in your best interest to stop.

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    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    A Funny Thing Happened on the way to Publication


    Long term readers of my blog may recall a post from June when I detailed an exciting abstract presentation from a team of east coast researchers who concluded that their study of dietary consumption patterns in Nova Scotia youth suggested,

    "If strong education and messaging regarding the need to reduce intake levels from energy dense food sources isn’t implemented, the new guide may serve to further increase dietary intake in this population, rendering the new CFG more obesigenic for youth than the previous version."
    Well a funny thing happened on the way to publication - they dropped their conclusion.

    Their study, Overweight Nova Scotia Children and Youth: The Roles of Household Income and Adherence to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating, published in the July-August edition of the Canadian Journal of Public Health reported the following:


  • The combined rate of overweight and obesity in Nova Scotia children is one of the highest in Canada.

  • The prevalence of childhood obesity in Canada is likely grossly underestimated due to the fact that self-reported heights and weights make people taller and skinnier and the fact that it has been quantified using the criteria of the International Obesity Taskforce rather than the more stringent criteria of the Centre for Disease Control.

  • Nova Scotian children of all weights consume 25% of their daily calories from the sugar, fats and oils that comprised the now-ignored by our Food Guide "other" category but consumption was lower in the overweight vs. the normal weight students (yes, lower).

  • There was only one significant difference found in consumption patterns of normal weight vs. overweight children with regards to Canada's Food Guide and that was the overweight students in Grade 11 (note, not significant in Grade 7), drank less milk.

    and here's their most important finding:
    The VAST majority of both overweight and healthy weight students did not come close to meeting the recommended number of daily servings from the four food groups.

    So what did they then go on to suggest?

    1. That perhaps overweight kids underreport their consumption of "other" foods.
    2. That perhaps energy balance (ie exercise calories) is more important than they had thought.
    3. That perhaps overweight kids should drink more "energy dense" milk.


    So to summarize - they published a report that states that the prevalence of childhood obesity is far greater than we imagine and that with the exception of milk intake in Grade 11 there's no real difference in dietary patterning between normal weight and overweight/obese kids, and that none of the kids (including the overweight ones) were eating anywhere near the number of servings recommended by Canada's Food Guide and despite their well worded poster prior to publication they failed to mention that perhaps then following Canada's Food Guide carefully (and therefore having all kids including the overweight ones consume a lot more food) may in fact lead to higher rates of obesity in children!

    Um, didn't you guys think that point was important enough before to base your entire abstract presentation on it?

    So the real question is, did your Food Guide concerns get cut by the journal's reviewers or did you suddenly get cold feet about publically criticizing Canada's nutritional bible?



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  • Monday, November 17, 2008

    Alabama Set to Penalize Obese Workers


    I don't know how I missed this story.

    If you're an obese worker in Alabama who hasn't signed up for a free health screening with a doctor by 2010, you're going to get dinged an additional $25 monthly on your health insurance costs.

    If you've seen the doc and you've got weight to lose then unless you make "progress" with your weight, you'll get dinged starting in 2011.

    Alabama already dings smokers $25 per month.

    While they haven't said what "progress" really means, the plan's horribly flawed.

    While it may be fine and dandy to suggest that these workers' weights are health risks, unlike smoking, eating is not a choice, and given that there are no gold-standard commercial weight loss programs out there certainly many motivated, diligent and health conscious obese workers are going to fail in their efforts to make "progress" and then get dinged financially for something known to be incredibly difficult for the majority of self-directed and commercially directed individuals - sustaining a significant weight loss.

    Sure, ding the smokers, but until you've got a great place to send your obese workers for help and a means to identify those who for medical or pharmacologic reasons may struggle with losing, get your hands out of their pockets.

    [Belated hat tip to loyal blog reader Ruth]

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    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Youtube Contest Challenges Users to actually make a "Good" Video

    I'm beginning to love the Onion News Network.

    Today for Funny Friday is ONN's coverage of a Youtube press conference where Youtube offers $100,000 for a video that's, "somewhat watchable" and enjoyable for people other than those who made the video.

    Have a great weekend!



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    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    You've got to be kidding me


    So yesterday the news hits that the arteries of our obese children and teens have as much plaque as 45 year olds.

    Terrifying.

    You know what I found more terrifying (maybe horrifying is more accurate)?

    Yesterday I also found out that a local elementary school run through the Ottawa Catholic School board offers six year olds not only pizza days but weekly pizza days and get this, they also offer weekly ice-cream sandwich days!

    I actually couldn't believe it when I heard it so our fitness director formally called up to ask the school and sure enough, St. Andrew Elementary School in Barrhaven has decided to offer parents the option of buying in to both weekly pizza and ice-cream sandwich days for their elementary school aged children.

    Now before you get all self-righteous on me and tell me that parents can always opt not to include their children I think you're missing the point.

    Junk food is pushed on our children from everywhere. Television, the internet, movies, video games, food aisles, magazines, newspapers, corporate sponsorships. Why the hell are we allowing it to be pushed on them in our schools?

    Shame on you St. Andrew Elementary School, and shame on any school that thinks it's appropriate to peddle nutritional garbage to our children.

    If you'd like to write the Ottawa Catholic School Board and St. Andrews Elementary click here and your email will be sent to Catherine Maguire-Urban the school board trustee for Barrhaven/Gloucester-South Nepean, James McCracken the Director of Education and the general inbox for St. Andrew Elementary.

    Here's mine:

    Dear Mr. McCracken,

    Yesterday you may have read the news regarding the arteries of our obese children resembling those of 45 year olds. In general I’m certain that you’re well aware that currently there’s an obesity epidemic and that it has been predicted that the current generation of children will be the first in history not to outlive their parents.

    Yesterday I was horrified to learn that St. Andrew Elementary offers not only weekly pizza days but also weekly ice cream sandwich days to even its youngest students.

    While I recognize that theoretically parents can opt not to join these obscene and incredibly unnecessary programs, really that’s not the point.

    One of the major contributors to childhood obesity is the never ending barrage of encouragement children receive from television, magazines, supermarket food aisles, video games, the internet and corporate sponsorship.

    Frankly it absolutely sickens me that one (or perhaps more) of your schools feels it’s appropriate to peddle nutritional garbage to their defenseless, elementary aged children.

    Sincerely,

    Yoni Freedhoff, MD CCFP Dip ABBM
    Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
    575 West Hunt Club, Suite 100
    Ottawa ON K2G5W5
    613.730.0264 (Tel)
    613.730.3883 (Fax)



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    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Eating Pizza, Coke and M&Ms Cures Breast Cancer!


    Thanks to loyal Albertan blog reader Kristine for sending in this ad she received in her mail from the do-gooders over at Pizza 73.

    Yup - there's a plan. Eat a ridiculously high calorie meal and a whole 50 cents will be donated to breast cancer research.

    I suppose you might argue that given that obesity raises your risk of breast cancer and high calorie meals raise your risk of obesity that buying this combo helps to stack your deck?

    Oy.

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    R.I.P. Marijuana Receptor Weight Loss Drugs

    Not sure if you've heard of them since they never really hit North American shores.

    They were a class of drugs that worked on the endocannabinoid receptors and multiple drugs companies were working on obesity drugs based on blocking CB-1 receptors and in so doing, decrease caloric intake.

    The drugs were actually fairly effective, one of them had even been released, but unfortunately there was an unacceptably high incidence of adverse psychiatric affects including suicidal ideation and less than 2 years after their much bally-hoo'ed launch, they've been permanently pulled from the market and the drug companies have all quashed their development.

    Could someone please invent a safe and efficacious medication for weight management?

    Please?

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Philiadelphia Passes Toughest Menu Labeling Laws to Date


    Following in the footsteps of New York City and the State of California, Philadelphia just became the newest member of the menu-board calorie posting club.

    Just like NYC and California, Philadelphia's legislation requires that restaurant chains boasting more than 15 locations post calories on menuboards and menus.

    Unlike NYC and California however, Philadelphia takes it one step further and has legislated that menus also contain information on trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and carbohydrate contents be printed in menus!

    Of course the Philadelphia Restaurant Association's not too pleased.

    They issues a statement that suggests that it's going to financially cripple the restaurant industry and make people think twice about opening up a new restaurant or expanding and thereby decrease employment in Philadelphia.

    Alarmist much?

    This story led me to revisit an older one - the LEAN act. It was meant to put calories on menus across the country but looking closer at the act I've realized why the food industry is supporting it. It actually doesn't require calories to be posted on menus or menuboards. Instead it suggests menus and menuboards as options but also allows for other means (like the giant, small font, difficult to read poster in some Canadian McDonald's, or trayliners etc.).

    Knowing that, I withdraw my support of the LEAN bill and see it for what it is - an attempt by the food industry to weasel out of more stringent laws (like Philadelphia's, NYC and California's) as the way the LEAN act is written, if passed it will pre-empt all local, county and state labeling law legislation.

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    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Obam-ithdrawl Plagues Pie-Eyed Youth

    So the election's over.

    What's an idealist, fervent young Obama supporter to do?

    Today for Funny Friday is ONN's coverage of this devastating condition.

    Have a great weekend!



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    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    The Chocolate Olympics


    The 2012 London Olympic games will be brought to you by - Cadbury.

    And probably Coca-Cola, McDonald's and other healthy living giants.

    Cadbury's share of the Olympic pie cost them $40 million.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, Cadbury's involvement has raised some eyebrows from obesity advocates like Tam Fry of Britain's National Obesity Forum who stated his organization is,

    "disappointed that the London games have gone to Cadbury, because sport and chocolate don’t mix"
    The controversy reminds me of the uproar when Michael Phelps decided to endorse McDonald's.

    While I'm all for more regulation and legislation to help in the treatment and prevention of obesity, overweight and sedentary lifestyles, getting your feathers ruffled by who sponsors the Olympics seems like a waste of energy.

    Why?

    The Olympics happen once every few years and last for two weeks.

    Real life happens every day and lasts forever.

    While I agree it's intellectually off-side to have fast food and chocolate as Olympic sponsors I'd rather see energy spent campaigning for such things as mandatory calorie labeling, better in-school food, better nutritional education, subsidies for fresh produce, banning advertising targeting children etc.

    Picking every single battle just makes you look churlish and takes the wind out of your main sails.

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    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    Do 3 Year Olds Really Need Pizza Day - Part II

    Longtime readers of my blog may remember my post regarding my 3 year old school's policy of pizza day.

    Once a month the kids get pizza, carrot sticks, pretzels, juice and cookies.

    Now as you might imagine, I'm not a particular fan of pizza day for 3 year olds as it really doesn't make much sense to me.

    If the argument were made that it's for the kids I'd argue that 3 year olds would never expect a pizza day and therefore not miss it.

    If the argument were made that it's for the parents I'd argue that while certainly at times harried, making your kids' lunches is one of the responsibilities of parenthood.

    Nutritionally, depending on the type of pizza and other products it would not be difficult for the kids to be getting dramatically more calories and sodium than would be healthy for a single meal (sodium wise depending on the options they might exceed an entire day's recommendation)

    My original post detailed my angst in choosing not to write the school.

    Well my concern finally got the best of me and I wrote and I'm very pleased to say that the school was quite open to compromise and will be considering the following changes:

    1. Asking the pizza place to only put on half the amount of cheese they would normally and to utilize part-skim mozerrella rather than full fat.
    2. Making it policy to serve watered down apple juice (remembering that for 3-4 year olds the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum daily juice consumption of half a cup).
    3. Losing the pretzels.
    4. Keeping the cookies (3 animal crackers per kid - certainly not worth me getting worked up).

    The school also asked for help on organizing a talk for parents on what makes up healthy school lunches.

    I guess the lesson learned here is that in many cases non-confrontational discussions regarding nutrition and schools may in fact yield fruitful and healthful change, and while I still don't think 3 year olds need pizza day, at least it's become a little healthier at my kids' school.

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    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    What if.....?


    Yesterday I received an email from a reporter doing a story on Canada's Food Guide and my criticisms therein.

    In her email she noted that she had spoken to several independent dietitians regarding the potential for the Food Guide to lead to weight gain if followed (something I've blogged about extensively here and here) and they, as do many dietitians and their parent organization Dietitians of Canada, disputed my claims.

    The Heart and Stroke Foundation in their promotion of Health Check, proudly announce that,

    "you can trust that your choice meets specific nutrient criteria based on Canada's Food Guide."
    Schools teach the Food Guide to our children.

    Institutional menus (hospitals, cafeterias, nursing homes, daycares etc.) use the Food Guide for guidance.

    The food industry uses the Food Guide to promote their products.

    Since January alone according to my media scanning site there have been 1,174 references made to Canada's Food Guide made in the Canadian press.

    So I've got a hypothetical question for you.

    What would happen to all of the folks, institutions and programs listed up above if a large, independent, reputable and well respected third party came out and blasted the Food Guide? Me, I'm easy to slough off (though the evidence is not) as a lone voice...in fact in many cases that's exactly what has occurred as did with the Heart and Stroke Foundation whereupon rather than specifically address my evidence-based concerns they instead commented on me as an individual to the Canadian Medical Association Journal,
    "He's not the sole arbiter of healthy eating in the country. He hates Canada's Food Guide. We respect that. We don't necessarily agree with him, but the food guide was established by hundreds of experts."
    So what do you think would happen if all of a sudden I was no longer a lone voice in the nutritional wilderness?

    Stranger things have happened.....

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    Monday, November 03, 2008

    The Food Industry Delivers the Most Damning Indictment of Health Check Yet

    So just how deep in the sand does your head have to be in order for Big Food to come in and generate a far more robust front-of-package labeling program than your non-profit, supposedly for health, organization's?

    Why not ask the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check folks?

    Rolling out in 2009 is Big Food's Smart Choices Program (example above) the stated aim of which is to,

    "help shoppers make more nutritious food and beverage choices, at-a-glance, throughout the supermarket"
    Companies who are signing on?

    Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Wal-Mart (and Nestle's reported as considering it as well).

    Nutritional criteria will include limiting:
    1. Total fat
    2. Trans fat
    3. Saturated fat
    4. Cholesterol
    5. Added sugars
    6. Sodium
    while at the same time encouraging consumption of:
    1. Fruits and Vegetables
    2. Whole Grains
    3. Fat Free/Low Fat Dairy
    4. Calcium
    5. Potassium
    6. Fiber
    7. Magnesium
    8. Vitamin A
    9. Vitamin C
    10. Vitamin E
    The front-of-package label will also highlight calories per serving and servings per package.

    Looking closer at the Smart Choices' criteria and then comparing them with the newly updated Health Check's (posted just over a month ago and not slated to be implemented until 2010) you can quickly see that aside from the fact that even Big Food recognizes there are more than 3 nutritional determinants of health, amazingly the Smart Choices Program is far stricter than the Heart and Stroke Foundation's on Health Check's 3 primary nutrient categories:

    On Sodium
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 17% more sodium per entree or mixed dish
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 50% more sodium per slice of bread
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 100% more sodium per glass of vegetable juice
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 160% more sodium per meat, fish and poultry item


  • On Fats
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 70% more fat in ground meats
  • The 2010 Health Check limits the amount of fat from fatty fish despite the fact that fats from fish have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease (a limitation that is so far beyond the realm of comprehension that it may be worthy of a blog post all its own)
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for 100% more saturated fat in dairy products
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for infinitely more trans fat in all products (as the Food Industry's endeavor forbids them outright while Health Check's happy with heart-disease promoting trans fats making up to 5% of an item's total fat - an allowance all the more confusing given Heart and Stroke Foundation's own CEO Sally Brown's belief that, "there is no safe amount of trans consumption" and her statement, "trans fats are a "toxic" killer that need to be removed from the food chain as soon as possible")


  • On Sugar
  • The 2010 Health Check allows for infinitely more sugar per dairy product (Health Check puts no limits on adding sugar to dairy thereby allowing flavoured milks and yogurts to contain more sugar and calories than Coca-Cola or ice cream and yes still sport their blessing)


  • What this means of course is that once the Smart Choices Program rolls out, misinformed Canadian consumers who continue to choose Health Check options over Smart Choice Program ones thinking they're,
    "shopping with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's dietitians"
    will at times consume orders of magnitude more salt, sugar and fat.

    To give you some perspective on all of this, a comparable analogy would be Exxon coming up with a stricter set of environmental regulations than Greenpeace!

    This of course brings me back to the notion that if this is the best that the Heart and Stroke Foundation's dietitians and Health Check's Technical Advisory Committee have to offer, perhaps it's time to hire some new blood (and frankly, fire some or all of the old).

    Appalled?

    Click here to send the Health Check's Technical Advisory Committee an email and included on the email will be Sally Brown (CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation), Stephen Samis (Scientific Director of the Heart and Stroke Foundation), and Terry Dean (General Manager of Health Check).

    [Disclaimer: The Smart Choices Program, while certainly superior to Health Check, is still overly minimalist and lax in its inclusionary and exclusionary nutritional criteria so please don't consider this post to be an endorsement.]

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    Friday, October 31, 2008

    When Obama Wins I'll Eat your American Brains!

    I've heard that the US election has been the ugliest in history with attack ads really stretching the envelope of truth.

    For today's Funny Friday I bring you an ad paid for by a number of American organizations including the devilish Aerial Moose Hunters for Truth and the dastardly People Against Amnesty for Mexican and Canadian Undead.

    I sure hope Obama wins because if he doesn't, where the heck am I going to get my next American brains-fix?

    Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween!



    [Hat tip to my sister and fellow undead Canadian Michal]

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    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Coca-Cola states Coke is "Wholesome and Suitable" for Kids!!?


    Readers of my blog may remember some time ago when I blogged about the Coca-Cola advertisement found in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that ridiculously claimed that their ads featuring Santa Claus, animated polar bears, New Kids on the Block and more didn't target children,

    "Can't remember the last Coca-Cola ad targeted at children? There's a reason. Parents tell us they prefer to be the ones teaching their children about beverage choices. That's why for over 50 years we've adhered to a company policy that prohibits advertising soft drinks to children."
    The thing is, I didn't just blog about it, I also wrote a letter to the editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal which in turn was published this week along with responses from Coca-Cola and the Journal's editors.

    The editors rightly report that the advertisement,
    "compl(ies) with the pertinent sections of the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations"
    and therefore is kosher for publication.

    Reading between the lines however would suggest that the Journal agreed that the advertisement went too far, not in the context of their editorial response but rather in their print publication of my original letter along with their contact for and publication of Coca-Cola's response.

    Coke's response?

    Twaddle.

    They reiterate their claim and then add a minor parenthetic qualification in that,
    "(Any programming or media platform for which 50% or more of the audience is under 12 years of age is considered programming primarily directed to children.)"
    and then brag that they're founding members of a toothless, voluntary, non-regulated, Big Food sponsored campaign that voluntarily submits advertisements to Advertising Standards Canada, an organization described on their website as,
    "The Canadian advertising industry's self-regulatory body"
    Here's my bottom line:
    Claiming that Santa Claus and animated polar bears in Coke commercials don't target children is about as believable as claiming that bikini-clad women in beer commercials don't target men.
    The story was picked up by Sarah Schmidt of Canwest and will likely hit the newspapers tomorrow and boy did Coca-Cola corporate spokesperson Amy Laski come up with one whopper of a quobesity stating that Coke is,
    "wholesome and suitable for kids"
    I wonder if Amy serves her kids "wholesome", refreshing Coke?

    Good lord.

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    Fixing Health Check - a Simple Recipe


    Yesterday I blogged about the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program's call for proposals to help them review the impact Health Check has had during its ten year lifespan.

    In the document, the Heart and Stroke Foundation refers to their "overarching question" that these studies will be meant to answer,

    "In what areas does the HC program need to change to be relevant in the current and emerging environment?"
    Allow me to save them millions of dollars in grants and redevelopment fees with a simple, succinct answer along with a proposed solution.
    In order to be relevant in the current environment Health Check needs to provide an evidence-based means for consumers to evaluate all dietary products in participating marketplaces.
    Health Check's current system, evaluating only those products whose parent companies buy their endorsement means that there may be more nutritious alternatives sitting right beside the Health Check items, with Health Check therefore doing little more than misinforming Canadians about what the healthiest choices are. As well, given that Health Check's meagre nutritional criteria only analyze 3 nutritional components per given item means that it ignores literally dozens of other well-established nutritional determinants of health and consequently has many "unintended consequences".

    The solution?

    At the recent Centre for Science in the Public Interest conference I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Dr. David Katz, the founder of the Overall Nutritional Quality Index system (now renamed NuVal). The system, which I've blogged about before, uses a complex algorithm developed by 12 of the world's leading nutritional scientists (and updated every 2 years), weighting 25 different nutritional determinants of health to spit out a number from 1-100 to indicate the nutritional score of each particular food.

    The system's dead-simple to use - higher the number, the healthier the option.

    David told me that in order to calculate an ONQI value all they need is a nutrition facts panel and an ingredients list (or a recipe). He also reported that they'd happily work with anyone on the system.

    So what could Health Check do to save themselves millions of dollars in evaluation and reformulation along with years of tinkering?

    They could scrap their current product-by-product endorsement system, set up some ties and cobranding with NuVal, and become the Canadian licensee of NuVal's robust, evidence-based scoring system. They could then use their influence and marketplace savvy to sell the program to supermarket chains, (which would be required to score every item up for sale) restaurants, (again, every item gets a score) and industrial food service providers (ditto).

    What's in it for NuVal of course is the promotion of their brand by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which aside from their involvement with Health Check, is a trusted, health-related non-profit organization. What's in it for Health Check of course is the establishment of credibility - credibility they've strained even further this past year by sticking their heads in the sand and digging their heels in against the quite clearly necessary from the ground up overhaul they require to truly be considered nutritionally relevant.

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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Health Check's Highly Processed Hypocrisy


    Recently I read a nutrition column by Heart and Stroke Dietitian Alyssa Rolnick about how to help your child consume less salt.

    Amazingly, despite the Heart and Stroke Foundation's endorsement of lower levels of salt in children (the National Sodium Policy Statement the Heart and Stroke Foundation signed off on recommends children under the age of 8 consume no more than 1,200mg daily) Alyssa stuck to Health Check's party line of adopting the far less stringent Health Canada recommendations of the nearly double 2,300mg.

    But I'm not blogging today about the inanity of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's lack of adherence to sodium level recommendations that they themselves state are too high (I've done that before here) - no, today I'm blogging about these 3 lines from Alyssa's piece,

    "Cook fresh foods One of the best ways to control salt intake is to prepare more home cooked meals."

    "A lot of the excess sodium that we consume is hidden in processed, convenience and fast foods
    ."
    and finally,
    "When shopping, look for food items that have the Health Check™ symbol."
    So first off let me say I agree with Alyssa in that we need to cook our own meals more frequently and that highly processed foods are not only often laden with salt, they're often devoid of the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils.

    So can you guess which statement I disagree with?

    Yup, you guessed it - her call to use Health Check to guide your choices in kid food shopping.

    Why do I disagree?

    Because Health Check'ed options are generally highly processed foods with far too much salt.

    Don't believe me?

    Well how about just asking Health Check folks?

    You see just a few weeks ago they released a call for proposals to assess the impact of Health Check on the marketplace after 10 years of operation. One of the areas they want input on is one which they've labeled, "unintended consequences".

    Any guesses as to the unintended consequence that they offered up as an example of what they're talking about? Here it is:
    "Are Health Check products encouraging the purchase of processed foods over fresh foods?"
    The answer of course is along the lines of, "Duh", for as Bill Jeffery from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest pointed out in the Canadian Medical Association Journal,
    "of the 257 fruit and vegetable products enrolled in the program, 194 are juices, fruit leather and french fries — hardly nutritional superstars — and only 14 are fresh fruits and vegetables."
    I'll also be happy to continue to explain why the answer is, "Duh" pictorially:


    [Hat tip to loyal blog reader Dana for passing along the call for proposals]

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