Monday, January 28, 2008

What can YOU do about Health Check?

Horrifyingly, the picture above was taken in the cafeteria of the Ottawa General Hospital where Health Check'ed Slush Puppies are pushed on an unsuspecting public.

Will Canadians really benefit from a front-of-package labeling program that endorses Slush Puppies as a healthy choice?

If you're like me and think the answer is a definite "NO", what can you do?

Well, if it's your first time here, you can educate yourself.

I have a great many posts on Health Check so rather than force you to wade through them, I've selected a few that should provide you with sufficient background:

The Hypocrisy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Heart and Stroke Foundation Pours on the Salt

Heart and Stroke Foundation Sells Junk Food to Kids

My Letter to the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Sally Brown's (their CEO's) Response

Why Health Check Matters

Why it May Soon Matter More

Health Check's Insignificant Revisions

Follow Health Check and Eat a Full Cup of Sugar a Day!

CBC Marketplace's Expose on Health Check

The Most Damning Indictment of Health Check Yet

Fixing Health Check - A Simple Recipe

If you're already outraged, then I believe it's time for you to write.

First you can write to the Heart and Stroke Foundation - to the bosses and also to the people directly responsible for the Health Check criteria.

Who's responsible?

Well, I had mentioned in a prior post that on the Health Check's website there's reference to an expert technical advisory committee that established and oversee the Health Check criteria. I had also mentioned that the names of those experts were nowhere to be found on the site and that it seemed odd to me that they weren't there. Well, thanks to a kind reader, I've got the names of Health Check's Technical Advisory Committee as of January 2006.

[UPDATE: January 30th, 2008 the Health Check website posted the names of the current advisory committee]

They are:

Bretta Maloff, RD: She was the person interviewed by the CBC on the Marketplace expose, and is the chair of Health Check's technical advisory committee. She's been at Health Check from the very beginning having helped set the original Health Check nutritional criteria.

Fran Berkoff, RD: She wrote the book, "Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal".

Chantal Blais, RD: She's the head of Clinical Nutrition Service at the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal.

Sharyn Joliat, RD, MSc: She runs her own nutritional analysis company Info Access Inc.

Allison M. Stephen, PhD: She's the head of nutritional epidemiology at the Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Research in England.

Laurie Wadsworth PhD: She's an assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish.

Bernard LeBlanc, BSc: According to the Health Check website (at least as of January 30th, 2008) he's "self- employed as a consultant to the food industry."

So those seven folks presumably are in fact the dietitians (and the food industry consultant) that go shopping with you every time you buy Health Check'ed products.

Do you think they've done a great job? Have they helped you and your families make "healthier" choices?

Feel free to drop them a line. Click here to send them 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)

You can also write your MP and let them know that you'd be quite unhappy were the government to adopt the Health Check as our official, national, front of package labeling program. If you don't know who your MP is, click here and using your postal code, you'll find out not only who it is, but also their email address.

You can also spread the word. Link to this post, email it to friends, Stumble it, Digg it, Facebook it, whatever - if you're concerned, please help spread awareness.

Lastly, if you're the Heart and Stroke Foundation (and I know that they do indeed read my blog) you can actually make real changes. Martin Luther King Jr. once said,

"It's always the right time to do the right thing"
Here's a wonderful opportunity for you to in fact do the right thing and in so doing, regain some of the trust you've lost through Health Check. I promise, were there real and evidence-based changes made, I would certainly be among the first to stand up and applaud.

(Unfortunately, I'm missing email addresses for: Sharyn Joliat and Bernard LeBlanc - if anyone out there has them, please email me with them and don't worry, I protect my sources).

[Hat trip to Adrian, a medical student at the University of Ottawa who during a rotation through my clinic dropped the bombshell that Health Check'ed Slush Puppies were in fact being sold at the Ottawa General Hospital and then was kind enough to snap me a picture]

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  1. Anonymous1:33 pm

    Wow - it would be interesting to know who sent you this list and how they obtained it?! I don't think it is supposed to be public information.

    Also, I have a feeling that the Marketplace piece killed any chance they may have had of becoming a national symbol (which I dont think we need anyway...the Nutrition Facts works just fine).

  2. Anonymous9:27 pm

    I'd be curious to know more about the actual role these dietitians play in the process. I know one of the dietitians on that list very well (not personally, but for her extensive work) and I can say with no equivication that these offensive foods are NOT the type of food she recommends people eat. I was once an advisor for something in a similar context to this. I played a role in setting the rules, but in the end the decisions made were not ones I could agree with, nor did they actually match the "rules" that I had stood for, so I backed out. I wonder if that is what it is like here. Do they advise on setting the "rules" but not actually have any say in the products being named? hmm... ?

  3. Well, the reality is, once you have set the "rules" (i.e - the food criteria), you no longer need the advisory panel to approve each food. All foods that fit within your category rules are free and able to join the program (as long as their producer can afford the fee of course). So, yes, you are correct in that the advisory panel sets the crieteria but is then hands-off on the day-to-day operation of the program.

    Other Health Check dietitians (such as Carol Dombrow) are responsible for reviewing the nutritional analysis (from an accredited lab) of products that apply to the program. IF the product fits the crieria, there is no basis for denying it. They objectively evaluate products based on the established criteria. Even if it is a slush puppy.

    So, unless the advisory panel comes us with stricter "rules", we will not see a change in the types of foods allowed into the program.

  4. Anonymous11:22 am

    Why don't you clean up your own backyeard before starting in on Canada?

  5. "Starting in on Canada"? What is that supposed to mean? Dr. Freedhoff lives and practices medicine IN Canada. He has every right to comment on issues that affect the health of his fellow citizens.

  6. Anonymous4:21 pm

    My, my K - aren't you passionate. In reading this blog it seems that this Doctor is diconnected from what the Canadian public are asking for. Just because he couldn't make nice on the playground doesn't mean that his one-sided biased story is based on anything more than a bruised ego.

  7. Anonymous4:56 pm

    Hey other Anonymous,

    Care to explain to everyone here exactly what it is the Doctor is disconnected with? I'm sure we'll all benefit from your obvious enlightenment.

  8. Hello, Dr. Freedhoff.

    I just watched the CBC Marketplace video. I am a dietitian. A deeply disturbed dietitian. But also, a very grateful one. Thank you for raising this controversy and suggesting how to take action. I am in the process of informing myself about this issue. I have always had great respect for the Heart & Stroke Foundation and have used their education materials but I have grave concerns about the Health Check Program and cannot recommend it. In fact, I think I may to give some caveats with the brochures in our Stroke Education Centre.

  9. Anonymous3:58 pm

    I'm glad you posted this. I think the HSF HealthCheck system is absolutely scandalous! It would be great if members of the Board of Directors were forced to eat mainly HealthCheck items for a week! Maybe they wouldn't be so quick to recommend nasty food to the public.

  10. Paul M. - Kanata7:17 am

    I heard your interview on CBC radio this morning and I agree with you completely. I've been an avid label reader for a while now. One of the most confusing things I've seen, and I've seen with other people is how the manufacturers label the quantity. The "per 250mL" at the top of the label is all well and good, but what if the package is 457mL? Some people don't realize that if you consume the whole package you're getting almost twice the values printed on the package! We need more education in this area.