Friday, February 29, 2008

President Elect of the Obesity Society Resigns

Regular readers will remember a post from a few weeks ago detailing how the Dr. David Allison, President Elect of the Obesity Society, in a paid testimony for the New York Restaurant Association, asserted that he felt that posting Calories on menus would be ineffective at combating obesity and potentially even detrimental to the fight.

Shocked members (myself included) were appalled to see Dr. Allison comfortable asserting something was ineffective and potentially detrimental in the absence of evidence suggesting his assertion was true. Furthermore many Society members were furious that he did so under the banner of the Obesity Society.

The Society quickly issued a press release detailing their support for placement of Calories on menus and just a few moments ago I received an email from Dr. Allison containing his resignation from the post of the Society's President-Elect. Dr. Allison noted in his letter that with his testimony he had lost the will of the people who had voted for him and that would have greatly undermined his ability to lead this wonderful organization.

Kudos to Dr. Allison for stepping down. It was certainly the right thing for him to do and I'm sure it was done with a very heavy heart.

When Life Gives you Lemons.....

Give them to babies?

Turns out, there aren't too many things funnier than happy babies eating lemons?

Don't believe me? Take a peek at today's Funny Friday clip.

Have a great weekend!

[Hat tip goes to BMI's own Lorne]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Health Canada's Next Debacle?

First we were handed a Food Guide that encouraged Canadians to consume cancer-causing red and processed meat, metabolic syndrome promoting refined carbohydrates, all the while giving no guidance whatsoever on how to control, look for, or understand obesity inducing calories.

So what now?

Currently Health Canada is in the midst of a "public" consultation process involving whether or not to increase the available claims that Big Food can place on packaging and thereby create as Dr. Brian Wansink would state, a Health Halo around the food and of course in so doing, increase its sales.

The consultation process is entitled, "Managing Health Claims for Foods in Canada: Towards a Modernized Framework" which by itself to me is worrisome as I'm not sure what "modernized" means but I'm pretty sure it's not synonymous with "evidence-based".

So what are we talking about here?

According to Health Canada a health claim is,

"any representation that states, suggests, or implies that a relationship exists between a food (or a constituent of that food) and health."
So what's the issue here?

Well of course Big Food wants it to be easier to put claims on foods while health professionals like me and nutritional advocacy groups like the Centre for Science in the Public Interest want it to be more difficult.

It absolutely boggles my mind that Health Canada has determined that we need a 2 year long process to sort out what's more important - the interests of industry or the interests of health?

In the 124 page discussion paper they spell out this conundrum directly on page 11 and although it's a long quotation, I'm going to put it all in,
"Some stakeholders feel that current standards are too uniformly rigorous, and should vary according to the level of risk represented by the product and the nature of the claim. This view is supported by industry pressure worldwide and, in Canada, by current application of the newly introduced Natural Health Products Regulations. According to this view, consumers would benefit from access to safe food products carrying health claims, even when their health benefits cannot be demonstrated with a high level of certainty.

Others believe that application of clear, consistent, high standards of evidence is the cornerstone of a credible health claim system. Their view is supported by international standards, by research that shows that consumers do not differentiate among claim wordings and do not necessarily respond to disclaimers and qualifications, and by concern that less well-substantiated claims may need to be withdrawn at a later date, and which may erode public confidence in the system.

Health Canada is seeking input on the appropriate level of substantiation for claims in light of the obligation not to mislead consumers.
My jaw hurts from hitting the floor every time I read those paragraphs.

So to paraphrase - Big Food is pressuring Health Canada to allow unsubstantiated health claims on food that international standards, a credible health care system and peer-reviewed research have shown consumers naively would accept whether accurate or not AND YET Health Canada is holding 2 years of public consultations to figure out which view to listen?

Wow that's messed up.

Stay tuned Monday to learn more about the actual consultation process from someone who's had the intestinal fortitude to sit through one of the regional consultation meetings.

Stupidest Cookies Ever?

"Zero trans fat!"

"Zero Cholesterol"

"Low in Saturated Fat!"

"A Source of Omega-3 Polyunsaturates!"
Yup, those are all the claims currently on the front of Voortman's phenomenally stupidly named, "Omega-3 Zeer-Ohs!" cookies and if the food industry has its way, there will soon be more.

Stay tuned tomorrow when I introduce you to the goings on behind the scenes at the current Happy Corporations (Health Canada) consultations into food labeling where surprise, surprise, the food industry has an invited seat to the table, the process is skewed dramatically in their favour, and with industry of course wanting it be made easier for them to make outlandish health claims on foods (health sells) in the absence of real evidence to support them.

When they have their way (unfortunately, I don't say if - I think it's likely a forgone conclusion that Health Canada will bend over for Big Food again) perhaps these cookies will have a statement to the effect of,
"Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of Omega-3 Zeer-Ohs! provides 0.5 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids."
And then perhaps Voortman's will rename them, Omega-3 Super Heart Healthy-Ohs!.


[Nutritionally per 2 cookies: 120 Calories and sugar is the first ingredient while the source of the omega 3s is ground flax which has not been shown to be as helpful as marine based omega 3s in cardiovascular disease prevention.]

[Hat tip to my lovely wife for buying the cookies, scanning in the package and ultimately returning them unopened to the store]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Feng Shui at McDonald's?


According to the press release,

"The restaurant combines elements of water located on the exterior of the dining area, symbolizing life and relaxation, with elements of fire and red accents throughout the dining area to symbolize good luck, laughter and light. The dining area also features symmetrically balanced seating arrangements in earth tone shades, pendant lights to warm up the interior, an elevated PlayPlace and three plasma televisions."
Because nothing says Feng Shui like plasma screen televisions?

So why Feng Shui? According to owner/operator Mark Brownstein,
"We chose a Feng Shui design that creates a soothing environment for our customers to better enjoy their dining experience"

Dining experience?

People "dine" at McDonald's?

Wouldn't even the weakest definition of "dining" include cutlery?

Only in LA.

[Photo via Eater]

Monday, February 25, 2008

A New Form of Child Abuse?

This past December my family spent some time away from Ottawa's frigid temperatures on Florida's Sanibel Island.

On the island is the original Cheeburger, Cheeburger a burger joint likely named after the goings on in the classic Saturday Night Live John Belushi skit, Olympia Cafe. Cheeburger, Cheeburger now has over 80 locations across America and their motto is, "Big is Better".

Walk inside and immediately you'll see their Wall of Fame where folks who eat their 1lb burger are immortalized by Polaroid and pinned in pride to a wall of cork.

They also have another wall of fame - the Kids Wall of Fame where kids under 12 who eat a 1/2lb burger have their own wall of "pride".

Looking at the pictures of the kids, many look to me to be in the neighbourhood of 6-10 years old and sadly I'm sure the vast majority of their parents likely provided a great deal of encouragement and reinforcement in teaching their child that eating far more in a sitting than they'd ever need to is an accomplishment worthy of parental pride.

I know, I know, I'm a stick in the mud and it's all in good fun, yet over the past 30 years, American childhood obesity has quadrupled for children ages 6–11 (from 4 to 19 percent) and while I don't think it's all because of Cheeburger, Cheeburger (who by the way make absolutely fantastic burgers), I do think a great deal does have to do with parents who encourage unhealthy eating and sedentary behaviours through poor role modeling, and in cases like this, through what I would describe as overt gastronomic child abuse.

Me? I'd love to see another wall up in Cheeburger, Cheeburger. I'd call it the Parents Wall of Shame and I'd take the picture of any parent who encouraged and allowed their child to gorge unnecessarily, all the while cheering them on, and then I'd post that picture for all the world to see what woe-derful parents they are.

[Hat tip to my father for taking the pictures after we'd left the island, to Ronnie for lending him his camera and to my wife for noticing the walls while she picked up our takeout]

Friday, February 22, 2008

Don't play Rock, Paper, Scissors in Japan

They apparently take it very, very seriously!

Have a great weekend and happy Funny Friday!

[Hat tip to our fitness director Rob]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Flintstones Style Human Powered Car On Its Way!

Fittingly it's called the "Human Car" and for only $15,000 you and three of your fittest friends can go cruising, gas-free, and make lots of new friends on your way.

The chassis is designed to travel at "unlimited speed", and while going downhill in the video looks like great fun, I imagine climbing it may be less so.

Good news is that the production model will be a "Human-Electric" hybrid so the ups won't be quite so bad.

Preorders are being collected on their website, though I'm guessing demand won't outstrip supply too quickly.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Maybe you shouldn't have a lemon with your drink

This has been floating around the net for a while, however I only first saw it yesterday.

Apparently lemons in restaurants are covered in bacteria.

Now that's not in and of itself a surprise as pretty much everything is covered in bacteria, but the fecal bacteria, those I'd rather avoid.

Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Me? I think I may forgo the lemons.

[Hat tip to my friend and colleague Hillel]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kellogg's Frosted Flakes Gold

The press release reads,

"Kellogg's Frosted Flakes Gold(TM) is one example of Kellogg Company's continued commitment to provide better-for-you options that moms can feel good about."
While Kellogg's Director of Nutrition Marketing (there's an evil sounding moniker) Jennifer Garrett says,
"Kellogg's Frosted Flakes Gold(TM) offers better-for-you nutrition that will satisfy moms and a great taste that kids will love"
Better for you than what Jennifer?

Better for you than regular Frosted Flakes?

Not so sure.

Better than a bowl filled with white sugar?


Good for you?

Probably a stretch.

Compared with regular Frosted Flakes your added benefits include 1 whole gram less of sugar (1/4 of a teaspoon less), 1 whole gram more protein and 2 whole grams more fibre.

Oh, and compared to regular Frosted Flakes the Gold version also has 36% more salt.

Similarities include sugar being the second ingredient on both, identical calories, and identical micro-nutrient breakdowns.

The press release also expounds on the fact that they're "baked with honey" as if that's a healthier and more nutritious form of sugar.

Sugar is sugar, God sugar, man sugar and bee sugar - they're all just sugar.

My advice - if you happen to try them and love the taste, eat 'em, but please don't buy them because you think they're better for you than other sugary cereals 'cause they're not.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sign of the Times - Boy Scouts Healthy Eating Badge

If you're a Beaver Scout in the UK, check out the new badge - it's the Healthy Eating activity badge.

Not sure what it says about society. Maybe this is a great idea. Of course even if it is, it makes me a little sad.

Our world is spiraling faster and faster away from healthy living.

Even if you think it sounds like a great idea, what does the eager Beaver Scout need to do to get the badge?

According to ScoutBase UK he's got to:

1. Make a fruit salad
2. Make a healthy snack
3. Make two different sandwiches
4. List some unhealthy foods

Wanna know what they think a healthy snack is (emphasis is mine not theirs)?

"Examples of healthy snacks include omelette, salad, mini pizzas, strawberry smoothie, homemade meatballs, etc."
Yup, it's a strange world alright.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Finally, an effortless form of exercise!

This one's for the men only.

Today for Funny Friday I'm bringing you a clip of how you can get your heart rate up to 180 beats per minutes without actually breaking a sweat!

Can't say I'd recommend this form of "exercise" though. The question that leaps to my mind is, "Who the heck would volunteer for this experiment?"

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ads Inside your Children's Schoolbuses?

If you live in South Carolina, that horrifying headline is about to come true.

According to Brandweek, the caring folks that make up the South Carolina Department of Education have sold out your children by allowing advertisers to pay school districts $2,100 per month per bus for an 11 inch strip of advertising above their school buses' windows.

Think it's unconscionable?

Clicking here will take you to a form to send Jim Rex, the elected Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, an email.

Or you can call his office at: 803.734.8500

Does everything always come down to money?

[Story and conceptual photo via the wonderful blog Consumerist]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Are You Fated to be Fat?

A study was published last week to a great deal of media fanfare.

The study Evidence for a strong genetic influence on childhood adiposity despite the force of the obesogenic environment, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, details twin analyses whereby 5,092 twin pairs (some identical, some fraternal) were monitored for weight change. Comparing the weight change over time of identical twins versus those of fraternal twins was used to help determine the degree of nature vs. nurture on weight gain.

The researchers concluded that the vast majority of weight was heritable, or genetic in nature and in their discussion they make a point of noting,

"What is important is this finding means that “blaming” parents is wrong"
I'll come back to that in a moment.

First let's look at North America where roughly 70% of the population is now overweight or obese.

Clearly our genes haven't changed in the past hundred years or so, something the authors of the paper readily agree to.

So if our genes haven't changed yet the study is blaming obesity on our genes, why is it that obesity has become such a concern now?

George Bray perhaps said it best,
"Genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger"
So does that mean parents aren't to blame? Their kids have these fat genes and there's nothing we can do about it? They and worse yet their kids are fated to be fat?

No, though blame is a very strong word.

While certainly it's true that the interactions of genes with our obesogenic environment are what's responsible for the rapidly rising weight of the world, given the percentage of folks gaining weight, clearly those genes are pretty darn common. Therefore if you're a parent with however many kids and one or more of them are overweight or obese, at the end of the day does that mean there's nothing you can do about it?

Of course not.

While you can't change the outside environment, certainly your home's foodscape is within your explicit control. You're responsible for the foods in your cupboards, you're responsible for how much viewing time or internet time your children are allowed, and most importantly, you're responsible for both the example you set in terms of eating behaviours and also you're responsible for learning about nutrition, caloric intake and expenditure and healthy living as a whole and you alone are responsible for trying to pass that knowledge on to your kids.

Again, blame is a sharp word and if I'm going to wield it, I like to blame our government and public health systems for not providing parents with the necessary tools to properly understand the impact of the environment on weight nor the skills to maintain a healthy weight within our environment.

Long post short - 100 years ago obesity wasn't a problem; our lifestyles were different, which is why a time machine would serve as a fabulous weight loss aid. Certainly the environment is responsible for changing our lifestyles, however we can certainly still live responsibly within that environment, it just takes education, planning and organization.

The only thing your children are absolutely, for better or for worse predestined to be is related to you. Everything else is modifiable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Obesity Society President Elect in Bed with Big Food?

The flying pig that flew by my window yesterday morning appeared to be crying.

Apparently Dr. David B. Allison, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama and incoming president of the Obesity Society, testified on behalf of Big Food in the Big Food vs. New York City lawsuit on mandatory calorie labeling.

Somehow not only did he argue that there is no credible evidence that providing customers with calories on menus would affect choice or obesity, he went further to state that placing calories on menus,

"would be ineffective and possibly even deleterious"
Allison's testimony was reportedly paid testimony which according to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest's Integrity in Science Watch newsletter, would be par for the course for Dr. Allison. They provided a link to 3 paged, single spaced document highlighting all of Dr. Allison's conflicts of interests with monies paid to him by Big Food and Big Industry as a whole. For shock value, I'll add the list below this post.

That there's no research to confirm that posting calories on menus will help is not a shock since it has only been over the course of very recent history where this has been suggested let alone tried. That it could be "deleterious" to provide consumers with information about calories is to my mind at least, a jaw-droppingly bizarre statement, and when coming from the future president of the Obesity Society, a dangerous one. Let me ask you Dr. President-elect - if there's no evidence to suggest that posting calories on menus would affect choice or obesity how is there enough evidence for you to make the flying leap that their posting would be, "ineffective", and possibly even, "deleterious"?

Can any readers out there give me some examples of how being more informed before making a decision lead to a potential for harm? While posting calories on menus certainly isn't going to eliminate overweight and obesity in one fell swoop, if you're concerned about your weight and notice that your appetizer has more calories than your main, or that your main has more calories than 3 Big Macs, it may in fact influence your decisions, may in fact give you a grounded education on calories and may in fact help you with your weight. More importantly, if consumers are interested in Calories, that of course will put pressure on Big Food to at the very least have some lower calorie menu options which again, those interested in watching their calories may choose.

My friendly, governmentally sourced email tipster (who forwarded me the newsletter) also included their own thoughts as to Dr. Allison's testimony. They stated that from the CSPI document it appeared as if Dr. Allison likely,
"isn't anti-calories on menus, he's pro-expert witness fees in lawsuits"
A sad day indeed.

The following are the companies that Dr. Allison has signed in a document listing them as conflicts of interest due to received grants, monetary donations, donations of product, payments for consultation, contracts, honoraria or commitments:

Air Canada
Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance (AALGA)
Allegheny University
American Bakers’ Association
American Dietetic Association
American Oil Chemists Society
American Psychological Association
American Society for Parentaral and Enteral Nutrition
Archer Daniels Midland
Bristol Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson
Campbell Soup Company
Catalyst Communications, Inc
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Ciba Foundation
Consumers’ Union
Corning HTA/Covance
Current Drugs Ltd
Cytodyne Technologies, Inc.
Decision Resources
Elsevier Science Publisher
Eon Labs Manufacturing, Inc.
Ergo Science
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology
Fertin Pharma A/S
Fisons Corporation
Fleishman Hillard, Inc
Food and Drug Administration
Gardiner-Caldwell Communications Ltd
General Mills
Genetics Institute
Genome Canada
Genome Explorations
Genome Therapeutics
Gerber Foundation
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Grey Health Care Group
Health Learning Systems
Henry A. Murray Research Center at Radcliffe College
Hoffman La-Roche
IBC UK Conferences
Institute for the Future
International Association for the Study of Obesity
International Food Information Council
International Life Sciences Institute
InvaCare, Inc.
ISL Healthcare Group
J P Morgan
Jenny Craig
Johnson & Johnson
Knoll Pharmaceuticals
Kraft Foods
Lawrence Erlbaum Publishing
Lee, Smart, Cook, Martin, & Patterson, Attorneys at Law
Life Measurement Instruments
Ligand Pharmaceuticals
Lilly Research Labs
Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins Publishers
M&M Mars
Many Universities, hospitals, and not-for-profit research organizations (list available on request)
Marcell Dekker Publishing
Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., Attorneys at Law
McGraw-Hill Publishing
McKenna & Cuneo, L.L.P., Attorneys at Law
Medical Economics (Thomson Healthcare)
Mediva Pharmaceuticals
Medlab, Inc.
Millennium Pharmaceuticals
National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders
National Institutes of Health
National Science Foundation
New York State Department of Health
Noonan/Rosso Communications, Inc.
North American Association for the Study of Obesity
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NutraSystems, Inc.
Nutratech, Inc.
NutriPharma (Scan Diet; Nutralet)
Original Marketing, Inc.
Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals
Parenti, Falk, Waas, Hernandez & Cortina, Attorneys at Law
PAREXEL International Corporation
Paterson, MacDougall, a Toronto, Canada law firm
Pfizer Central Research
Porter Novelli
Proctor & Gamble
Queens University, Canada
Rand Corporation
Research Testing Laboratories
RW Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute
Servier Amerique
Slim America
SlimFast Foods Company
Spadoro & Hilson, Attorneys at Law
Sugar Association
SuperGen, Inc
Terrapin Technologies
The Cortland Group
United Soybean Board
United States Postal Service
V2, Inc.
Veteran’s Administration
VimRx Pharmaceuticals
W.B. Saunders Publishing Co.
Weight Control Digest
Weight Watchers International
Wellcome Trust
Wheat Foods Council
Wilentz, Goldman, & Spitzer, Attorneys at Law
Zeneca Pharmaceuticals

Monday, February 11, 2008

Does Diet Pop make you Fat?

Maybe if you're a rat, but even then, only maybe.

The media is going crazy today for a study that looked at rats consuming saccharin (yes, saccharin - a sweetener currently banned in Canada) sweetened yogurt. The study found those same rats later consumed more calories and the researchers postulated that it was a compensatory behaviour.

The media of course has postulated that therefore in humans (a long leap from rats), consumption of diet pop sweetened with aspartame and Splenda (long leaps from saccharin), leads to weight gain.

They also point at the recent study that suggested diet pop drinkers have greater risk for metabolic syndrome, but of course in that study they don't note that drinking diet pop is almost certainly a marker for other eating behaviours which may be more likely to account for the slight increase in risk.

If we look at human studies done on aspartame in weight management one meta-analysis concluded that human studies in fact suggested,

"that replacing (added) sugar by low-energy sweeteners or by complex carbohydrates in an ad libitum diet might result in lower energy intake and reduced body weight. In the long term, this might be beneficial for weight maintenance."
Looking at one study in particular, a randomized trial comparing women who were randomly assigned to consume or abstain from aspartame sweetened foods during a 16-19 week weight loss program followed by 2 years of maintenance showed that,
"The aspartame group lost significantly more weight overall (P = 0.028) and regained significantly less weight during maintenance and follow-up (P = 0.046) than did the no-aspartame group."
My take on the rat study?

If the researchers fed the rats low to zero calorie meals by means of artificial sweeteners, it would not be surprising for those animals' bodies to note the lack of calories and compensate later in the day in a normal response to a low-calorie meal. Put simply, they compensated because they got hungry.

Of course, that's not how people tend to use sweeteners, and certainly not how I would recommend that they be used. People tend to use sweeteners to eliminate excess calories, generally liquid calories, but of course still consume sufficient calories from their meals to register that they've eaten. Therefore their bodies don't generate excess hunger, don't compensate later in the day and do avoid the excess liquid calories that they have replaced.

Long story short, I wouldn't throw out your diet pop just yet but don't have just it for breakfast.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Health Check Technical Advisor Doesn't Recommend Health Check

Maybe I'm reading into this, but I don't think so.

Fran Berkoff is a nutrition columnist for the Toronto Sun and Canadian Living. She's the author of Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal and she's a member of the 7 person Technical Advisory Committee for the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program.

Today in her nutrition column for the Toronto Sun she wrote a piece for Heart Month entitled, "All the Right Foods your Heart Desires". Heart Month, in case you forgot, is the Heart and Stroke Foundation's largest grassroots fundraising initiative.

Sounds like a perfect fit for a Health Check plug, and clearly Fran's not afraid to plug things as in the article she plugs Kellogg's All Bran Guardian cereal (Fran's worked for Kellogg's on multiple initiatives in the past) and Canada's Food Guide.

So in this nutrition column about foods that are Heart Healthy, written in the midst of Heart Month - the Heart and Stroke Foundation's major fundraising initiative, written by one of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check technical advisors, an advisor who is clearly comfortable promoting corporate programs and products, I think it's rather telling that she does not recommend that folks seek out the Health Check in making their product choices!

Can't say that I blame her.

[FYI: Kellogg's All Bran Guardian cereal's second ingredient is sugar. It contains over 83% the sugar of fruit loops (10 times the sugar of Cheerios), almost 50% more sodium than fruit loops, and like fruit loops it's also made with BHT, the food additive the CSPI recommended we ought to avoid if at all possible. Why am I not surprised that this particular product has a Health Check?]

Friday, February 08, 2008

Kentucky Fried Chicken's Flying Pig

I swear a pig just flew by my window.

According to the Wall Street Journal KFC is considering a, "nonfried chicken platform".

One can only hope that doesn't mean a literal platform made entirely of non-fried chickens because that would certainly not help their recent run-ins with PETA and would be rather vile to boot.

You know what else they have that may be definable as vile to boot? Their famous bowls which are the subject of today's Funny Friday video featuring comedian Patton Oswald.

(Please be forewarned - not safe for work or young ears - Patton, like many comics, really likes using the f-word)

Email subscribers, to see the video you usually need to actually visit the website.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Updates on Health Check

Well, there have been some changes with Health Check, but unfortunately only with their website's FAQ section which seems to be growing on an almost daily basis. It's now a whopping 27 questions long whereas six months ago, it was only 9!

Here are some of the newer frequently asked questions:

What are the Health Check's criteria for sodium/salt?

What limits have you set for sugar?

Could products without the symbol be healthier than Health Check products?

Some good questions there. Unfortunately the answers on their website (at least as of today's version of their website) are not particularly informative.

Let's look at them. Let's start with that last question,

"Could products without the symbol be healthier than Health Check products?".

Here's their complete answer,
"Health Check is a voluntary program, and we can only evaluate the products that are submitted to us. Companies that choose not to participate in Health Check may meet our criteria, but participation is their choice. We encourage consumers to read the nutrition facts panel and compare products, and know that they can always use Health Check as a quick reference to say "this product fits within a balanced diet following Canada's Food Guide."
Did you notice that they didn't in fact answer the question? The question was actually a yes or no question; it certainly didn't call for a long winded circular non-answer.

(The answer of course is "Yes, products without the symbol could be healthier than Health Check products".)

Regarding sugar and salt, here are a few choice quotes from their answers,
"The Health Check criteria for sodium for packaged products already in the program are mainly based on the values from Health Canada's Heart Health Claim (480 mg for single foods such as crackers and 960 mg for entrées such as a frozen dinner/entree) which is meant to help reduce the risk of developing heart disease.) These claims are widely accepted by the majority of health professionals and dietitians in Canada."
"Until recently, Health Check did not have sugar criteria, because there are no accepted scientific national or international limits we could use to establish criteria."
Oh really?

The Canadian Stroke Network on page 8 of their winter 2008 newsletter recommended that foods containing more than 400mg of sodium be labeled as high in sodium. Frankly so too do the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Blood Pressure Canada, the Canadian Hypertension Education Program, the Canadian Hypertension Society and the Societe Quebecoise D'Hypertension Arterielle, all of who on page 2 of a 2007 joint public recommendations document advised us not to consume foods that contain greater than 10% of our total daily recommended sodium intake. If we take the current 2300mg recommendation that would mean that they, including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, would want us to avoid foods containing more than 230mg of sodium per serving.

Regarding sugar, as noted before the World Health Organization's expert consensus was to limit consumption to reflect less than 10% of total daily Calorie consumption.

So what would a person consume if they ONLY chose Health Check'ed items?

Well in the test diet I created using only Health Check'ed items, it led to the consumption of an astronomical 4,065mg of sodium and a mind-numbing 190.5g of sugar - that's 47 teaspoons of sugar - almost a full cup in one day, with sugar accounting for 30% of the day's total Calories.

Now before you conclude that I chose only those items highest in sugar and sodium, I'll tell you that I did nothing of the sort. To view my test diets, click here.

Oh, and by the way, doing the same type of test diet for children yielded 2,285mg of sodium and 40 teaspoons of sugar (also reflective of 30% of their total daily Caloric intake).

Another new development came from one of the world's most indefatigable advocates of healthy eating and evidence-based nutrition, Dr. Marion Nestle from NYU, (I link to her blog on my sidebar) who weighed in on the debate on the Canadian Medical Association Journal's website. Her response, along with a letter from me and a couple from folks "defending" Health Check are available in their entirety on the CMAJ's online response section however here's her first paragraph,
"I view front-of-package labeling programs as a slippery slope. They make it all too easy for food companies to reformulate products to make them conform to criterion cut-points. The fewer the criteria, the greater the potential for such manipulation. As I understand it, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program currently relies on few criteria, a method that permits the Foundation to endorse foods containing amounts of sodium and sugar than would be excluded by more comprehensive criteria, and lesser amounts of health-promoting ingredients."
So keep on asking your questions to the Heart and Stroke folks and perhaps eventually they may come to recognize that Health Check is broken and that they can either roll it up or fix it.

Whether you've done so already or not, if you find all this the least bit concerning, I would urge you to voice your concerns with the folks responsible for Health Check and in positions of authority at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Click here to send Health Check 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) as well as the members of the Technical Advisory Committee responsible for overseeing Health Check's inclusion criteria.

You're Reading the Best Canadian Sci-Tech Blog of 2007!

Shockingly, Weighty Matters won!

Thank you to everyone who voted (and to Greg for the nomination)!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Obesity won't sink Health Care. Huzzah?

Good grief!

Apparently obesity saves health care dollars.

Yesterday the net was abuzz with the news that treating and preventing obesity won't actually save money in the long run because it costs the system more if you live a long life.

Today I imagine it'll be splashed across the newspapers.

The story comes from a paper published in the online Public Library of Science journal that using a mathematical model "proved" that obesity saved health care dollars by killing off its victims before they could incur the health care costs associated with a long life.

You know, working in obesity medicine, I've grown to expect bias, but this story shocked me.

Since when do we measure the benefit of chronic disease treatment in terms of dollars saved?

The papers and stories are basically all telling people not to worry about the costs of obesity because treatment won't in fact cost health care systems more money.

If we're worried about health care dollars, maybe we should stop treating cancer, heart disease, strokes, lupus, appendicitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Maybe we should stop blood transfusions, dialysis and cardioversions. Let's throw out antibiotics, anti-depressants and anti-rejection drugs. And while we're at it, let's shut down the ambulances, emergency rooms and delivery suites. Because you know what, if we do all of those things, those selfish sick people won't live as long and therefore they won't cost the system so much damn money.

It's only because the disease we're talking about is obesity, that anyone dare suggest that perhaps it's not such a concern because in the end, it won't cripple the health care system because people will die too young for them to truly sink it.

What about the incredible morbidity associated with obesity? The terrible impact on a person's quality of life, both medically and unfortunately in many cases socially? Are those not reasons in and of themselves to pursue every avenue of treatment? How did money enter this equation?

I'm not going to discuss the study in detail because frankly it simply doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because the fact is, I'm a doctor and I'm going to keep treating obesity because it's a chronic medical condition and treating it helps people live healthier longer lives and that's what doctors and the health care system are supposed to do, without question, without hesitation, worrying about the patient and not the bottom line.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The McTeacher

You've got to hand it to McDonald's, no one can ever say they aren't innovative in ways to integrate themselves into the educational system and healthcare.

Today I'll be serving up McTeachers.

Apparently McDonald's McTeacher night has been around for some time. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle from 2002 reported that it has been around since 2000 and back in 2002 included 2,500 schools in 14 States.

So what happens on McTeacher night?

Well if you're a teacher you end up behind the counter at McDonald's; if you're a student you end up going to McDonald's to order your teachers around; and if you're a school you end up pocketing a percentage of all the cash that exchanges hands.

In 2002 apparently that percentage amounted to $500,000.

One of the teachers interviewed by the Chronicle had some concerns with the program,

"We will be endorsing a product that contributes to the epidemic of childhood obesity and heart disease, even though the state dictates that we teach students to avoid junk food"
"This is exploiting teachers for a real, live McDonald's commercial"

A quick Google search shows that the McTeacher program is anything but dead with reports from across the USA of successful McTeacher events.

Recently some uproar has hit the press again in Maryland and in Washington where the chair of Montgomery County's Council's Health and Human Services Committee asked,
"Would we have a school fundraiser at a cigarette store?"
I wonder how long until this hits Canada?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Revived ParticipACTION Program Sells Out to Highest Bidder

So a kind email tipster alerted me to this new development that Canada's newly resuscitated ParticipACTION program will happily sell its logo and name to apparently whoever ponies up with some cash.

So wanna meet the new dream team?

Wrap your brains around this one - ParticipACTION and Coca Cola have teamed up to help promote activity to Canada's youth.

Last Tuesday the Coca Cola Company proudly announced the launch of something called The Torch Leadership Program, the mandate of which is to,

"to promote healthy active lifestyles among youth"
which is Big Food double speak for trying to shift the blame for obesity off of caloric intake (from tall, cold glasses of sugar for instance) to a lack of caloric expenditure.

But get this,
"Coca-Cola has retained ParticipACTION, Canada’s authority on active living, to lead the design of the program and to coordinate its delivery across Canada."
Some of my international readers might be wondering by now, "What the heck's ParticipACTION?".

Well ParticipACTION is now a federally funded phoenix program that uses mass media to try to get Canadians more active and currently has been dusted and polished with clarion calls to its renewed role in the fight against obesity.

(To give you an idea of how effective ParticipACTION is at fighting obesity just look to its track record. Prior to its 2007 rebirth ParticipACTION ran for 30 years from 1970-2000, three decades during which obesity rates in Canadian children rose by roughly 300%.)

So if you were unlike me and in fact remained optimistic that ParticipACTION might help make a difference I'm sorry to deflate your bubble, but as evidence to support my contention that ParticipACTION just doesn't get it and almost certainly won't help do anything to stem the tide of childhood obesity in Canada, here's their quobesigenic quote from the press release,
"ParticipACTION is the national voice for physical activity in Canada. We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with Coca-Cola Canada on its program to get Canadians moving more and to fight rising levels of inactivity among youth"
That quote by the way is from Kelly Murumets, the President and CEO of ParticipACTION, and she wasn't finished yet as she went on to state,
"We applaud Coca-Cola Canada for their leadership in using their Olympic sponsorship to inspire Canadians to adopt physical activity and sport as a way of life"
Already this January ParticipACTION has sold its logo to Weston Bakeries literally to be slapped on Wonder Bread and to Neilson's Dairy to be slapped on 2% and lower milk products (if anyone sees the logo on chocolate milk, please send it my way).

Yup, quite the dream teams.

Perhaps next we'll see the Canadian Lung Association sell its logo to Marlboro to help launch a bold new initiative aimed at decreasing urban air pollution?

Remember, nightmares are dreams.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Stupidest Idea Ever?

Meet Mississippi House of Representative Republicans W. T. Mayhall Jr., John Read and Bobby Shows. These are the gentleman that yesterday submitted perhaps the stupidest idea I've ever seen regarding obesity in the form of House Bill 282.

How stupid?

So stupid I felt compelled to post on Saturday.

So what did their collective brain-trust come up with?

Well they've proposed that the State of Mississippi make it illegal for restaurants to serve folks who are technically definable as obese (utilizing a BMI of 30 as a cut off).

In Mississippi, the fattest State in America, that would be more than 30% of the population.

Any restaurant who failed to do so would risk having their restaurant license revoked.

While I'm all for a top down approach to providing consumers with more information (like Calories on menus, proper education in schools and national eating guidelines that actually address the issue of obesity), blind, hateful bias helps no one.

Well boys, hope you're ready for the onslaught, because a move that stupid is going to take the blogosphere and media by storm.

To read their bill in its entirety, click here.

UPDATE: (February 4th) Thanks to Paul here's another great quote on the matter. This one's from Morgan Downey, the Executive Vice President of the Obesity Society. He referred to Bill-282 as,

"the most ill-conceived plan to address a public health crisis ever proposed"
I don't disagree.

[Hat tip to my sister Michal who actually popped this story over to me before it had hit the airwaves]

Friday, February 01, 2008

Do People Actually Buy These?

I honestly find it hard to believe.

I mean, I want one, but that's because I collect exercise and weight loss quackery.

But other than me, who in their right mind, or even their wrong mind, would believe that this product could be useful?

Well, it's useful to me, because it's today's Funny Friday.

Have a great weekend!