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).


    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.]