Monday, March 31, 2008

Is Thin too Expensive?

I realize that at first glance, that may look like an odd question.

Recent research however, suggests that it might not be.

A recent study, by Pablo Monsivais and Adam Drewnowski published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Organization, looked at the relative cost per calorie of 372 "low energy dense" foods and "high energy dense" foods between 2004 and 2006.

Low energy dense foods would be foods that gram per gram have fewer calories. Fruits and vegetables would be the staples of the low-energy dense shopper.

High energy dense foods gram per gram have more calories and tend to therefore be foods high in fat and/or sugar. This is often the realm of junk food.

Ready for the important and even somewhat surprising results?

Low energy dense foods are much more expensive than high energy dense foods, and while that may not surprise you, the difference in cost may: The least energy dense foods cost $18.16/1,000 kcal as compared to only $1.76/1,000 kcal for foods that were the most energy dense.

Also incredibly important to note, inflation affected low energy dense and high energy dense foods very differently with the 2-year price change for the low energy dense foods being +19.5%, whereas the price change for the high energy dense foods being −1.8%.

So in summary, not only are low energy dense foods far more expensive, their comparative inflation rate over the course of the past two years was 400% higher than the general rate of food inflation and more than 2000% higher than the junkiest of foods.

Put another way, based on a 2,000 Calorie per day diet, if you choose primarily high energy dense foods your Calories will cost you $3.52 a day as compared with a diet consisting primarily of low energy dense foods that will cost you $36.32 a day.

Any wonder why we're getting bigger?

Wanna guess how long it'll be before the government steps in and subsidizes our health food baskets?

Never?

We're in really big trouble.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, March 28, 2008

Slow-motion's Fun

Who knew?

Have a great weekend!



Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hide, McRibs are Back!


Driving my daughter to school yesterday I noticed a billboard outside McDonald's trumpeting the limited return engagement of the Mc"Rib" to Canada.

You may be wondering why I'm using quotation marks surrounding the word rib.

Well, let's just say it's not really a rib.

It is however made up of pork.

It's basically processed pork pressed into a shape that resembles ribs replete with fake "bones".

That picture up above?

That picture's what a Mc"Rib" looks like when the sauce is washed off.

The picture below?

That's a cross-section closeup.

For more pictures, head over to Fast Food Facts for their full post on Deconstructing McRib.....just don't go on a full stomach.

[FYI: 490 calories, 1,040 mg sodium]




Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Food Really Looks Like


A while back I linked to a website that took a bunch of fast food items and compared them to what they looked like in their advertisements.

Well today I've got a link to a German website that looked at over 100 store-bought products (with a few fast food items thrown in for good measure) and did the same thing.

Let's just say that food stylists (the folks who take pictures of these products) are really, really good at their jobs.

Here's a quick video short from that same German website.

Words of advice?

You don't want to buy the herring salad.



Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

All You Can Eat Blue Jays!


So the trend of all-you-can-eat admission to baseball games has made it to the great white north.

To date this trend has pretty much been U.S. based and according to an article in the Toronto Star,

"Nearly half of the major league baseball teams in the U.S. have added the "all-inclusive" seats. Nine NHL teams offer them, six NBA teams have them and NASCAR is selling the tickets at several of its racetracks."
Hurray for Canada?

Want to be an early-adopter?

For just $39 you can watch the Jays take on the Kansas City Royals and "enjoy" all you can eat hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, peanuts and soft drinks.

Sorry, no pizza or beer for you.

Hope you can take your head out of the trough long enough to watch the game.

Buy your tickets here.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 24, 2008

We Get Mail!

So early last week I blogged about my desire to see family-friendly checkout lines in Supermarkets - where magazines talking about sex and potentially contributing to body image disturbances, and candy were absent.

I also sent off an email to Loblaws (Canada's largest supermarket chain) and on Thursday received a response from Ms. Inge Van Den Berg, Loblaws' Vice President of Investor Relations.

I'll post the email below but here's the executive summary:

  • 6 months ago Loblaws started testing what they call a "clutter-free" checkout aisle in their Milton Superstore.

  • Since then they have begun to experiment with further such aisles in 4 other Superstores and 3 regular stores.

  • They are also planning on converting additional stores, but the number and speed with which this will occur she can't say.

    Now frankly I'm not against magazines and candy in checkouts, I just want an option where I don't have to face those with my family and ideally I'd love a family-only checkout line where not only might I avoid the candy and magazines, but one where perhaps it would allow me to get my bored little kids out even faster. While I'm not holding my breath, in a subsequent email exchange, Ms. Van Den Berg reported that she'd raise this possibility with her colleagues.

    I'll likely check back with Ms. Van Den Berg in 6 months or so for an update.

    Dear Dr. Freedhoff,

    Thank you very much for your letter. We are glad that you like our Blue Menu product line. We have been receiving positive customer response to this product line and feel very strongly about providing healthy food alternatives to our customers. We share your concerns regarding health matters and have publicly identified one of our eight growth drivers as being "health, home and wholesome" focused.

    Regarding your concern about 'child-friendly' checkout aisles, as you may know we have been testing a clutter-free checkout aisle in our Milton Superstore since September of 2007 and have received very positive feedback from our customers regarding these checkouts. Since then, we have begun to convert several store checkouts to this no candy, no magazine design. Currently we have 4 of our Superstores and 3 of our Great Food (conventional) stores using this clutter-free design. We are planning to convert additional checkouts to this clutter-free format, but the timing and full extent of conversion has not yet been finalized. It is too soon to indicate if or when all of our stores will be converted to this clutter-free design, but the customer response to date has been positive and we will continue to monitor response as we continue conversions. Our largest Hard Discount banner, nofrills, does not display magazines at their checkouts. We have not begun testing the full clutter-free checkouts in the remaining Hard Discount stores yet. We do offer self-scanning checkout lanes in 177 of our stores. These self-scanning checkouts are primarily magazine and confectionery free where possible. We are continuing to rollout more self-scanning checkout lanes, with a goal to have them all clutter-free. As you mentioned, these lanes are an option for customers to avoid the candy and magazines in other checkout lanes.

    Just so that you are aware, in the stores that we have clutter-free checkouts, we still retain a magazine section and confectionery section nearby the checkouts (often across from one of the checkouts or to the side). We offer these products to our customers, as there are many customers that do want to purchase them. Therefore we do rely on parents to manage their shopping trip around those areas, if they are concerned about the products' impact on their children. We believe this is an acceptable shared responsibility.

    Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further.

    Regards,

    Inge

    Inge van den Berg

    Vice President, Investor Relations

    Loblaw Companies Limited 1 President's Choice Circle Brampton, ON L6Y 5S5 1-905-459-2500


    Bookmark and Share

  • Friday, March 21, 2008

    Fight or Flight?

    It's an interesting question, and until you're in a situation where instinct takes over, you'll probably never know which way you'll go.

    Tyrone on the other hand, well, he's pretty clear cut.

    Today for Funny Friday is why it's probably best to think your pranks through before you pull the trigger and why you probably shouldn't scare Tyrone (be forewarned, clip involves a punch).

    Have a great weekend!



    Bookmark and Share

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    A BSc. in Obesity?

    Yup.

    According to a newspaper report in yesterday's National Post, the Univesity of Guelph and Humber College are teaming up to create a 4 year degree program in obesity.

    To start next fall, the program will aim to train students to work with the obese through courses on nutrition, exercise science, anatomy and "the science behind obesity related diseases".

    Graduates will receive two degrees: A BSc. in kinesiology from Guelph and a diploma in fitness and health promotion from Humber College. According to the University of Guelph's press release they will then be,

    "qualified to work as personal trainers, kinesiologists, wellness consultants and fitness practitioners in both clinical and rehabilitation settings."
    For me, this hammers home two messages:

    Firstly, that clearly there's a crying need for more health professionals trained in obesity management.

    Secondly, that medical schools and residency programs are failing our obese patients.

    Frankly in an ideal world, I don't think obesity management should be a University course. The reason you don't see 4 year degrees in blood pressure or diabetes is because doctors are taught how to adequately manage those conditions in medical school and residency. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for obesity.

    In my ideal world obesity medicine would be a sub specialty program within the department of Family Medicine and/or a real 5 year physician specialist program.

    If you're interested in the course, you'd better have good grades - they've already received 430 applications for the 60 available spots.

    Bookmark and Share

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Pediatrician Peddles "Herbal" Water

    Introducing Ayala's Herbal Water; a "naturally enhanced flavored water".

    Flavors include: Lemongrass mint vanilla, lavender mint lemongrass thyme, jasmine vanilla, cloves cardamom cinnamon, cinammon orange peel and ginger lemon peel.

    So who's Ayala?

    She's Dr Ayala Laufer Cahana, a pediatrician and medical geneticist from Wynnewood Pennsylvania and she also writes her own blog on nutrition.

    Peeking at her blog she seems to be all about evidence-based medicine as she links back to studies on the safety of vitamin supplements, nutrition and cancer, diet soda and many more.

    But if she's so keen on evidence based medicine, how come she put out a press release for her water that included the following statements,

    "The new water is all natural, has zero calories, zero artificial additives and zero preservatives, and features the complex and sophisticated flavors derived from herbs which also bring all the health benefits associated with antioxidants."

    and,

    "For centuries herbs have been enjoyed around the world and are known for their healing powers. Some of the herbs used in producing the Ayala's Herbal Water have been known to aid digestion, improve blood glucose levels, strengthen immunity, reduce insomnia, stress, and help maintain healthy LDL cholesterol levels."
    Her ads also tout the fact that it was, "created by a pediatrician".

    Now I'm all for water and have nothing against herbs, but it strikes me as more than a tad hypocritical, exceedingly misleading and an abuse of public trust to use your MD to promote water with a smidgen of herbs as being something specially formulated by you with explicit inferences that the herbs infused will help improve multiple medical conditions.

    Worse still coming from a doctor whose blog at least suggests, understands the astronomical difference between evidence and inference, yet seems to be relying on the fact that most consumers don't to sell her product.

    Bookmark and Share

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Does Playing the Nintendo Wii Really Burn Calories?


    Not so much.

    Despite the hoopla surrounding the Nintendo Wii in a putative role in the fight against childhood obesity, the first published study looking at calorie expenditure during gameplay suggests it's far from a prize fighter.

    The study, published in the British Medical Journal (and sponsored by Nintendo) took 11 children aged 13-15 and compared their caloric expenditures playing Wii Sports vs. those playing a sedentary XBox 360 title.

    The results?

    Per hour of Wii sports you can expect to burn an additional 60 Calories.

    To put this into perspective it would therefore take your child nearly 60 hours of playing the Wii to burn off a single pound worth of Calories.

    Bottom line - Wiis are for fun, not for weight loss.

    Oh, and the above's all assuming you are active when playing your Wii - something that the following video demonstrates is in fact not really necessary.



    Bookmark and Share

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Child-Friendly Grocery Stores?


    I'm just starting to hear some whispers of a new trend in supermarkets - the child-friendly checkout aisle.

    Are checkout aisles currently child unfriendly?

    Ummmmm yeah I'd say so.

    Turn to your right and you're surrounded by candy. Turn to your left and you're surrounded by glossy diet magazines, gossip and stories about how to be sexier in bed.

    Remove the candy and the magazines and voila - child-friendly checkout.

    To that end, yesterday I sent off a letter to Loblaws (Canada's largest grocery store chain) asking them to consider making at least one checkout aisle per store child friendly. I'll be sure to share their response with you.

    If you'd like to send a letter in support of this idea, feel free to click here to email customer service and investor relations at Loblaws

    Here's mine,

    Dear Loblaws,

    I know health matters to you. Your President's Choice Blue Menu line, overseen by Dr. David Jenkins, is a great example of how the food industry can partner up with health professionals to provide consumers with generally healthier choices, all the while helping the food industry with sales.

    I'm writing to ask you for your comments on a growing trend in Supermarkets and that would be the existence of "child-friendly" checkout lines where confections and magazines were not part of the walk-through experience.

    Confection wise - we live in a world where childhood obesity is on the rise. While I certainly don't lay blame on checkout lines for rising rates, for parents harried by bored children to buy them a chocolate bar giving in is often the easiest option. Not being surrounded by chocolate and candy options while waiting to check-out certainly would decrease the frequency of this happening and potentially make family shopping a healthier, calmer, more pleasant experience.

    Glossy magazine wise - the media dramatically influences our children's body images and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the majority of their early exposure to such magazines may take place in supermarket checkout lines. Unhealthy body images abound in young children with studies suggesting that half of young girls aged 6 and above want to change their appearances. Given that the bulk of the glossy magazines in checkout aisles detail how to flatten, firm, or trim various body parts along with photos of the requisite ultra-slim model, navigating these lines can be difficult. There's also really no need for my young daughters to read headlines such as, "Sex Shockers Things He Doesn't Know About During the Deed That you Really Really Need to Know", "How Long Should You Wait to Sleep with a Guy?", "The Harmless Habits that Turn Men off to you", and "Naughty Sex Tricks (Let out your inner bad girl)". Those headlines by the way all come from the April 2007 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.

    Having at least one family friendly checkout line per store would allow concerned parents the ability to stand in a child-safe line, and may in turn increase traffic to your store, help your customers improve the health of their families and most certainly would be something news worthy.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter as are the readers of my blog where I've also posted this letter.

    Sincerely,
    Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD CCFP Dip ABBM
    Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute


    Bookmark and Share

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    Improv Everywhere's Food Court Musical

    If you're not familiar with Improv Everywhere, they're a group of folks who organize spontaneous, and often amusing, improv skits and schemes.

    Today for Funny Friday is their latest posting entitled Food Court Musical where 16 seemingly random people in a shopping mall's food court spontaneously launched into a Broadway musical style song.

    Have a great weekend!



    Bookmark and Share

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    KFC - Where 43% of Your Chicken's not Chicken!

    My friend Julie Van Rosendaal who writes the blogs It Must Have Been Something I Ate and Dinner with Julie sent me something truly wild.

    It's a PDF from KFC that details the ingredients of their menu items.

    The ingredients themselves are a veritable witch's brew of preservatives and items meant to improve things like the mouthfeel of food with such things as sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium peroxide, xanthan gum, sodium benzoate, carrageenan and many more.

    The best part though is the "chicken".

    Why is the word chicken in quotations?

    How 'bout if I told you that 43% of the ingredient known as chicken in KFC's chicken strip wasn't chicken?

    What is it?

    I'll let the Colonel explain,

    "Chicken Breast Strips Containing up to 43% of a Solution of: Water, Seasoning (Soy Protein Concentrate, Salt, Rice Starch, Carrageenan, Dextrose, Onion Powder, Dehydrated Chicken Broth, Maltodextrin, Spice Extractives), Sodium Phosphate. Breaded with: Wheat Flour, Salt, Spices, Monosodium Glutamate, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Enriched Wheat Flour (Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Natural Flavor, Maltodextrin, Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Wit Not More Than 2% Calcium Silicate Added as an Anti Caking Agent."
    Mmmmmmmmmmm, 43% not-chicken slurry.

    Thanks Julie, and thanks KFC - you're always a pleasure to blog about!

    Bookmark and Share

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Front of Cookie Labeling!


    So this is a follow-up post to my Stupidest Cookies Ever? post that looked at Voortman's Omega-3 Zeer-Ohs.

    A kind reader (who'd like to remain wholly anonymous) was gracious enough to bring me an Omega 3 Zeer-Oh because lo and behold, printed smack dab in the middle of the fake Oreo (click the picture to enlarge it for a better look) are the words,

    "Zero Trans Fats"
    So Voortman's has basically thrown down the gauntlet here. I challenge anyone to find me a stupider (yes, I realize that's not a real word) cookie!

    Bookmark and Share

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Interesting TV Show Alert


    Airing tonight at 10pm EST on CBC Newsworld's The Lens is a show entitled, "My Big Fat Diet".

    My Big Fat Diet chronicles a fascinating experiment whereby a small Canadian community of Namgis First Nations give up their westernized diets for a year and return to their roots eating much more traditional first nation fares.

    Basically the entire community goes on Atkins.

    What happens next doesn't surprise me, but will sure make for great television and research.

    The community loses weight - lots of it. They also get healthier.

    The lens has a fabulous website with a tremendous amount of information on the show and if you'd like to watch a clip before tonight, simply click here.

    Bookmark and Share

    Dream of Becoming a Professional Gurgitator?

    Well if you've got a Nintendo Wii, your dream may soon come true with the release of their Major League Eating: The Game title.

    The game aims to bring you the world of competitive eating to the comforts of your own living rooms.

    Why you ask? Why would anyone want to pretend to be a competitive eater?

    Well according to the press release,

    "Professional gurgitators have the grace of ballerinas yet the brute strength, mental focus, and intestinal fortitude to push their bodies and minds as hard as athletes in any other extreme endurance sport. Victory is sweet and defeat can be well, really, really messy. It's an experience we're proud to help bring into the home."
    So it's on the Wii, will you have to swallow the controllers?

    Nope. But you will have to,
    "master a smorgasbord of offensive and defensive weapons including bites, burps, belches, mustard gas and jalapeƱo flames while cramming and chewing food at a world-class pace"
    How lovely.

    Bookmark and Share

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Nutella Goes Too Far

    The UK's Advertising Standards Authority recently upheld 53 complaints about a Nutella commercial that tried to spin Nutella as healthy and good for children.

    Nutella, with 2.5 teaspoons of sugar per tablespoon of spread, was promoted in the commercial to parents with a voiceover that extolled,

    "Surprisingly, each jar contains 52 hazelnuts, the equivalent of a glass of skimmed milk and some cocoa"
    with the next voiceover stating,
    "Nutella releases energy slowly, so it can be part of a balanced breakfast"
    Wow, do the math and you'll find that along with the 52 hazelnuts, each 400g jar of Nutella contains 60 teaspoons of sugar (that's roughly 1.5 cups of sugar - the same amount you'd find in 2 litres of Coca Cola (for the Americans, that's half a gallon)).

    Nutella's defense?

    According to their press release,
    "We took the advice of independent expert nutritionists who; based on the Food Standards Agency "Eat Well plate" nutritional guidelines determined that Nutella Hazelnut Spread could form part of a balanced breakfast"
    Made for Canada translation? The Food Guide made us do it.

    What does Nutella Canada have to say?
    "Mom's across Canada choose Nutella as part of a nutritious and delicious breakfast to give their kids a great start to their day!

    Nutella combines the magic of these ingredients into a unique and yummy recipe that kids love. And with no artificial colours and no preservatives, it's easy to feel good about serving Nutella to your kids and helping them spread some energy
    "
    I guess "energy" is Big Food speak for "sugar".

    [Hat tip to Cathy in Edmonton for pointing me to the story]

    Bookmark and Share

    Friday, March 07, 2008

    I'm Just Not Drunk Enough

    Thanks to Google and Blogger this was quite a week!

    Over 10,000 hits over the past 3 days alone.

    So for all of my new subscribers, let me explain what happens on Fridays. On Fridays, I take a day off the serious stuff and try to post something, well, funny. This week is no exception and I've got a great video from Catherine Tate of the BBC telling it like it is.

    Have a great weekend!

    [Unfortunately for email subscribers that usually means a blank box at the end of the email. To watch the video, just head over to the blog.]



    Bookmark and Share

    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Pre-Schooler Hot Chocolate Hack


    With over 12 feet of snow falling this winter thus far in Ottawa there have been many occasions where my sweet 3.5 year old daughter has come inside rosy-nosed and cheeked looking for hot chocolate.

    Given what I do and my views on sugar and calories, you might imagine that hot chocolate is not on my list of healthy go-to beverages (it's a pretty short list - water).

    So what's an obesity medicine doctor to do?

    One option which we do when we're out is not care too much - she's a healthy kid, with a healthy weight and a little hot chocolate now and then is part of growing up.

    Of course in our home, well things are much more controllable and that's where my wife's pre-schooler hot chocolate hack comes in handy.

    It's an easy one.

    She uses espresso cups.

    Perfect size for my tiny daughter (who also loves the tiny daintiness of the cup) and provides her with a treat that's quite calorie controlled.

    So for context, the average "packet" of hot chocolate combined with 6oz of water would contain roughly 120 calorie and 5 teaspoons of sugar. Make it with 6oz of skim milk and now you're up to 190 calories - buy it at Tim Horton's and you've got 240.

    My wife's recipe - 34 Calories and piles of cute.

    1/4 teaspoon Caotina (crazy rich chocolate drink mix) (4 calories)
    1/4 cup skim milk (23 Calories)
    5 mini marshmallows (7 Calories)

    Bookmark and Share

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Welcome Google!


    I want to welcome the folks arriving from the Google Blogs of Note blog!

    I'm a Canadian family doctor with a focus in obesity medicine and my blog Weighty Matters tries to look at obesity, the media and nutrition from what I feel to be a common sense, realistic and hopefully at least sometimes, a humourous manner.

    Enjoy yourselves, poke around and hope to see you again soon.

    Best regards,
    Yoni

    Bookmark and Share

    Health Canada's Latest Debacle - Your Role

    Right now Health Canada is sitting down with Big Food and asking them directly how best to display front of package claims that for Big Food will generate sales and for Canadians will generate confusion.

    On this blog in the past you've read about the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check and how front-of-package labeling, even when put forth by credible organizations, can in fact do more harm than good.

    In the supermarket products scream out at you they're healthy, and not only do you have to navigate Health Check, but you've also got Pepsi Co.'s Smart Spot and Kraft's Sensible Solutions.

    So is there anything you can do?

    I suppose, if you're really keen, you can read the 124 page discussion paper by Health Canada and then submit your formal response back to them. If you'd like to do that, you can click here to head to the page where you can download the comments form and find the addresses as to where to send it.

    The Centre for Science in the Public Interest in their March 2008 issue of Nutrition Action suggests a simpler course.

    They invite concerned Canadians to either write or email Tony Clement or fax their MP to demand that at the very least, Health Canada adopt a national front of label program that evaluated ALL of the products available in the supermarket reflecting both nutrition and ingredients.

    They have a suggested wording that I've modified slightly and you can click here to email it to Minister Clement. The email will be copied to the folks running the current consultation process, and while of course you can modify the content as you see fit, here's what it will say,

    As a concerned Canadian who cares about my health, I urge you to conduct a consultation and then require simple front-of-package nutrition labels on ALL foods. The labeling should reflect both nutrition and ingredients and should have a transparent and evidence-based basis derived in consultations free of the involvement of the food industry.
    CSPI will also be mounting a Fax your MP campaign which I'll link here when it's available, but is not quite live yet.

    You can also find your own MP and email the letter to them using this site and your postal code to find the appropriate email address.

    While I'm not sure an email and fax campaign will help one thing's for certain - doing nothing will certainly do nothing.

    Bookmark and Share

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Health Canada's Latest Debacle Part III

    So today, thanks to a concerned and anonymous tipster, I'm going to take you on a tour of a typical table in Health Canada's latest consultation process involving putting health claims on fronts of packages.

    Here's their description of the goings on at this Kangaroo consultation (edited only to remove identifying information),

    "I recently attended Health Canada's stakeholder consultation workshops as they traveled around the country. I found out that industry representatives traveled along too to ensure that their voice as stakeholders was consistently heard. Health Canada wanted to know whether it would be a good idea to allow health claims substantiated by lower levels of evidence.

    I personally think that health claims are more a marketing tool than a consumer education tool and lower levels of evidence will result in even more confusion for Canadians, who already seem to be confused about nutrition.

    After you arrive, you are placed at a table and your table mates are pre-chosen for you, presumably so there is a wider variety of representatives at each table than might randomly occur. After hearing the presentations from Health Canada, you are asked to discuss a very specific question at your table.

    One individual from each table (the group reporter) captures the responses on paper, as does a Health Canada staffer, and then this is reported to the larger group. The reporter tries to capture for the larger group what was said by putting it into their own words. If the reporter isn't equitable in capturing your opinion (which is likely given the time constraints), then it doesn't get captured. What this process does, in the end, is whittle away the issues to a few generic type bullet points.

    I was shocked to find out that all opinions are not equally captured, and some are overtly ignored. Only those that represent the consensus at the table are. In other words, if your opinion is not mainstream, it isn't really captured. What is the point of having a diverse group of people come together?

    I am bothered by the fact that: 1) The questions are so narrow that the answers are almost as well 2) The process captures only what the mainstream agrees on 3) Discussion about whether health claims actually do what they were intended to do - help Canadians eat better, is not addressed. 4)The most frequent responses carry the weight and the food industry is present at every meeting, not the average person.
    And that's actually not even the meatiest parts.

    Unfortunately my tipster is very concerned about remaining anonymous and therefore some of the more shocking bits had to be removed so as to ensure no identifiable information remained.

    So to summarize, if your view differs from the majority at the table it will be as if you weren't even there as your view will not make it back to the official consultation record. And if the majority at the table represents Big Food, can you guess what the outcomes of these consultations will be?

    No?

    Well I'll tell you.

    Health Canada will be able (just as it did with the Food Guide) to point at a poorly designed consultation process as proof that all views were heard, while Big Food will be allowed to ensure the best possible chance to have their positions adopted as a reflection of what the consultation process itself suggested was consensus.

    Stay tuned tomorrow to hear about what you can do to make yourself heard (though after watching how Health Canada operates, unfortunately I'm not sure how much good it'll do).

    Bookmark and Share

    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Health Canada's Latest Debacle Part II


    Today we'll be continuing our discussion of the current Health Canada consultation entitled, "Managing Health Claims for Foods in Canada: Towards a Modernized Framework" which is meant to set new rules as to what Big Food is allowed to print on fronts of packages to entice consumers to buy them.

    So let me ask you, who do you think has the largest vested interest in what Health Canada ultimately recommends?

    I'd love to tell you it was a highly organized establishment of health professionals and researchers whose aim it was to ensure that Canadians were given the best, most robust, evidence-based information possible to help with their dietary choices. You might think that such a group already existed and it was in fact Health Canada itself, but unfortunately you'd be sorely mistaken. While undoubtedly there are some outstanding folks over at Health Canada, somehow their contributions don't seem to make it to Health Canada's final products (witness our abysmal Food Guide).

    Nope, the folks who care the most are of course Big Food who know that health claims on packages are remarkably effective at generating sales.

    Knowing that, let's take a look at the current consultation process.

    Right now they're in their, "multi-stakeholder" phase where they invite interested parties to give their opinions on what should and should not be included. In true Health Canada fashion, Big Food is formally invited to share their opinions. They're invited to share not just by way of letter or email submission (which I think would be entirely appropriate), they're invited to sit in on the consultation process itself and no doubt once there, they'll do everything in their power to spin tabled discussions to support their positions. That's an important distinction given that as noted in my post last Thursday, amazingly Health Canada is basically trying to decide whether or not to cater to Big Food's push for laxity in required evidence or instead to the pillar of any credible health claims system - evidence.

    So let's say you as a fellow health care professional who cares about nutrition, or as a private citizen who's been reading this blog, let's say you wanted to put your two cents in. What would you have to do to be included in this consultation process?

    Well, you'd have to read a dry 124 page document put out by Health Canada detailing the issue and then you'd either have to take a day off work to attend one of the regional consultation meetings or take the time to craft an email to send out to Health Canada.

    In this hectic society, how many folks do you think would have the time to do either of those things?

    I know if I took the time to attend a consultation, as someone who was self-employed, that'd be a day where I wasn't getting paid, and as a physician, a day where I wasn't able to help patients.

    If you're not self-employed, I doubt many bosses would think that attending a Health Canada consultation on food labeling was a decent excuse to take off work.

    Nope, not many private citizens are going to attend these meetings.

    So who is going to attend these meetings? The folks paid to do so. Big Food, and a smattering of folks from public interest groups like the Centre for Science in the Public Interest and from various arms of government.

    Big Food however will not only pay its employees to attend, it'll also pay for research into how to spin data to support its aims and pay to teach its employees how to best assert themselves and their views at their "multi-stakeholder" tables.

    Basically at the end of the day, Big Food is going to spend a small fortune, training and equipping a legion of employees from coast to coast to inculcate and represent at all of the various consultation sites. Consequently, an average citizen, an independent health professional, or even a well-intentioned governmental health care researcher is simply not going to have the resources or the sheer manpower that Big Food has at their disposal.

    Is that going to ultimately affect the recommendations that arise from the consultation process?

    Of course.

    By including Big Food in the consultation process, just as with the Food Guide, Health Canada has once again stacked the deck in Big Food's favour. As a result, Health Canada is likely going to shortchange the Canadian public by ultimately setting policies where the overrepresented interests of Big Food unfortunately end up supplanting best evidence.

    Stay tuned tomorrow to hear a first hand account of how Big Food controls the consultations.

    Bookmark and Share