Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Advocacy via the public or via industry?

I had a meeting yesterday morning with a very nice, very well respected, and very well connected physician and public health advocate.

We were chatting about how I may be able to help him out in his endeavours and of course we chatted about health advocacy in general.

It turns out we come at things from two sides of the same coin. He thinks we need to pressure industry to affect changes to trickle down to the consumer (change the environment) while I think we need to pressure the consumer to increase awareness and knowledge to trickle up to industry to affect change (change the environment).

Of course both are good ideas and plans and I'm certainly not sure which is better.


I'd like to see nutrition taught better in schools to indoctrinate our children regarding the importance of food and health. I don't want there to be whole courses dedicated to boring kids about food and making them hate learning about nutrition, instead I want to see nutrition insidiously rolled out the entire curriculum, from reading comprehension exercises, to math problems, to healthy foods being served in cafeterias, nutritional information posted on cafeteria menu boards, unhealthy food policies abolished (junk food fundraising), and the truth of energy balance being effectively addressed (to explain how it's not a level playing field and that intake matters far more than output ultimately to weight).


Because I don't think industry believes in health altruism. They're not going to, on their own volition, recommend that vending machines be removed from schools. They're not going to recommend that we ban advertising towards children, they're not going to recommend that governments encourge the consumption of less food. And why should they? Their job is to sell food and make profits for their shareholders.

What will industry respond to? Consumer demand and governmental regulation.

Consumer demand wise look no further than the recent ban on bPA in baby bottles. Regulation wise look no further than California. California mandated that calories be placed on menus and suddenly restaurant calories are getting makeovers. Salads that had 1,270 calories suddenly have 390 and Denny's rolls out lower calorie Grand Slams.

I believe that demand is a function of awareness and that neither industry nor government is going to act without the public being behind an idea.

To boot you just watch what happens over the next 5 years with both industry and regulatory approaches to sodium, trans-fat and posted calories because suddenly the public wants to see those things change.

At the end of the day there's need and value for both approaches and I'm thrilled that there are folks out there fighting the good fight.