Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest Post: The Ritz Hits the Fan in Manitoba

Talk about viral. My post highlighting Kristen Bartkiw's daycare's bizarre implementation of Manitoba's food policy made international news and appeared on sites like BoingBoing, Gawker, and Grist driving intense interest and traffic.

Well my friend and colleague Dr. Joyce Slater, a Registered Dietitian and an Assistant Professor of Community Nutrition in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba caught sight of the story too and she sent me some of her thoughts. I thought they were important and so I asked her if it'd be alright to post them as a guest post and she kindly agreed. A bit more about Joyce - prior to returning to the University of Manitoba Joyce worked as a public health nutritionist for 18 years, has two teenagers, and likens eating a healthy diet to flying a jet – it’s always going off course; what’s important is recognizing it and making regular corrections!

The Manitoba Daycare ‘Ritz-Crackers-Are-A-Grain-Food’ Scandal is threatening to move Rob Ford out of the spotlight – it’s gone viral and the story of the "bad" mom that didn't have all four food groups in her childrens' lunch was even picked up by Gawker!

Really though, there are a couple other "layers" to this story. First, daycare workers are paid poorly, and these women (‘cause they’re almost all women) are expected to provide a lot of services while adhering to many (and growing) guidelines regarding health and safety. And it’s a good thing that we have those guidelines to ensure children are well cared for, but lets keep in mind that their main job is childcare, not ‘nutrition’.

Second, it’s great to have policies supporting healthy nutrition, but what support are daycares given to implement these policies? A short one-off in-service? A ‘fact sheet’? And then when the Ritz hits the fan we say “how stupid is that! Adding crackers to a homemade meal!!! They should know better!” Well, why should they know better? Are these daycare employees are expected to be all-knowledgeable about nutrition (perhaps because they are women)?

Well, with over 60% of us overweight or obese, and the massive loads of ultra-processed foods everywhere we turn, I would guess that most of the population is completely confused about “what to eat”. Add to that our complicated nutrition messaging (most of which now comes from food companies)- and guess what: "Ritz crackers" DO fit in the grain group! And hey – those potatoes; well, um… high carb, but… don’t they really go in the veggies? I have undergraduate nutrition students who are confused about this – because it is confusing!

And what kind of ongoing support do daycares have regarding nutrition education and implementation of policies? Not much. They have inspectors who go around to make sure there are proper locks on the cupboard, but what about healthy food?

The moral of this story is that the Manitoba government should have registered dietitians on staff working on an ONGOING BASIS with all community-based organizations that serve food, including daycares. Instead of hiring more nurses and doctors to provide more curative health care for skyrocketing chronic diseases, let's do some real prevention in the community.

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  1. Anonymous7:15 am

    Thank you for your post. My daughter was hired as a "lunch lady" this year for a small religious school [in the USA not Canada], so I have had a little different view of this area. The schools have little money, the families have little money and these new policies are a real struggle. And the schools are threatened that there are inspectors who can show up at any time and if they are not in compliance there are big sanctions.

  2. Jessica8:02 am

    Love love love your conclusions. Awesome post.

  3. "The moral of this story is that the Manitoba government should have registered dietitians on staff working on an ONGOING BASIS with all community-based organizations that serve food, including daycares." - well no. It's dieticians who continue to enforce the low-fat dogma that got us into this increasing obesity and T2D problem in the first place. It's governmental meddling in what people eat that's the problem, not the solution.

    The issue in this case is not about nutrition at all, but the use of force to dictate what a child should eat.

    1. Anonymous9:21 am

      As a dietitian my colleagues and I are very pro healthy fats such as olive oil, salmon, avocados, almonds etc. My personal view is that weights are increasing primarily due to very busy lifestyles which interfere with home cooking and getting exercise rather than any type of dietary advice that the government has ever had.

    2. Anonymous10:13 am

      As in: Ritz crackers rather than homemade beef and roasted vegetables? Exactly.

    3. Anonymous10:00 am

      I'm also a registered dietitian and I completely disagree with the statement "It's dieticians who continue to enforce the low-fat dogma that got us into this increasing obesity and T2D problem in the first place."
      As a registered dietitian I do no promote low-fat eating...I educate people on the different types of fats and promote a diet low in SATURATED FATS, but stress the importance of mono/poly unsaturated "healthy" fats in a balanced diet.
      It is the food industry and the drive for fast, easy, convenient foods has been a huge factor in the increase in obesity.
      I don't necessarily agree that the government should intervene as they are...but I do think that they can play a role. Perhaps supporting our local farmers to help decrease the cost of produce?

    4. So above are replies from two RDs who seem totally oblivious to the fact there is no scientific evidence that saturated fats of natural origin are dangerous (whatsoever) to growing children. As opposed to seed oils (usually called "vegetable" oil) that have some very questionable properties and associations. RDs who regurgitate the half-baked low-fat dogma have assisted in ruining the health of many over several generations. Because they merely enforce the status quo -that's the job. A status quo that is completely ineffectual at stemming diabetes and metabolic diseases.

  4. Anonymous8:19 am

    I too love the conclusion to this post!

  5. What is apparent here is a disconnect between those who make the policies and those who are expected to enforce them. We are witnessing this here in the US on a much grander scale… the ACA aka the Affordable Care Act which looks wonderful on paper and sounds great out of the mouths of politicians but not so when it comes time to roll out the practical side of this policy. The real art is making things work not in creating the words.

  6. hear, hear! I once taught nutrition in child care centers -- and have the utmost respect for the incredible work the employees did. I highly doubt any other group of professionals would be willing to be saddled with all of the responsibilities of caregivers PLUS adding nutrition expert to the list (and in many cases for a rather low salary, thanks for bringing that back into the fold). The ritz crackers are silly in hindsight (and from a distance), but it is so important to not forget the context. You're conclusion is spot on: it's a systemic failure, not one to be blamed (from high horses) on the hardworking people of the care center.

    1. Anonymous9:22 am

      Agreed, day care providers work exceptionally hard for too little pay and have many guidelines and expectations to meet.

  7. As a pilot, I really liked her analogy of a healthy diet to flying a jet!

  8. Anonymous12:13 pm

    since when were ritz crackers healthy? That blows my mind

  9. Her conclusions seem to be more toward protecting
    and enhancing job opportunities for dietitians who,
    as PrimeNumbers said, are still enforcing the low-
    fat dogma that got us into this mess.

    As her focus is on "ultra-processed foods," One
    dietition with this mindset per child will not solve obesity.

    She spent no time on the issue: the use of government
    force to dictate what a child should eat.

    1. Anonymous6:55 pm

      Not all are enforcing the low-fat dogma, but yes, the Food Guide is still tailored that way unfortunately. I don't think policies such as this one exist to govern what a child should eat. I believe they are there to ensure that a child isn't being sent to school with pop and chips. It's shameful what I have seen some kids sent to school with. There are flaws in all policies and Weighty Matters has brought the flaw in this one to the table. Baby steps people!

    2. Anonymous9:35 pm

      I agree with this post and I also respect the position the day care caregivers are placed in. They work very hard with limited training and support. Nutrition guidelines are there to help us remember and make the effort to provide balanced meals for our children. Supplementing a meal with an additional food group can't hurt. Also, they are just doing their job and trying to be fair in implementing a policy designed by someone else. I feel that this story has gotten way too much negative publicity.

  10. Anonymous1:36 pm

    The worker followed the Canada Food Guide which told her/him that Ritz Crackers were appropriate.

    The Canada Food Guide is misleading. You can follow the Canada Food Guide and eat too many calories. That will make you fat.

    You can follow the Canada Food Guide and eat junk, like a processed product that includes a bit of food from a certain food group, so it is considered ok. That will make you fat and sick.

    Anybody who tries to make me feed my child according to the damaging Canada Food Guide, is going to get big objections from me.
    Doesn't matter how many "credentials" they have, or how they get governments (taxpayers) to ensure they have jobs.

  11. Anonymous4:14 pm

    The Manitoba Government has a policy in place that if licensed child care centres provide a lunch for the children in care they must include 4 food groups from the Canada Food Guide.
    The daycare went further and put in place their own policy stating that all lunches that are sent by parents/guardians must include the 4 food groups as well. Since the daycare created this policy on their own I think it was definitely their job to ensure their Early Childhood Educators are properly trained to enforce this policy.
    The individual daycare is responsible to properly train their staff. Although there is a set of guidelines for all daycares, there are also policies/rules that are specific to individual daycares.
    Trained Early Childhood Educators are trained on more than just child care, and nutrition is one of the additional things we are trained in!

  12. Anonymous5:03 pm

    I didn't think anyone would be aiming their ire at the child care workers enforcing the policy. They're just doing their job as best they can. Wasn't it obvious to everyone that the policy was the problem and this came from above? The first problem here is a daycare centre trying to enforce rules that are beyond the scope of their responsibility. The second problem is a government issued food guide that clearly disregards much of the last 20 years of research in diet and it's impact on health - but we've known about this problem for years, now.

  13. I am a volunteer President and Chair for a non profit daycare in Nova Scotia. The daycare has strict regulations on nutrition to the point where we cannot have table cloths with cup cakes on them. Ritz Crackers are not permitted since they are processed and high in salt. Our teachers, yes they are teachers, go through a rigorous 2 year ECE program and get paid next to nothing for it. Government subsidies help but add very little to salary. Our food costs have gone way up due to this nutritional requirement, we have a cook and kitchen to meet the requirements. We have had to redesign the way we look at and do business, just to make ends meet. The annual cost of training upgrades, including CPR and first aid, cleaning and sterilizing of the facilities and more. There is a lot of responsibilty to run a daycare, but to charge a parent for not feeding salty processed food to your child, which may have been in contact with nuts, is ludicrous.

  14. Jennifer Taylor3:44 am

    Great comments, and a great post, Joy! This story points to a need to support early learning centres but also the problem with rigid nutrition policies, which dieititians ARE supporting (the recent effort to harmonize school nutrition policies is a sad reminder).

    The one thing that I do object to is that Canada's Food Guide recommends Ritz Crackers. There is clear messaging to limit foods that are high in fat, salt and to emphasize whole grains. Ritz crackers may be a 'grain product' in that they are made of flour, but so are doughnuts. I was on the committee that developed the guide, and, although it is not perfect, I can ASSURE you that links with industry did not lead to supporting foods like Ritz crackers. Yoni- you need to get your facts straight on that. Come.on.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. Will file away fact then that the recommendation that the Food Guide supports (and which led to this policy implementation), that half our grains can be refined with no repercussions, as being a non-industry influenced nutritional wart.

    2. Anonymous9:39 am

      Whether any particular recommendations in the food guide were directly attributable to food industry involvement or not is irrelevant. Representatives of the food industry have a very clear conflict of interest in the development of healthy eating guidelines. That may not have been the only problem with the process, but it doesn't change the fact of whether they had a conflict of interest. Because of the clear conflict, the food industry should not have been involved as contributors in the development of the food guide.

    3. Hi Jennifer, with all due respect to your excellent work as an advocate for children's food security, the reality is that the CFG is a seriously flawed document, that when used blindly as the basis for nutritional policy by untrained school staff or parents just causes more confusion.

      It is unfortunate that these policies exist in the first place, but sadly as you well know, there are kids who aren't coming to school with lunches at all, let alone healthy ones.

      Actions like adding Ritz crackers to a lunch point to the need for a replacement of the CFG with a more specific document that makes a distinction between whole-grain bread and a doughnut, or between an apple and a glass of apple juice

      YOU may not have seen the influence of the Food Industry on the CFG, but it was there long before you were on the committee, that's why "breakfast cereals" exist

      Both you and Dr Freedhoff are passionate advocates for nutrition, just in different ways. It would be nice if someday, we could satisfy both parts of the equation by providing the healthy food that people deserve, without making it a luxury that many cannot afford