Friday, September 29, 2006

Food Industry Spin Doctors

Yesterday I was given the honour of speaking in front of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on the subject of childhood obesity.

The panel I was on included one other clinician (a dietitian from London), an indigenous person's nutritional advocate, and then 3 corporate spokespersons representing a diverse range of companies from the restaurants, to Coca Cola, to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Amazingly, but entirely not surprisingly, the industry spokespeople did their best to spin things in their favour.

The party line of course is that because obesity is so complex and multifactorial, to pick on any one thing as a cause would be inappropriate. I actually agree with that statement to a degree, but have a difficult time with the conclusion of all of these industry reps that therefore we should not pick on any of the various and multiple factors.

The Restaurant Industry's spokesperson tried to explain how mandatory labeling on menus of calories would be impossible due to supply chain variety. Amazingly she did that in the same breath that she mentioned the 42% of restaurant chains who voluntarily carry nutrition information in brochure form. I highly doubt that these brochures change with the supply chain.

She also questioned the value of putting calories on menus and stated that there has never been any evidence to suggest that calories on labels help. In fact that's not true. In a study available online, a high school, without providing any extra classes on the subject, simply posted calories on their cafeteria's menuboard. Immediately they noticed students choosing lower calorie options.

Certainly it would not take a degree in dietetics to know that the 2900 calorie Aussie Fries appetizer at the Outback steakhouse might be a poor choice.

Next was the beverage industry where there was much bragging about how they voluntarily took pop out of schools and replaced it with fruit drinks, juice and sports drinks. The spokesperson even bragged about the size of their containers: 250ml (8oz) containers for elementary schools, 300ml (10oz) for middle schools and 355ml (12oz) for high schools.

I of course had to point out that the expert advisory panel for the American Academy of Pediatrics with representatives from the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend that for children between 1-6 years old juice intake should be limited to 125-175mls (4-6oz) and from 7-18 years old limited to 250-355mls) and therefore every child through grade 9, with a single serving from the vending machine, actually exceeds daily recommended intake of juice. I would also like to note here that the daily recommended intake of fruit "drinks" and sports drinks is 0ml.

Remember drop per drop there are more calories in orange juice than Coke.

Now I don't blame the industry at all. They're doing their job. It's just a shame that more often than not, there's not someone there to unspin them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Are you Giving your Kids Chocolate Bars for Breakfast?

Would you feed your children chocolate bars for breakfast?

If you answered, "of course not" but give your children sugary cereals, you'd better get ready to revise your answer.

If you read food labels regularly, this might not be news, but if your child is eating a sugary cereal for breakfast, they're probably having as much or more sugar than they would if they ate a chocolate bar.

Some equivalents (based on a 50gm or 1.75oz serving):

Kellogg's Fruit Loops = 5.6 teaspoons sugar = Dark Chocolate Kit Kat Bar
Nestle Nesquick = 5.8 teaspoons sugar = Twix Bar
Post Sugar Crisps = 6.6 teaspoons sugar = Snickers Bar

Remember too that many kids will have more than one bowl.

So what should you do?

Try to give your kids cereals with 6-7 grams of fibre per serving, and unfortunately you have to be a bit cautious with the lower sugar cereals as well as often they may compensate with more carbohydrates and more calories.

Is it time yet to cut the sugary cereal out of the pantry?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

French Women DO get fat!

You may have seen this book on the bookshelves. It's been a national best seller all over the world. Unfortunately it seems, the french women, aren't reading the book (or perhaps, like 98-99% of diet books, it fails in the most important part of weight management - sustainability).

A national survey conducted annually in France show that in fact overweight and obesity rates are rising rapidly. Currently 42% of France's population over the age of 15 is either overweight or obese.

It should be pretty telling to consumers. As of today, there are over 178,285 different diet books for sale on If any single one of them was dramatically better than another, doctors offices worldwide would be prescribing it. In fact in the history of medicine, there has yet to be a study the definitively proves one diet is better than another for weight loss.

In my office at the Bariatric Medical Institute, there are no prescribed diets. Every person is an individual, with different cultural backgrounds and different dietary likes and dislikes.

Here are the only two criteria that matter for diet and weightloss:

1. You eat less calories than you burn (that will help you lose the weight)
2. You like what you're eating (that will help you keep it off)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Quiznos Calories

Many times I've heard patients complain that they can't find any calories for Quiznos Subs. It's the subject of many angry rant blogs. I agree it's ridiculous that Quiznos USA refuses to release their nutritional information but the same cannot be said about Quiznos Australia. Over there their nutritional information is posted.

Now it's true not all the subs are the same as in the States, but given the nature of franchises I would imagine the numbers may well be comparable.

Only problem is their calories are listed in kilojoules.

To convert Kilojoules to Calories simply divide the number of kilojoules by 1000 and multiply by 239.

If you're worried about Calories, don't order the large white bread classic italian. It'll cost you 6755 kilojoules or 1614 calories, more than many of us burn in a daytime.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

McDonald's donates $2 million for obesity research

Today McDonald's, in reference to the problem of childhood obesity reported that they "felt we needed to get greater education in this area" and therefore decided to donate $2 million in obesity research funding to the Scripps Institute.

Now by no means am I bashing McDonald's for funding research, nor am I bashing them for wanting to know more about childhood obesity, or even for the way they make their money.

I am however shocked that they feel the need to donate $2 million to help them to understand how they might play a greater role in the prevention of childhood obesity.

Without even wading into the debate about marketing food to children, how about they simply start dramatically reducing the portion sizes and calories counts of their children specific foods?

Hey, McDonald's, if you'd like to pay me even just $200,000 I'll help you out...anyone over there reading this? Anyone?