Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Alberta's Useless Child Gestures

Last week the Province of Alberta unveiled their new warrior designed to help combat the rising tide of childhood obesity. It's called Create a Movement and for a cost of $2,000,000 your Province can design one too.

In a nutshell it's a series of slick media advertisements and then a slick webpage all of which serve to shuffle Albertans off to pick up their copies of Canada's Food Guide.

The crux of their advertising campaign is fear. The goal of the campaign is to scare Albertan parents and kids into action. Their target,

"Unhealthy weights among our generation is on the fast track to replace smoking as Canada’s #1 killer"
And when I say scare tactics, I mean scare tactics. Here's one of their scary commercials:

So let's say you've just watched the scary commercial and you've decided to look past the fact that the child that the doctor is speaking to clearly has a very healthy body weight and is not at risk for any weight related chronic diseases and in fact makes the entire commercial seem rather ridiculous and fear mongering and you click yourself over to the createamovement.ca webpage. What help will you find there?

Pretty much none.

The entire website reminds kids to, "Eat Smart", "Move More", and of course, "Start a Movement".

There are T-shirt stencils for you to download, certain to make you the coolest kids in your class.

There is wallpaper for your desktop, certain to make you turn your computer off to go and "Eat Smart" and "Move More".

There are copies of all of the scary commercials and there are "Webisodes".

Here's an example of a "Webisode" - a teenage skateboarder with a BMI in the neighbourhood of 20 talks of how he drinks two Cokes a day. The hostess then tells him that the Coke he's drinking leads him to gain 12lbs in a year. She then goes on to talk about the sugar in pop.

Interesting that the "Webisode" that clearly is anti-sugar doesn't mention that juice has as much or more sugar as pop and that chocolate milk has more. Also, do you really think that first skater should be aiming for a 12lb weight loss by stopping his Cola habit, and lastly was picking healthy active teens to focus on - doesn't that miss this website's target audience (the sedentary overweight ones)?

The "Facts" section of the website has the same old stuff - eat less fat, eat more vegetables, get off the couch, and the resource section - of course it points you to Canada's Food Guide (Canada's Food Guide to Unhealthy Eating), My Food Guide (The bad joke that is My Food Guide) and Eattracker (Eattracker - your new weight gain weapon) (click the links for my reviews therein) where juice, chocolate milk, refined flour and red meat are all "healthy" choices.

Clearly there's some care regarding energy because at the bottom right hand corner of every page is a little graphic that illustrates how long you have to run to burn off some common junk food items. But of course the website has completely ignored calories and while they point out it takes 43 minutes to run off a fountain cola, they fail to note that it would take just as long to run off juice and longer to run off chocolate milk.

All in all I can't blame the folks putting together the website - they're just promoting the messages our government has deemed to be helpful.

Quick question - if the eat healthier, move more diet worked, do you really think that close to 70% of Canadians would be overweight or obese?

Another question - Do you think this website is telling kids anything at all that they don't already know?

It's time that governments and health professionals get past the tried and true messages that not only aren't helpful, are frankly unhelpful. Healthy eating does not mean healthy weights. Exercise is not in and of itself sufficient for dramatic weight loss. Calories count.

Kids and adults need to be taught that healthy eating and weight management are two separate healthy endeavors, with healthy eating involving food choices and weight management calorie choices. They need to be taught means to prevent hunger. They need to be taught the sad truths of the Calories burned through exercise.

Basically, they need a new message, because this tired old one, the one we've had for the past 50 years, the eat smarter, move more message, doesn't work.

The site did succeed with me however - its reminder of just how woefully inadequate (nonexistent) our government's guidance on weight management is certainly left me wanting to "create a movement".

[Hat tip: Julie from It Must Have Been Something I Ate]