Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Open Letter to the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Regarding the Heart and Stroke Foundation the most pressing question for me is why exactly their Health Check program is making these nutritionally indefensible recommendations.

Best case scenario, it's simply outdated criteria, oversight and bureaucracy.

Worst case scenario, politics, the food industry and funding matter more than evidence based recommendations.

I've decided that perhaps the best way to get some answers is to ask, and so this morning I sent off a letter to Sally Brown, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Samis, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Director of Health Policy, and Terry Dean the General Manager of Health Check.

Here's the letter that I sent:

Dear Ms. Brown, Mr. Samis and Mr Dean,

I'm writing to you today to express my concerns and ask some questions regarding the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program.

Firstly let me say that in principle I think the Health Check program is a wonderful idea - given the incredible variety of products in the marketplace and given the incredible impact an unhealthy diet and weight have on health, steering Canadians to healthy choices should in fact be something that more organizations strive to do.

I also want to commend the HSF for their co-signatory status on the National Sodium Policy Statement that rightly identified dietary sodium reduction as an important national goal. In that statement the HSF and others recommended that Canadians limit their dietary sodium intake to less than 1500mg per day and were those recommendations followed it was estimated that this would result in the prevention of 1 in 7 stroke deaths, 1 in 11 coronary artery disease deaths, 1 in 14 of all deaths and 1 in 6 cases of hypertension.

Similarly deserving of commendation are the Heart and Stroke's stance on the need to treat and prevent obesity in Canadians. In the HSF position paper on obesity one of the calls to action is, "Encourage and promote healthy food choices and restrict the advertising of 'junk foods' (energy dense, nutrient-poor foods) to children, for example during children's television programming and in schools.".

With that as background, since starting to pay attention to the Heart and Stroke's Health Check program, I have been regularly shocked and frankly appalled by many of the products, recipes and meals that have secured Health Checks and am very concerned that the Health Check program is not only not steering Canadians to healthier choices, but rather steering Canadians to truly unhealthy ones.

I have a very difficult time understanding how the Health Check program is comfortable providing Health Checks to meals that alone contain 1,260mg of sodium (the Health Check'ed Boston Pizza entree of the Thai Chicken Wrap), beverages that contain 961mg per glass (V8Go Smooth and Seasoned) and children's entrees that per serving provide 850mg (Compliments Junior Clubhouse Diner, which therefore provides per single serving more than 3/4s the HSF recommended amount of sodium for children and 2/3rd the recommended amount for adults).

I have a very difficult time understanding why the Health Check program has deemed it appropriate to extend their seal to the Compliments Junior line of foods - a line of foods clearly targeting children with energy dense, nutrient poor foods including Milk Buddies (sugar sweetened milk beverages that have as much sugar drop per drop as sugared soda and almost double the Calories), Clubhouse Diner Macaroni and Cheese (refined white flour and processed cheese pasta), red meat Mickey Burgers (each containing 0.5grams of trans fat) and processed potato Alpha-Taters - all utilizing Disney characters to entice children from the grocery store aisles.

I also have a difficult time understanding why it is that refined white flour products can ever meet Health Check criteria, this despite an irrefutable wealth of evidence that prove their contribution to the development of metabolic syndrome; that red meat products can ever meet Health Check criteria despite their clear contribution to breast cancer, colon cancer (reaffirmed yesterday by the report of the World Cancer Research Fund) and diabetes; and that sugar and Calories are not currently criteria that are considered at all - thereby allowing products like Welch's Grape Juice, a juice that drop per drop almost double the Calories and sugar of sugared soda (10.5 teaspoons of sugar per glass and 170 Calories; enough Calories whereby one glass a day would provide over 17lbs of Calories per year) to receive a Health Check.

Lastly I have a difficult time understanding how the Heart and Stroke Foundation can put it's name on a calendar (the Heart and Stroke Healthy Living Calendar 2008) where recipes contained therein call for cooking with butter, non-skimmed milk, and regular soy sauce leading to recipes where single servings contain 999grams of sodium.

To say that I'm disappointed in both the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Health Check would be a tremendous understatement.

I have been blogging about these matters for some time and if you'd care to review all of my entries and concerns, please feel free to head over to my Heart and Stroke post summaries by clicking here.

I'm hoping you can shed light on my concerns.

I would be very pleased to share your responses with my readers.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD
Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
575 West Hunt Club, Suite 100
Ottawa ON K2G5W5
If any of my readers would care to write any of these individuals just click their names below:

Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Stephen Samis, Director of Health Policy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Terry Dean, General Manager of Health Check

I'll keep you all posted of any responses I receive.