Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Citizen's Petition to Ban Weight Loss Supplement Claims

You've all seen them. They line the shelves of even reputable pharmacies (guess the owners care more about dollars than providing quality care) - the umpteen miracle pills, potions and lotions that promise to cause your body to disobey the laws of thermodynamics and lose weight with no effort.

Unfortunately the FDA and its Canadian counterpart have done virtually nothing to reign in these ridiculous products.

Well at least in the States perhaps there's change in the air as the American Dietetic Association, the Obesity Society, Shaping America's Health and GlaxoSmithKline have all teamed up and submitted a, "Citizen's Petition" to the FDA to determine that dietary supplements claiming to in any way shape or form assist in weight loss, be subject to the same rules and regulations that govern disease claims on supplements.

The petition would therefore apply to the usual suspects, "fat-burning", "cellulite reduction", "increases metabolism", "reduces appetite", "increases satiety", and "blocks absorption" of dietary carbohydrate or fat.

It would require the nutraceutical companies, before being allowed to print their over-the-top ludicrous labels, to in fact provide scientific evidence as to the safety and efficacy of their products.

While I'm not holding my breath, I am willing to keep my fingers crossed (proverbially of course - after all I'm Jewish and it's almost Yom Kippur).

As the video below extols, "Don't Buy the Lie"

Monday, September 29, 2008

Consumers Sue Applebees, Chilis, Macaroni Grill and On the Border for Calorie Fraud

One of the main arguments that restaurant associations use with politicians when trying to dissuade them from supporting bills making menu posted calories mandatory is that it'll cost a fortune to police.

Well, at least in the States (where I'm told there are more lawyers than in the rest of the world combined), perhaps it'll be policed by the people.

Witness the new class action lawsuits being launched against Applebee's, Chili's, On the Border and Macaroni Grill for calorie and nutritional fraud.

The suits state,

"Defendant's actions and practices, including misrepresenting nutritional content of menu items, facilitating the menu inaccuracies, and/or allowing the food to be prepared in a manner which changes the nutritional content without adequate disclosure, is an unfair, unlawful and deceptive business practice in violation of the California Civil Legal Remedies Act, Civil Code section 1750, et seq.; the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq.; the California False Advertising Law, Business and Professions Code section 17500, et seq.; and have resulted in the Defendant's unjust enrichment"
I've got to say, I think it's great that someone's standing up for themselves. Certainly the only folks who care about calorie counts are folks trying to lower them and if Big Food has been willful in their deception, they should not only be ashamed of themselves, they should pay.

I've also got to say that the description of the consequences of eating more calories than you'd planned as, "unjust enrichment", is an absolutely delightful use of the English language.

UPDATE: A kind lawyer who reads my blog has let me know that "unjust enrichment" actually refers to the unjust enrichment of the pockets of the restaurant due to the misleading representations of the food.

I like my interpretation better.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Darth Vader eats at the Death Star

Even galactic overlords get hungry.

Today for Funny Friday is British comedian Eddie Izzard's interpretation of Darth Vader hitting the death star cafeteria - re-enacted with Lego of course (warning, some strong language).

[Hat tip to my friend and colleague Arya of Edmonton's Weight Wise and the blog Obesity Notes]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Million Dollar Idea?

I hope so.

And while it doesn't belong to me, certainly I've thought about doing just what Mark Bakker, an Edmonton electrician did - set up a healthy fast food restaurant.

Now I'm not just talking about serving healthy foods.

I'm also talking about providing point of purchase, smack on the menu calorie counts for all foods sold, and of course using foods that themselves have more evidence for health.

Mark's restaurant takes many fast food staples and improves upon the intrinsic quality of their ingredients while trimming away their calories.

While not every item's terrifically low in calories (and Mark, you really need to work on lower calorie kid options), none are left up to the imagination.

Take a gander at their menu by clicking here.

If you live in Edmonton, why not pop on by. It's called Healthfare and it's located at 10865 - 23 Avenue, and if you want to read more about it, click here (maybe he'll sell you a franchise).

Good luck Mark!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Get Mail (but not answers) From Sobey's!

Last week I emailed Sobey's what I thought to be a lucid argument as to why their advertising campaign that suggests eating Compliments Balance products will lower calories, salt, cholesterol and fat is misleading.

So either I was wrong in thinking my arguments were lucid, or Sobey's is avoiding directly addressing my concerns.

To reiterate my concerns - I'm concerned because Sobey's is making claims they cannot support - claims that to me certainly add up to health fraud.

To her credit, Belinda Youngs, Chief Marketing Officer of Sobey's does report that she will ensure that their, "marketing executions" are revisited. I of course will periodically report on whether or not this revisitation has resulted in removal of the ads promising undeliverable health miracles.

(As an aside - what do you think would happen to all of these programs that are now officially married to the Food Guide if someone or someones other than me came out and bashed it?)

Here's Ms. Young's response,

"Dear Dr. Freedhoff,

Thank you for your feedback on our Compliments Balance products and our partnership with Health Check.

Canadian consumers have different dietary needs depending on the end-goal they want to achieve, such as disease prevention, weight control or overall healthier dietary lifestyle. On this principle, the Compliments Balance program was developed in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program to provide consumers with healthier options for managing their personal diets.

Such dietary needs as defined by dietitians and physicians may require a higher intake of key nutrients such as fibre, vitamins or minerals like vitamin C and calcium, or lower levels of less desirable nutrients such as fat, sugar or sodium. It is for this reason that we stand by our Compliments Balance statement of "Find your healthy balance".

All our Compliments Balance products meet the nutrient criteria of the Health Check program. We stand by Health Check as the only independent and transparent food information program in our country that is based on Canada's Food Guide.
Healthy choices are a very personal matter depending on the overall goal that our customers want to achieve. Delivering this message through clear communication is our main objective and we will revisit our marketing executions to ensure that this is the case.

We are strong supporters of the recommendations established in Canada's Food Guide and other similar guidelines developed by Canadian health agencies that have been used to develop our Compliments Balance program.

Belinda Youngs
Chief Marketing Officer

Monday, September 22, 2008

A personal "jihad" on food

One of my patients has declared that her fight with weight is her own personal "jihad" and has started her own blog to detail her experiences while striving to change her lifestyle.

Of course in this day and age the word "jihad" is loaded with religious connotation - a point not lost on her and she eloquently describes on her blog her choice of nomenclature,

"According to information retrieved from Wikipedia today, the word jihad means "strive" or "struggle". Anyone who has weight issues, especially weight issues that they have had from childhood, knows that a "struggle" is just what it is.

Additionally, one of the four categories of jihad in Muslim teaching is the Jihad al-Nafs, or the jihad against oneself. It is believed in some of the more moderate circles that the prophet Muhammed taught that this form of jihad is greater than actual warfare. While it refers to the inner struggle by believers to keep the Muslim faith, I think almost every human being, regardless of the belief system to which they ascribe, has a daily internal struggle of some kind - for me, it is my weight. I struggle with temptations to over indulge and frustration when I face obstacles or criticism. I strive to stay motivated. I strive to stick to my plans for exercise and portion control.
Her blog is one part food diary, one part real diary.

She's an excellent writer and has been doing a remarkable job in chronicling her journey into learning to live a thoughtfully reduced (rather than blindly restricted) lifestyle.

For those of you who are interested, you can follow along on her "jihad" by heading over to her blog Why Weight?

Thanks to HvnSntRN for allowing us a peek into her life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Super Mario meets with Reality

Seth MacFarlane is best known for his work on the television show the Family Guy, but recently he's been working on a whole slew of net-based cartoon shorts for Burger King.

Now I don't really know what this cartoon has to do with Burger King, but I do know it's today's Funny Friday and it tells the true story of just what happened after Nintendo's Super Mario beat the big boss to rescue the princess.

Have a great weekend!

(Oh, and be sure to scroll down on the blog to see a new picture sent to me from the Dietitians of Canada conference of a huge tray of PC miracle health brownies!)

[Hat tip to BMI's fitness director Rob]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

President's Choice Miracle Health Brownies!

President's Choice Blue Menu Two-Bite Brownies!

According to the back,

"Good For You never tasted so good!

  • 45% less fat than farmer's market two-bite brownies
  • High in fibre
  • No Hydrogenated oil, like all PC Blue Menu products
  • 2.5g of prebiotic soluble fibre from chicory root inulin per 38g serving"

  • But it was when I read the side that I really got the scoop,
    "A healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease. PC Blue Menu Two-Bite Brownies are low in saturated and trans fats"

    So I of course immediately ate the whole bag - I don't want heart disease!

    [Hat tip to Erica for kindly buying these heart disease busting brownies for me and click any picture to see them for yourselves]

    UPDATE:Those PC guys are no dummies - they're expert marketers!

    So who are they marketing the miracle health brownies too?

    Well according to dietitic student and blogger Vincci (check out her blog Ceci n'est pas un food blog (Not a Food Blog)" there was a huge tray of them at the most recent Dietitians of Canada conference alerting everyone that these miracles have a GI index of just 39!

    Thankfully we have Vincci out in McGill teaching her classmates how to think critically about the foods they're being asked to market.

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Are you a Bad Parent?

    "Their day. Made by Mom.

    My kids are always on the go. That's why at breakfast it's important to give them food that helps keep them going throughout their busy day - like Nutella. Kids love the delicious taste of Nutella. And I love that it's made from natural ingredients, contains no preservatives or artificial colour and is a source of Vitamin E. I feel good about making Nutella part of my kids' nutritious breakfast
    I don't think you're a bad parent if you feed your kids Nutella - for many kids it's a sometimes food treat that they genuinely enjoy (go figure, it's spreadable candy).

    I would however worry if you let yourself get duped by Nutella's advertising into thinking it's part of a "nutritious" breakfast, and that because it doesn't have preservatives or artificial colour and is a source of vitamin E it's a smart choice.

    You might as well just spoon 100% natural, no preservatives added honey into your kids' mouths and call it "nutritious".

    Of course, if you do choose to go the honey route, remember to spoon in 36% more honey than Nutella, because Nutella's got 36% more calories spoon per spoon than the honey.

    Don't want to spoon in honey? How about 100% natural, no preservatives added pure white table sugar? Of course if you go the sugar route for every tablespoon of Nutella you'd planned on feeding the kids you'll have to give them 2 tablespoons of sugar to make sure they get the same amount of "nutritious energy" that the Nutella would have provided.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Trees - Nutritional Miracles!

    Yup, it grows on trees so of course have "as much as you want".

    You know trees were put on the planet by God to serve us and provide us with incontestably wonderful nutrition.

    Nothing bad could ever come from a tree, right?

    The BBC must have got it wrong when they suggested that eating the manchineel tree's fruit can be deadly, or that standing under the tree when it rains is a bad plan because if water drops off the tree onto your skin it'll cause blisters and burns, or that if you decide to cut down the tree and burn it the smoke that gets into your eyes can lead to blindness.

    Who cares that the Sun Rype Rio Red Grapefruit Juice drop per drop has 15% more calories and 10% more sugar than Coca Cola? Certainly not the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program that happily sold them their logo! I guess it's because they're "natural" calories and "natural" sugars, that they magically won't contribute to obesity and consequently heart disease - right?

    I'd also ignore the warnings of the American Academy of Pediatrics and nutrition professionals the world over that recommend strict limitations be put on juice drinking - because trees of course are smarter than them.

    All hail the miraculous power of trees to bring only goodness and light to the world.

    Oy vey.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    I Send Mail

    This week's going to be misleading ad week.

    To kick it off I'm bringing you a new advertising campaign from Canadian supermarket chain Sobey's. Whether it was intentional or not I don't know (it may simply reflect ignorance), but at least superficially it appears as if they're trying to leverage consumer trust in Health Check, combined with unsubstantiated health claims, into sales (click the picture above to see the campaign).

    I found the campaign to be so misleading that I've written a letter that I've sent this morning to Ms. Belinda Young, Sobey's Executive Vice President of corporate brands. I also copied the letter to the Canadian Competition Bureau.

    Here's the letter:

    Dear Ms. Young,

    My name is Yoni Freedhoff and I’m a physician in Ottawa whose practice focuses exclusively on nutrition and weight management.

    While shopping at one of my local Sobey’s the other day I was appalled to see what I felt was an incredibly misleading marketing of your partnership with Health Check (photo attached).

    There were 3 separate advertisements (posters) that shared the same copy which reads,

    “Find your healthy balance. Looking to lower your cholesterol (check) reduce fat (check) cut back on calories or sodium (check)? Every compliments balance product meets the criteria of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program.”

    Putting aside my well-known condemnation of what I feel to be the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s grossly underpowered, nutritionally short-sighted, misleading front-of-package Health Check program, they themselves state that, “Health Check is not a weight loss or calorie restriction program”. The program does not in fact possess any criterion that limits calories in Health Check items. Regarding calories and your Compliments Balance products, I’m sure your customers would be surprised to learn that despite Health Check having no formal criteria for calories, Sobey’s is comfortable suggesting these products will help, “cut back on calories”. They would surely be surprised to learn that items such as your Compliments Balance Original Granola cereal in fact contain bowl for bowl almost double the calories of most breakfast cereals including such sugary nutritional voids as Cocoa Puffs, Cap’n Crunch and Frosted Flakes.

    As far as sodium levels go, the Heart and Stroke Foundation along with:

    • The Canadian Medical Association
    • The College of Family Physicians of Canada
    • The Canadian Hypertension Society
    • The Canadian Stroke Network
    • The Canadian Diabetes Association
    • The Canadian Pharmacist Association
    • The Canadian Council of Cardiovascular Nurses
    • The Canadian Public Health Association
    • The Canadian Heart Failure Network
    • The Canadian Cardiovascular Society
    • The Canadian Society of Internal Medicine
    • The Canadian Nurses Association
    • The Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation
    • Dietitians of Canada; and
    • Blood Pressure Canada

    have all signed off on Canada’s National Sodium Policy Statement that recommends Canadians target 1500mg as their daily sodium maximum. Yet for reasons inexplicable to most health care professionals Health Check has not adopted those more stringent recommendations. What this means of course is that Health Check options such as your Compliments Balance Penne Bolognese with 900mg of sodium in fact contain more than 60% of the total daily recommended value endorsed by virtually every credible medical organization in Canada – an amount far higher than someone trying to “cut back on their sodium” should consume in one serving.

    Regarding cholesterol – I fail to see how eating Health Check products or Compliments Balance products will lower one’s cholesterol. Health Check’s meagre nutritional criteria do not directly address cholesterol. There are no requirements that items awarded Health Checks are lower in contained cholesterol, nor are there requirements that Health Check items include ingredients that have in fact been shown to lower cholesterol. Certainly there are no published studies that would suggest that eating Health Check items or Compliments Balance items such as Compliments Balance Fudge Brownie Frozen Yogurt or Compliments Balance Lean Italian Meatballs will help “lower your cholesterol”.

    Diet and weight related diseases in Canada have been estimated to kill 25,000 Canadians a year and obesity and nutrition are certainly among the most reported non-political topics in our media today. Consequently, improving weight and eating healthier are desires shared by many Canadians. Given the pace of our modern lifestyles and the average individual’s confusion surrounding nutrition, it’s quite disheartening to see claims in your advertisements that simply aren’t true – claims that could lead individuals with heart disease to consume far more sodium than their conditions would allow potentially endangering their health; claims that may lead people to believe that so long as they choose Compliments Balance products they’ll lower their cholesterol; and claims that suggest by choosing Compliments Balance products people will lose weight or maintain a healthy weight..

    My blog, Weighty Matters, is read coast-to-coast and has had over 80,000 visitors this year. It is read by a large number of Canadian dietitians, physicians and other allied health professionals directly involved in the provision of one-on-one nutritional counseling as well as public health professionals involved in Canadian nutrition policy that I am sure will be curious as to your explanation for these misleading advertisements. Our alarm is that these advertisements clearly misinform your more vulnerable and impressionable customers – those concerned about their weights and their health.

    I will be posting this letter on my blog and as well as sending a copy to the competition bureau. In the spirit of open communication and fairness, I will also post your reply on Weighty Matters.

    I look forward to your response.


    Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, MD CCFP Dip ABBM
    Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute
    [Hat tip to my wonderful wife who noticed the posters by the refund desk]

    Friday, September 12, 2008

    The Most Frighteningly Intense Child in America?

    Mea culpa to start - I stole the headline from Best Week Ever.

    My other option was also on Best Week Ever and that was,

    "AAAAAAaaaahhhhhhhhHHH, I'M TYLER WEAVER!!!!"
    Without the headline, I'm not sure this clip would have made Funny Friday.

    With the headline though, it sure made me laugh.

    Tyler, if you're reading this, we're laughing with you - somehow I can envisage this clip playing at your wedding.

    Please don't hurt me.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, September 11, 2008

    Grading the Media on Health Reporting

    Not sure how I found my way onto it, but stumbled upon a great website called, "Health News Reviews" that gives grades to the media in their reporting of health stories.

    Yesterday they tackled the alarmist Associated Press piece on obesity leading to adolescent liver transplants for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

    They graded the piece a 4/10 with points lost on:

  • Engaging in disease fear mongering
  • Not discussing the costs of liver transplants or routine liver testing in adolescents
  • Not discussing the potential harms of liver transplantation
  • Not quantifying the benefits of non-surgical management
  • Not comparing surgical approaches to non-surgical approaches
  • Not evaluating the quality of the evidence reported on in the story

  • Given that the mass media's job is to sell media and not to necessarily report accurately, fairly or responsibly, it's great to see a site help navigate the good stories from the bad.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    Exercise is still not the answer

    The media's a-buzz with reports out of Amish country that our "fat genes" can be beaten but that it's gonna take 3-4 hours of activity a day to beat them!

    They're reporting on a study that 705 Amish who were then investigated for the possession of a gene known to be involved in obesity.

    The study found that of those folks possessing two copies of the FTO gene, if they were active for 3-4 hours a day they were a whole 15lbs lighter than the least active folks.

    Basically this study confirms what I've been saying over and over again - the amount of exercise necessary to dramatically affect weight is in an of itself exceedingly dramatic.

    Good news?

    Not really, not even for the Amish, as here we have a study that says even if you exercise 3-4 hours a day more than your sedentary buddy that's only going to make you 15lbs lighter than they are once the barns are built.

    My advice?

    As always, as far as energy balance goes I'd stack my chips on energy-in.

    (That said, given the incredible splash in the press I wonder who's going to be the first to open a residential, "Live like the Amish" weight loss program?)

    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    The iPhone Treadmill?

    In the stupider than you could imagine category, today I'm bringing you the, "Fingermill".

    It's an iPhone application that,

    "turns your device into a treadmill for your fingers"
    According to the product page,
    "Fingermill is a fun game that will keep you amused and your fingers in good shape"
    Want yours?

    $0.99 on iTunes.

    [Hat tip to loyal blog reader Rob (not fitness director Rob)]

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    28% of Doctors give Nutritional Advice?!

    At least in California.

    A survey of 46,000 residents revealed that 34% of residents said their doctors discussed exercise with them and 28% said their doctors discussed nutrition.

    Not surprisingly, the media is painting this as a shockingly low number. I think it sounds shockingly high.

    I think it's high because frankly most doctors simply aren't taught about nutrition and exercise.

    I wonder if comments along the lines of,

    "you should try to eat healthier"

    "you should try to find more time to be active"

    "you should try to eat less

    They shouldn't you know.

    Telling someone who's asking for advice on weight loss or healthy living that they should, "eat less and exercise more" is just about as useful as telling someone who's clinically depressed that they should simply, "buck up".

    If we want to have doctors really be able to pull their weight in obesity prevention and healthy living promotion we're going to have to go back to the drawing boards in medical schools and residency programs and really teach doctors concrete useful tips that they can give their patients.

    Until then I'm afraid, with rare exceptions, we're going to be stuck with most doctors giving vague to the point of useless nutritional and lifestyle advice.

    Has your doctor ever given you any concrete, useful recommendations on diet or exercise?

    Friday, September 05, 2008


    For today's Funny Friday I've got a great ad.

    It's a great example of how no matter what the consequences, once you set your priorities, it sometimes takes real strength not to let circumstances lead you astray.

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Lunch - Back to School Edition

    I hope you don't live in Harrisonburg VA because if you do your poor children might find something looking a lot like that picture above on their plate this week for lunch.

    Apparently the Harrisonburg VA school system decided it'd be a great idea to post pictures of their school lunches on their website.

    I guess they didn't anticipate what would happen once the blogosphere grabbed hold of them.

    Here are some of the descriptive commentaries found online on non-Harrisburg VA school system websites to accompany the photos,

    "This might explain the increase in heart attacks among Harrisonburg sixth graders."

    "It’s no coincidence that the abbreviation for this dish is “BM.”"

    "If you cut white bread up into rectangles and give it a European name, it’s still slices of white bread."

    "As you can see, the corn dog is such a complete nutritional package that it needs no sides."

    "This sandwich used to be called the “Ebola Chicken Sandwich."
    Do you know what your kids are being served?

    If there are some intrepid kids or parents out there who come across any particularly egregious examples of non-nutritious fare at their schools, feel free to take some sleuthy photos and send them my way.

    [Hat tip to Brad via HolyTaco (where you can see all the pics in all of their unholy glory]

    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    Quobesity - Back to School Edition

    Given that I've had a huge influx of readers since I originally coined the term "quobesity", I'll define it for you again:

    Quobesities are quotes that in one way or another embody what's wrong and hopefully, occasionally, what's right with relation to our attitudes and knowledge about weight and weight related matters
    Today's a what's wrong post.

    So who's suggesting that childhood obesity is preventable by encouraging kids to play marbles and hide and seek?

    It's the Local Government Association (LGA) of England of which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales.

    They went so far as to issue a top ten list of games for kids to play this coming school year. They called it the,
    "Top Ten playground games to (hop)scotch obesity levels"
    Want to know what made the top ten?

    * British Bulldog
    * Tag
    * Stuck in the Mud
    * Oranges and Lemons
    * What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?
    * Hopscotch
    * Skipping
    * French elastic
    * Marbles
    * Hide and Seek

    I'll reiterate for newer readers. I'm all for exercise. It's perhaps one of the single most important determinants of health and we should be doing all we can to promote more of it. The issue I've got is suggesting that exercise is going to have an impact on childhood obesity rates.

    Case in point?

    A press release that suggests that a spirited, rip-roaring game of marbles is going to help stem the tide of childhood obesity.

    Good grief.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Frankenfood - Back to School Edition

    Cause nothing says "nutritious" like Fruit Loops and Corn Pops!

    You know I do realize that scarfing down sugary cereals is a rite of childhood, but come on now,

    "And you can feel good about giving them a nutritious snack"
    Perhaps when compared with a bag of pure white table sugar.

    Speaking of a comparison with pure white table sugar....44% of the calories of each "loop" comes from pure white table sugar.

    What could be more nutritious than sugar?

    [Hat tip to my friend Julie from Dinner with Julie]