Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fixing Health Check - a Simple Recipe

Yesterday I blogged about the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program's call for proposals to help them review the impact Health Check has had during its ten year lifespan.

In the document, the Heart and Stroke Foundation refers to their "overarching question" that these studies will be meant to answer,

"In what areas does the HC program need to change to be relevant in the current and emerging environment?"
Allow me to save them millions of dollars in grants and redevelopment fees with a simple, succinct answer along with a proposed solution.
In order to be relevant in the current environment Health Check needs to provide an evidence-based means for consumers to evaluate all dietary products in participating marketplaces.
Health Check's current system, evaluating only those products whose parent companies buy their endorsement means that there may be more nutritious alternatives sitting right beside the Health Check items, with Health Check therefore doing little more than misinforming Canadians about what the healthiest choices are. As well, given that Health Check's meagre nutritional criteria only analyze 3 nutritional components per given item means that it ignores literally dozens of other well-established nutritional determinants of health and consequently has many "unintended consequences".

The solution?

At the recent Centre for Science in the Public Interest conference I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Dr. David Katz, the founder of the Overall Nutritional Quality Index system (now renamed NuVal). The system, which I've blogged about before, uses a complex algorithm developed by 12 of the world's leading nutritional scientists (and updated every 2 years), weighting 25 different nutritional determinants of health to spit out a number from 1-100 to indicate the nutritional score of each particular food.

The system's dead-simple to use - higher the number, the healthier the option.

David told me that in order to calculate an ONQI value all they need is a nutrition facts panel and an ingredients list (or a recipe). He also reported that they'd happily work with anyone on the system.

So what could Health Check do to save themselves millions of dollars in evaluation and reformulation along with years of tinkering?

They could scrap their current product-by-product endorsement system, set up some ties and cobranding with NuVal, and become the Canadian licensee of NuVal's robust, evidence-based scoring system. They could then use their influence and marketplace savvy to sell the program to supermarket chains, (which would be required to score every item up for sale) restaurants, (again, every item gets a score) and industrial food service providers (ditto).

What's in it for NuVal of course is the promotion of their brand by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which aside from their involvement with Health Check, is a trusted, health-related non-profit organization. What's in it for Health Check of course is the establishment of credibility - credibility they've strained even further this past year by sticking their heads in the sand and digging their heels in against the quite clearly necessary from the ground up overhaul they require to truly be considered nutritionally relevant.