Monday, March 21, 2011

Heart and Stroke dietitian labels Health Check useless.

So what do you think is the point of a front-of-package health claims program?

I would imagine that most people would answer that a front-of-package health claims program ought to allow for easy comparisons between different foods. Certainly that'd be my definition.

Comparison between foods would be a rather important feature as presumably the front-of-package claim system is meant to be utilized as a shopping shortcut.

With that in mind, I found a recent post by Katie Jessop, a Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check dietitian, to be very telling. The post was entitled,

"How can you possibly compare one food to another?"
In the post Katie rightly points out that with Health Check, it's in fact impossible to compare foods.


Because according to Katie (and wholeheartedly agreed upon by me), in regard to the nutritional criteria the Health Check program evaluates,
"The dimensions we have chosen are limited"
And that's a nutritional understatement.

Health Check generally only evaluates 3-4 different nutritional criteria, and it does so on a black and white basis. There's no attempt whatsoever made by Health Check to weight certain nutritional determinants as being more important than others, meaning their outdated take on low-fat carries just as much weight as their take on low-sodium, and far more than their non-existent take on refined carbohydrates.

Contrast that with Nuval, my favourite front-of-package program which in fact scores more than 30 nutritional determinants using a weighted algorithm designed by some of the most important names in the history of nutritional epidemiology. Using Nuval shoppers can easily and confidently compare the health benefits of any two foods as every food in the Supermarket will receive a Nuval score between 0-100.

Health Check on the other hand is so useless that you can't even use it to compare virtually identical Health Check'ed items to one another.

Case in point?

Those cans of diced tomatoes up above. Two have Health Checks, one doesn't.

Health Check'ed can #1, Aylmer Diced Tomatoes: 290mg sodium/half cup
Health Check'ed can #2, Aylmer Diced Tomatoes, no salt added: 20mg sodium/half cup

Can #1 has more than 14x as much sodium as can #2, yet both carry the same Check mark?

Moreover, my wife and I have noticed that not all stores carry the no salt added Aylmer tomatoes.

Therefore enter the no Health Check'ed can, Selection Diced Tomatoes: 160mg sodium/half cup.

But it's in fact basically identical to Health Check'ed can #1, with roughly half the sodium?

Guess they didn't want to pay the Heart and Stroke Foundation to belong to their misinformation program.

Health Check is a useless program. It fails to score all items in a supermarket making it easy to miss healthier, non-Check'ed items; it has no gradations to its Check making it impossible to compare even Health Check'ed items; and as so rightly noted by Health Check dietitian Katie Jessop, it only scores a very limited range of nutritional criteria and in so doing makes Health Check a program which you can't possibly use to compare one food to another.

How anyone who cares about nutrition and public health can work for Health Check is beyond me.