Friday, September 30, 2011

Too funny not to share (NSFW language)

If you don't appreciate swearing and rap, don't watch today's Funny Friday video which involves a CNN report on a 103 year old driver and what they describe as, "a terrible mistake", that they are, "working very hard to make up for".

Come on click it, you know you want to.

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crowdsourcing health!

I admit it, I'm swamped!

Preparing for my debate on Sunday, Rosh Hashana, seeing patients.... Busy week!

So rather than a long blog post I'm going to ask for your help.

If you're reading my blog, clearly healthy eating, rationale public policy, thoughtful weight management - these are things that matter to you.

Consequently I'm guessing this isn't the only blog that you read.

Could you do me and the readers here a favour? Leave a comment with some of your favorite sites, recipes, books, etc.

Let's crowd source health!

Shana tova to those who are celebrating.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seriously, WTF is wrong with British Columbia public health authorities?!

Holy mother *#$&*#!

Thanks to CarrotLines' Wahiba Chair for forwarding me this insanity.

It's called, "The Brand Name Food List" and right along the lines of yesterday's post that encourages eating out because heavens forbid we encourage people to cook, this one addresses whether or not you need to actually put together a healthy lunch for your 6 year old or if instead you should simply throw in some boxes or give them money for junk,

"If you are a parent busily trying to pack a lunch for your child before they head out to school you are probably looking for foods that are quick to assemble, healthy, food safe and most importantly something they will eat. Ready-to-eat packaged foods are hard to beat in terms of convenience—but how do you know if they are healthy?"
Um, here's a simple rule. If they came in a box you could have done better.

But it gets worse, much worse.

Once you sign up for the website, you then gain access to a database scored on the basis of the BC school food policy which rates food as, "Choose Most", "Choose Sometimes", and "Choose Least".

Wondering about how useful and rigorous BC's School Food Policy was,
I decided to take a run through the website. Want to see a lunch the website suggested I could "Choose Most" for my 7 year old daughter?
Snack 1:

Elevate Me! All Fruit Original Energy Bars (240 calories and 7.25 teaspoons of sugar - virtually the same as a bag of M&Ms)


Natrel 1% Chocolate Milk (210 calories and 36grams of sugar - double the calories and nearly 20% more sugar drop per drop than Coca Cola)

Pizza Hut "School Lunch Pizza", Cheese only

McCain's Straight Cut French Fries, 85g (19 fries, baked serving)

Breyer's Creamsickle (assigned for some reason to the "Milk Food" category)

Snack 2:

President's Choice Oatmeal Double Chocolate Soft Cookie (assigned for some reason to the "Whole Grain" category)

(And if she's averse to pizza I can "Choose Most" to send her with a Butterball Hot Dog on a Wonder Plus bun!)
Nutritionally for her snack, lunch, and snack?

1,290 calories, 13 teaspoons of sugar, 825mg of sodium.

And of course she's still going to need to have breakfast and dinner.

To be blunt, to call this website and plan just a little bit stupid would be like calling water just a little bit wet.

Putting a healthy lunch together doesn't include Pizza Hut, Superfries and Creamsickles. Those are most assuredly "Choose Least" items.

How is it possible that the public health folks putting this together didn't see it as problematic that double chocolate cookies, french fries, hot dogs, creamsickles and fast food pizzas made the "Choose Most" list? How did this not set off alarm bells? Bells that would alert the folks putting this together that steering parents to choose these foods rather than take a few minutes every day to actually pack a healthy lunch is a bad plan, and moreover bells that call to question the incredibly awful school food policy that green lit these foods in the first place?

If this is what passes for public health, for government sponsored nutritional guidance, for what their schools are going to teach children and parents are healthy choices, literally instructing them to "Choose them Most", to be blunt again, our poor children are just, plain, screwed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good lord! British Columbia government actively encouraging eating out!

Oy and vey.

It's running under the banner of "Healthy Families BC", a British Columbia based public health initiative to improve provincial health, and it's called, "Informed Dining".

Here's its headline,

"Eating out has become an enjoyable part of our everyday lives. You can choose to dine in style over a leisurely meal at a host of restaurants or order a take-away meal to eat in the comfort of your own home. You may pick up a quick bite at your local coffee shop or hospital cafeteria when visiting loved ones in a health-care facility."
Yes, hurray for eating out! It's wonderful. No one needs to cook any more. Throw out your pots and pans! Lose your bowls!

Wait. What? There's a downside?

Oh, the quality of the foods you, "enjoyably eat out as part of your everyday lives" might not be as high? And what? No. I don't believe it. There are known to be enormous piles of calories in virtually all restaurant foods?

Hmmmm, what to do, what to do.

Encourage home cooking? Set up programs with school kitchens to teach healthy meal preparation? Work on improved access to farmers' markets? Consider changing the way fresh produce is subsidized and taxed? Suggest that perhaps we should try to eat out less?

Nope, not according to the public health folks working for the province of British Columbia.

They think that instead we should look for that logo up above when we "enjoyably eat out as part of our everyday lives."

So what will that logo mean to us? Healthy, low calorie meals?


What it means is that if we ask for nutritional information, we'll be given a separate pamphlet that'll enable us to look at how nutritionally awful everything on the menu is before we order it.


What else will you get?

These not even remotely wordy, confusing or busy anchoring statement charts:

So will people use the information?

Well I'm certain the restaurant industry will use the information. They'll use it to fight any and every proposed mandatory menu board labeling legislation by using the Informed Dining program to prove they're already proactively part of the solution and are doing their part.

And consumers?

Well one study which I blogged about once upon a time found that of 4,311 folks who frequented restaurants with available calorie information that wasn't actually posted on the menus themselves, a grand total of 6 people utilized it.

You know I'm not sure there's a more straightforward and important healthy eating message than reduce your meals out, and here's British Columbia not only dropping the ball on that message, but also explicitly giving eating out their official blessing, while simultaneously empowering the food industry with politically positive PR.

You know it's entirely true that, "Eating out has become an enjoyable part of our everyday lives" and I'd venture that until that changes, healthier is not what we're going to grow.

Oy and vey indeed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Crazy RD tweets from 2011 American Dietetic Association #FNCE conference?

I'm a Twitter junkie and this weekend I've been on Twitter overload no thanks to the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (hashtag #FNCE).

Something I'm really struck by.

The number of Tweets from RDs that are promoting a particular processed food product.

In just one hour worth of #FNCE lunch hour Tweets, I've seen RDs shilling:

- Jimmy Dean Sausages
- I Can't Believe it's Not Butter
- Craisins
- McDonald's
- Sun Chips
- Sugar sweetened breakfast cereals
- Welch's Grape Juice
- California Almond Trail Mix
- Dietz and Watson Deli Meats
- Dietz and Watson Hot Dogs
- Brummel and Brown Spread

And to be fair, there were also tweets promoting a few whole, unadulterated, foods including:

- Fresh Figs
- Avocados
- Pistachios

There were also plenty more tweets that didn't feature any product or food at all, but I want to go back to the products.

Now I'm definitely not an RD. I mean that in a very real and meaningful way and not in a snarky one. Most of the RDs I've met have far broader nutritional knowledge bases than me, and go figure, they spent a great deal of time studying nutrition.

That said, and keeping my admittedly more meager knowledge base in mind, wouldn't the nation be healthier with a return to cooking? Where processed products that make life "easier" are actively discouraged? Where hot dogs, Sun Chips, Craisins (with 3x the sugar and calories of raisins due to the fact they're sugar sweetened), Jimmy Dean sausages and grape juice were foods RDs went out of their way to steer folks around rather than give tweeted shout outs?

RDs? Thoughts?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Breakfast for Learning denies promoting Nutella

Below is a response from Wendy Wong, Breakfast for Learning's CEO and President. As per my convention here, I'm presenting her response completely and without commentary save to say I've contacted the anonymous teacher who'd sent me a concerned email and asked her for scans of the materials that led her to write in the first place.

Certainly were Ferraro sending out materials to schools in Breakfast for Learning's name, that'd be a very interesting turn of events

September 22, 2011

Dear Dr. Freedhoff,

I am writing in response to your September 22, 2011 blog entry titled, “Canada’s National Breakfast for Learning program promotes Nutella as Nutritious?!” and I would like to take this opportunity to point out the inaccuracies within this post and to clarify the relationship that Breakfast for Learning has with Nutella.

Specifically, I want to ensure you that Breakfast for Learning was not involved in distributing product samples. What this particular ad refers to is a door to door campaign which Ferrero Canada’s marketing company independently undertook to promote Nutella whereby they delivered product samples to a number of private homes.

Second, I also want to provide accurate information in regard to the blog post referencing an anonymous teacher who indicated that BFL had provided recipes to programs featuring the Nutella product and further indicating that BFL requires programs to follow a specified list of appropriate foods prominently featuring Nutella. Breakfast for Learning has never sent any Nutella recipes to our programs nor have we required programs to follow a specified list of appropriate foods clearly featuring Nutella. Therefore I would be quite interested to hear directly from the anonymous teacher to investigate this claim further. In addition, Breakfast for Learning encourages our programs to follow their appropriate provincial/territorial school nutrition guidelines as a matter of practice.

Since its inception, Breakfast for Learning has helped nourish over 2.5 million children from across Canada and has served over 350 million meals. Over the past decade, the number of our funded programs has almost quadrupled and we have seen a dramatic increase in requests for assistance across the country. Unfortunately with limited resources, we have not been able to fully support the demand for assistance.

As a charitable organization with limited funds, Breakfast for Learning is thankful and very pleased to work with many corporations and businesses that provide much needed support to help us realize our mission. Nutella is one of those organizations, who have supplied unrestricted funds to help the organization feed hungry children.

Our relationship with Nutella does not mean that we endorse their product nor promote or distribute their product in our programs. Rather, through our relationship with Nutella and our other donors we can ensure that more people know about our organization and hopefully lend their support to us and the child nutrition movement.

As a matter of practice Breakfast for Learning does not have any donor or sponsor representatives serving on our Board of Directors, meaning that we have highly independent governance practices. We are a registered charity that abides by all required legislative rules and standards and pride ourselves on ethical codes of conduct. We have an
organizational policy whereby we do not endorse any products and this is clearly stated in our donor agreements.

Your blog comments suggesting that BFL is a “sell-out “ NGO to the food industry is both inaccurate and disrespectful to BFL and to all of the generous food industry companies who provide philanthropic support to good causes such as ours. In fact, many charitable organizations rely on corporate support often coming from corporations who share an interest in the charities objectives. For example: health charities with pharmaceutical industry donors, and children’s charities with toy manufacturers, and children’s product suppliers in general.

In conclusion your blog comments appear to be made without a full understanding of BFL’s decision making process and parameters, and a lack of understanding in regard to ethical fundraising policies and procedures. Should you wish to speak with me further about this relationship I encourage you to contact me directly.


Wendy Wong
President and CEO

Funny or Die channels the Michele Bachmann crazy!

All I have to say is, "Poor America".

We've got our shares of crazies here, but wow.

Today's Funny Friday has Funny or Die spinning gold from Michele Bachmann and her concerns regarding the HPV vaccine.

(email subscribers, you have to head to the blog to watch)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Canada's national Breakfast for Learning program promotes Nutella as nutritious?!

According to Breakfast for Learning's About Us page,

"Breakfast for Learning is the leading, national non-profit organization solely dedicated to child nutrition programs in Canada."

And is,

"a strong voice for child nutrition that advocates for national meal program in Canada and quality nutrition in schools."
Sounds good so far.

So riddle me this. How is it that this leading, national, non-profit dedicated to child nutrition who advocates for "quality" nutrition, is sending me samples of Nutella that tell me, it'll "Fuel my Day" and that, "a balanced breakfast includes Nutella"?

For those who actually keep nutritional score, Nutella is a nightmare. It's got roughly 1/4 the protein of peanut butter and nearly 7 times the sugar. In fact for every tablespoon of Nutella, there are 2.5 teaspoons of sugar glommed in. That's just 1/2 a teaspoon shy of the amount of sugar you'd get in an actual tablespoon of sugar!

So maybe it's just Nutella taking liberties with their relationship with Breakfast for Learning. Maybe Nutella's including Breakfast for Learning's logo without permission and is doing so because they've agreed as per the box to donate (a measly) $10,000 from Facebook Likes to the program. Maybe Breakfast for Learning would be as horrified as I was to see their Nutella linkage.

Not so fast.

Here's an email I received from a teacher in the Maritimes who requested anonymity,
"I have been a teacher organizer of a morning breakfast program at my school for several years. One of the organizations that provides a lot of funding is Breakfast for Learning.

I was surprised to see that this year, Nutella is a main sponsor and recipes were provided to programs featuring their product and representing it as a healthy breakfast option. I'm concerned about this promotion in an organization the provides schools with money for nutrition programs.

They even require you to follow a specified list of appropriate foods, Nutella is now clearly featured. We are trying to help the kids make truly healthy choices and I worry that this one healthy meal may be jeopardized by a chocolate spread on their whole grain bread!
Tough to spin that positively for Breakfast for Learning.

There's a term for an organization such as Breakfast for Learning. Breakfast for Learning is a BINGO - a business-interest not-for-profit NGO. What other food industry players help to fund Breakfast for Learning? President's Choice, Sobeys, Ferraro, Unilever, Longos, Newman's Own, Kraft, The McCain Foundation, Moxie's Classic Grill and Nestle.

So do those sponsors wield influence?

As far as I'm concerned the only explanation for the inclusion of Nutella in any program that claims it cares about nutrition is food industry influence.

The question I'm struggling with is this - does Breakfast for Learning's Nutella escapades represent gross misdirection where great intentions were somehow usurped by wily folks from Ferraro, or is this an example of moral bankruptcy where Breakfast for Learning has somehow decided that the few dollars it receives from Ferraro are worth misinforming children and teachers about breakfast nutrition?

What's your vote? Gross misdirection, moral bankruptcy or do you have a third option?

[Hat tips to the anonymous teacher, my lovely wife, and blog reader Edie]

UPDATE: Have a letter from Breakfast for Learning. Short version is they deny sending out anything promoting Nutella. Having trouble embedding the PDF so asked them to send me a version I can cut and paste. When I get it, will do so.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ontario farmers now growing hot dogs and creamsickles?

Today's guest post comes from my close friend Brad Hussey. Brad works in health care and research communications and is the Communications Director of the Canadian Obesity Network and Reality Coalition Canada, but today he's writing as a proud dad of two precocious young lads. He wrote to me to tell me about his experiences at a local agricultural fair and I asked him if it'd be alright to use as a guest post. He kindly obliged:

Shouldn't agricultural fairs include agriculture?

Autumn is in the air, and while my family is always sad to see the summer go we always look forward to fall fair season in southern Ontario. The greenbelt that stretches from the Golden Horseshoe to the Bruce Peninsula is billed as the world’s largest, at 1.8 million working acres. Many of the farming communities here have been at it for well over a century, and each year local agricultural societies put on more than 200 exhibitions across the province, most in the form of fall fairs.

With the concept of eating whole foods and living ‘from farm to fork’ gaining more traction, my wife (a registered dietitian) and I try to engage our kids (ages 7 and 3) as much as possible about healthy eating. We also think it’s important that they understand where real food comes from.

This past weekend we went to one of southern Ontario's smaller venues -- the 157th Binbrook Fair, hosted by the Binbrook Agricultural Society. (Binbrook is a small community that is now a part of the city of Hamilton). It featured the typical offering of a fall fair -- farm animals, carnival rides, and a large crowd of families having fun. Farmers (especially younger ones) showed off their livestock in competition, and seemed genuinely (and rightly) proud of their skills. At some point, according to the even’s website, there was also an "Agricultural Education Day Program" for kids in grades 2-3, which the Society apparently offers throughout the year, both onsite and in classrooms. Great idea!

Of course, we go to these things with eyes wide open, knowing full well what to expect in terms of the food to be found at a midway. And we think that junk food is fun once in a while – and what better place to indulge than one where you will also be spun around and turned upside down on rides? Yet, we still hoped (since summer is barely over) for some farm-fresh veg to take home -- or maybe even some beef (we indulge). Oh, and locally grown corn – we can’t get enough. So, despite this being the first vista we encountered from the parking lot, we still planned to search out something worth bringing home.

OK, so the traveling carnival often brings the food along -- and what the hell, no one has fond memories of chomping on raw broccoli in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl. So, let's look around the corner.

OK, not so much (to be fair, our older son did point out that lemons are a fruit). But look, there's a sign! It's the Agricultural Society's food booth!

Wonder if those are organic fudgesicles? Then, rounding the corner past the lemonade stand and the greasemobile, we see this:

Looks like PacMan has turned his back on fresh food and is setting his sights on the burger truck?

But wait, we did finally did find beautiful, farm-fresh veg -- on display as part of a competition:

3-year old [reaching past barricade to grab some tomatoes, his favourite]: "Daddy, I can have some?"
Me: "No, sorry, you can't touch these.”
3-year-old [still reaching out]: "How come?"
Me: "Um… just be quiet and eat your hot dog."

And so here was our lunch. To be fair, it had vegetables on it. And to be honest, it was delicious.

Now, I’m not disparaging the Binbrook Fair or the fine people who put it on – it was a fun event, with a good crowd and plenty to do for a few hours. And certainly the abundance of junk food and the paucity of healthy food is an aspect of every fair we have been to.

But here’s the thing. If you really want to build awareness and enthusiasm for healthy eating and a healthy respect for what it takes to feed the population, the local agricultural fair is certainly the place to do it. Some of these events attract thousands of people each year. But even if the junk food is part of the fun, why not also give them a taste of what they are missing, instead of just telling them about it?

More disclosure – I probably would have had that sausage dog anyway. And the kids were allowed to have what they wanted, within reason. But at the end of the day, we drove home from the land of bountiful harvest wondering what to make for dinner.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let's Move and Michelle Obama. With friends like these....

Not sure if you caught the excited press releases last week. The Olive Garden and Red Lobster have joined Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign.

They've pledged to cut calories and sodium by 10 percent in the next five years, and 20 percent in the next 10 years. They'll also be making fruits and vegetables the default side dish for kids' meals, and 1% milk the default drink.

Now don't get me wrong, lower calories in restaurant foods certainly can't hurt, or can they?

Without a doubt one of the primary drivers of obesity are meals we're not cooking ourselves. 20% fewer calories off ridiculously high numbers of calories still leaves ridiculously high numbers of calories. And there's also no doubt that The Olive Garden and Red Lobster are going to milk their changes for all they're worth in terms of advertisements that suggest their reformulated choices represent their doing their part in the fight against childhood obesity.

Had I been consulted prior to the establishment of Let's Move, I'd have been pushing for the creation of Let's Cook, because I can't think up any more valuable an intervention than one where all of Mrs. Obama's powerful influence and resources would be brought to bear on teaching, encouraging and helping Americans to spend more time in their kitchens.

I don't think the problem of childhood obesity is going to be solved in restaurants, and programs and initiatives that serve to increase trust in restaurant meals as healthy options for children may well have the unintended consequence of making home cooked meals even more of a rarity than they've already become.

That doesn't strike me as a very wise plan.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Front of package labeling fight! Guiding Stars vs. Health Check

Last week Loblaws announced that they would be adopting Hannaford Brothers' Guiding Stars' point of sale nutritional labeling program.

The program assigns every food in the supermarket a score. Zero, one, two or three "guiding" stars, with more stars suggesting the food is a healthier choice.

Not coincidentally, on the day of Loblaws' announcement the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program posted something of a response on their blog. Their post, entitled, "One nutrition program we can trust", suggests there's confusion in the market place,

"And more and more we are faced with information that is meant to help us make choices – logos on food packing, rating systems and other health claims. But this can just add to the confusion."
They then detail what they feel is required in a national front of label guidance program.

Their recommendations?

1. Criteria based on science and continue to evolve, that follow Canada’s Food Guide and are publicly available.

Unfortunately, Canada's Food Guide and science aren't on the same page, but for the moment, let's ignore that and focus on the word, "Criteria".

Health Check's woefully underpowered program generally only scores between 3 and 5 different criteria per food item paying to belong, and does so with rather random recommendations. For instance to Health Check, it's perfectly alright for tomato juice to contain 480mg of sodium per cup, while canned tomatoes, a much healthier product, can only contain 360mg, while other canned vegetables, again far healthier choices inherently than tomato juice, are seemingly arbitrarily only allowed 240mg.

Contrast that with Hannaford Brothers' Guiding Stars which utilizes a weighted algorithm that scores 13 or more nutritional criteria for each and every item in the supermarket, and doesn't randomly allow certain products to contain higher levels than others.

And while the exact algorithm for Guiding Stars isn't available, neither is the rationale for the random nutrient levels set by Health Check.

Advantage: Guiding Stars.

2. Meets regulatory environment requirements

I have no idea what that means.

Advantage: Draw

3. Neutral and independent

Health Check is anything but neutral. Only those products that pay for the privilege can display a Health Check, whereas true neutrality would necessitate scoring every item on every shelf. Furthermore, I can't help but wonder whether criteria levels settings aren't dictated by the clout and involvement of the companies licensing them, as again, there's zero rationale for allowing tomato juice to contain more than a third of a day's worth of sodium per cup other than loyalty to those companies paying Health Check a great deal of money to license it as a marketing tool (like Campbell's for instance - makers of V8, Campbell's soups and one of Health Check's largest clients).

Guiding Stars on the other hand scores every single item in the store, and the algorithm was developed by a scientific advisory panel that was shielded from business and industry decisions

Advantage: Guiding Stars

4. Includes an educational component

Health Check does have a website and a blog online. In store however, Health Check provides nothing in the way of education. I'd argue that in store Health Check provides misinformation in that there may well be healthier products on the shelves directly besides the paid for checked products, which Health Check will lead consumers to pass on by.

Guiding Stars also has a website, and Loblaws plans to include in store dietitians consequent to this program's roll out. As well, using Guiding Stars, consumers are provided with 4 different degrees of nutritional gradation with which to compare products. In turn that provides some in store education as every item in every category will be scored. Consequently consumers can educate themselves at point-of-sale as to the nutritional quality of comparable products.

Advantage: Guiding Stars

5. Administered by a credible third party on a not for profit basis

Here Health Check is trying to lean on the Heart and Stroke Foundation's name and non-profit status. But don't kid yourself. The Heart and Stroke Foundation's aim is to grow the Foundation. Health Check raises money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and also serves as a means to increase brand awareness. Inferring that Health Check is superior to Guiding Stars because the Heart and Stroke Foundation is non-profit is highly disingenuous. Health Check is trying to grow just like every other organization out there.

Advantage: Draw

6. Transparent in its administration

Neither Health Check nor Guiding Stars can claim transparency in administration. Both are administered to benefit their respective parent organizations. Both fail to disclose their methods. Health Check has no explanation for the randomness of those few criteria it includes while Guiding Stars hasn't disclosed its actual algorithm.

Advantage: Draw

Winner: Guiding Stars

As far as I'm concerned, Guiding Stars hitting Loblaws is the death knell for Health Check as it will allow consumers to see Health Check for what it is - a weak, underpowered program that guides people to poor choices (as will be evidenced by Health Check'ed items receiving zero or only one star). Guiding Stars is a far more robust, applicable, and useful program and while it's not my favourite front-of-package system, it's worlds better than Health Check.

There are only two real options left for Health Check. One is to put itself out of its misery (it's the laughing stock of nutritional professionals across the country and it actively misinforms Canadians). The other would be to abandon their current system and instead license and champion Nuval, the most powerful front-of-package labeling program available which rather than a score of 1 to 4 like Guiding Stars, scores every item in a supermarket on a scale of 1 to 100 with a dramatically more robust nutritional algorithm. If they did the latter, I'd be happy to work voluntarily for them as a spokesman.

[Toronto readers only - would love photos of products in Loblaws with both a Health Check and zero or one Guiding Stars! Will happily post as independent blog posts and if you'd like, will link to your profile, site, Twitter persona, etc. Here's a list of the 4 stores currently starred in Toronto]

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday Stories - Sparks, Oz and plates

Not an article, but rather a movement - Yale's Rudd Center's page on parent advocacy for healthy school food!

Far be it from me not to link to good stuff too - Dr. Oz' Time Magazine article praised by Harriet Hall over at Science Based Medicine (this one ain't about apple juice fear mongering)

Harvard comes out swinging and releases the Healthy Eating Plate, their own, evidence-based, version of the USDA's MyPlate

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wayne Gretzky schools the internet on trick shots

You know those insane internet trick shots videos?

Well they got nothin' on this Funny Friday's Canadian legend containing Wayne Gretzky trick shot fest.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers - hit the blog to watch)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Multi-million dollar opportunity looms for enterprising food service providers!

Money makes the world go around, right?

Here's hoping that in the case of school food, that's true.

Two days ago I helped out with a story by CTV's Avis Favaro. It was about a school in my neck of the woods that no longer has a cafeteria.

It seems that their food service provider, Brown's Dining Solutions, decided that they themselves were incapable of providing schools with healthier fare (as dictated by the new Ontario School Food Policy) and still make a profit.

To me that statement's shocking. It's shocking because the new Ontario School Food Policy is so unbelievably watered down that even Pizza Pizza managed to nearly instantaneously conform. If they could do it, virtually overnight, why not Brown's?

So how nutritionally lacking was Brown's food to begin with?

According to the CTV story, Brown's reports that 80% of what they used to sell would now be gone.

Can you imagine just how nutritiously bereft Brown's Dining Solutions foods must have been if this incredibly weak school food policy nixes 80% of them?

Brown's decision to bail also shocks me because I would have thought that their response to the changes, just like Pizza Pizza's, would have been to rapidly reformulate and keep selling ever so slightly less awful foods.

Not the folks at Brown's. Apparently they are either unwilling or unable to figure out how to make profitable, tasty, healthy foods.

I'm also guessing Brown's won't be the only outfit to choose caving over creativity.

And therein lies the opportunity.

I would imagine that there are enormous profits to be made in the establishment of a company that's capable of crafting and delivering delicious, fresh, and healthy cafeteria fare. School food reform is hopefully only in its infancy and I'd wager too, we'll see similar reforms trickle over time into our other public institutions (hospitals, government buildings, etc).

My thought?

If I was a medium sized local grocer, many of who are already trying to carve out niches for themselves as healthier, and purposely carry more local and/or organic produce, crafting lower sodium supermarket takeout and ready made meals, etc., I'd consider getting involved with the schools, even if at the start it's only on a small, local, couple of schools level.

The grocer would already have the connections and the knowledge to actively purchase and price local produce, they'd already understand how to cook ready made meals in large volumes, and likely have mechanisms in place that dictate menus based on regularly changing produce pricing and availability. They would also likely be able to parlay their involvement in schools into media friendly publicity and at the same time, ingratiate themselves with parents and multiple, recurrent generations of children.

I'm not saying any of this would be easy, and I'm sure Brown's and anyone else out truly do have real barriers to overcome, but I simply can't believe they're insurmountable.

Sounds like one hell of an opportunity.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Horrifying! USDA "tackling obesity" by exploiting your 6yr olds to market chocolate milk!

Oy vey.

It's called the, "Fuel Up to Play 60" program and it specifically targets American school children, from Grade 1 straight on up.

According to the USDA's own blog, Fuel Up to Play 60's, "overall goal" is, "to tackle childhood obesity".

And how is it going to do that?

By having children track how many servings of specific foods they eat, and by urging them to be more active.

The kids are also able to sign up for different "Plays" that they can make to further their healthy living goals.

Sounded fun, so I decided to take a peek.

Horrified doesn't begin to describe my reaction to a program that on inspection is clearly designed solely to market dairy products in the name of "tackling" childhood obesity with the explicit imprimatur of the USDA and the nation's public schools.

I leafed through the "Healthy Eating Playbook". Of the 27 "Healthy Eating Plays", all but 4 specifically promote dairy products.

Not a surprise of course given that one of the primary funders of the program is the National Dairy Council, but it's what these as young as 6 year olds are encouraged to do during these "Healthy Eating Plays" that is truly beyond the pale. Basically they're duped into becoming active and assuredly unpaid marketers for Big Dairy.

Here's some instructions from their "Playbook" (emphasis mine):

"At the booth, pass out handouts with information about the benefits of dairy in your diet. Offer different foods on a rotating basis and let students sample new foods in exchange for having their milk mustache posted on the Web!"

"You might hold weekly or monthly tests that feature foods students need to consume more of, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat and fat-free dairy foods. "

"Create flyers, posters, table tents or even a brochure listing all of the positive reasons for choosing milk and for choosing milk in plastic versus cardboard. Ask your art department to help you create exciting visuals and graphics."

Meet with the school football coach, trainer or athletic director to talk about the benefits of athletes eating healthy, including getting the recommended servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt at breakfast, lunch, dinner and as snacks.

Ask the P.E., health and classroom teachers to highlight the benefits of low-fat and fat-free dairy as a nutrient-rich food that provides energy students need to be active.

Poll students to learn about their habits and set goals for everyone to get the recommended number of servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy each day for a month. Do students know about the benefits of milk, that flavored milk offers the same nutrients as regular milk and that it is important to get the recommended servings of dairy a day? (If they don’t know or need more information, you can use this as an opportunity to build awareness with your promotional campaign about the health benefits of milk.)

Offer pizza with low-fat and fat-free cheese as a breakfast item. Kids love pizza at any meal!

Brainstorm ideas about how to best implement this approach. For example, cafeteria line staff can directly ask students questions such as “Would you like an apple with that?” or “Would you like chocolate milk with your meal?” Signs with the same questions can also be posted in the food serving lines.

Highlight items on the school menus that are excellent as pregame or post-workout foods. Include nutrient-rich foods that students like to eat—like so-called “comfort foods”— including pizza and macaroni and cheese made with whole grains and low-fat or fat-free cheese.

Remind athletes they should always consume plenty of fluids, including low-fat and fat-free milk.

Provide information at your Training Table about nutrient-rich food items like low-fat and fat-free milk. Highlight, for example, that: Milk provides carbohydrate for energy, along with protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin (niacin equivalents). Drinking milk can be an effective way to help hydrate after a workout.

Ask your local Dairy Council® representative to be a possible special guest and resource. Students will need help from the school’s Program Advisor or another adult to make this happen.

Host an assembly and invite a dairy farmer to talk about the work they do to produce nutrient-rich foods your students are learning to choose.

Build awareness about the benefits of nutrient-rich dairy and other farmed foods by creating "point of purchase" promotions during food service. "
So there you have it.

The USDA is "tackling" childhood obesity by insidiously conscripting children to actively market dairy products with messages that include:

1. Chocolate milk is healthy, healthier even than broccoli.
2. If you exercise you need to "fuel up" with comfort foods like pizza or macaroni and cheese, never you mind about energy balance.
3. Pizza for breakfast is a great idea - as is pizza pretty much anytime.
4. Kids should be asked directly and through signs if they want to add a chocolate milk to their meal.
5. The pinnacle of healthy eating is dairy and eating more of it is always a good idea.

Brilliant plan.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MyPlate - With Sponsors Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Today I've got the great pleasure of presenting you with a guest post from my friend and newly minted RD, Andy Bellatti. Andy's blog, Small Bites, is one of my must reads - if you care about food and food politics, you probably ought to make it one of yours.

Here's his most recent take on America's MyPlate:

With Sponsors Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

It has been slightly over three months since the United States Department of Agriculture's newest food icon, MyPlate, launched. Despite the "this will help Americans fight obesity and chronic disease" PR spin, I was rather underwhelmed by the illustration.

Last week marked the launch of the first MyPlate themed message – "make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” – via a national private-sector partnership program.

According to the MyPlate website, these partners are expected to “promote nutrition content in the context of the entirety of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans” and “specifically disseminate... Dietary Guidelines messages”, among other requirements.

Sounds wonderful and idyllic; until you take a look at who the partners are. The page that lists these companies and organizations offers this quote from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:

"By partnering with USDA, corporations win, USDA wins, and the American consumer wins. That's a win-win-win situation!"

Alas, the hyperbolic "win-win-win" quickly turns into a sobering "lose-lose-lose" when you dig into what these organizations stand for – and who's funding them. Consider the following examples:

1) American Society for Nutrition: Their slogan -- "excellence in nutrition research and practice" – sounds earnest, right?. Guess again. Among the companies that support ASN's mission (by funding educational programs): Coca Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Mars Inc., McDonald's, PepsiCo, The Salt Institute, and The Sugar Association.

2) International Food Information Council: According to the folks at Sourcewatch, "[IFIC's] staff members hail from industry groups such as the Sugar Association and the National Soft Drink Association, and it has repeatedly led the defense for controversial food additives including monosodium glutamate, aspartame (Nutrasweet), food dyes, and olestra." I can say from personal experience that a few years ago, I briefly met an IFIC executive who dismissed skepticism towards industry-funded research. One sentence of hers -- which, years later, I still vividly recall -- was: "So what if Coca-Cola funds a study? Science is science!". Not quite; objectivity tends to take a backseat when industry gets involved.

PS: IFIC is also staunchly in favor of genetically modified foods.

3) Institute of Food Technologists: In short, a group that profits from food processing. Any time artificial dyes and flavors or synthetic fats and sweeteners are questioned for safety, you are bound to see an IFT spokesperson immediately pipe up in their defense.

4) Produce for Better Health Foundation: This sounds so innocuous, especially when you consider they are behind the federal 'Fruits & Veggies: More Matters' campaign. While this group is all about produce, their stance on pesticides – “consumers are frightened for no reason!” -- certainly raises an eyebrow.

Their list of donors includes some names that are far from synonymous with 'health': Campbell's Soup Company, McDonald's, Monsanto Vegetable Seeds, and Syngenta (an agricultural biotech company).

The above-mentioned examples are the ones that stood out to me most, but they are not the totality of what I consider to be partnerships incongruous to a national message of health.

There's Weight Watchers, which manufactures a wide array of highly processed, and usually sugar-laden “food”. The National Restaurant Association is also listed. MyPlate is teaming up with an organization that is vehemently against calorie postings on menus, and strongly argues for “personal responsibility.” If anything, shouldn't MyPlate encourage Americans to cook more meals at home and reduce the take-out and eat-out habit? The presence of The American Dietetic Association as a partner may seem like a 'good fit', but they take funding from the likes of Coca Cola, Pepsi Co, and Hershey's, and are ultimately in bed with Big Food.

And so, three months out, my initial critiques of MyPlate have only been cemented and magnified as a result of these partnerships. For those who look at this with far rosier glasses than I, riddle me this: how can we truly conceive of bringing about substantial change when the same companies that continually pump out the nutritionally inferior, sugar/dye/pesticide/GMO-laden "foods" that are a direct threat to health are also sponsoring government efforts to improve the health of Americans?
Andy Bellatti, MS, RD, is a Seattle-based dietitian who approaches nutrition from a whole-foods, plant-centric framework. He also takes a strong interest in food politics, nutrition policy, and deceptive food industry marketing tactics. He is the creator of the Small Bites blog and can be followed on Twitter.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Does what hand you eat with affect your weight?

I'm guessing many of my readers have heard of Brian Wansink's original stale popcorn experiment. Without getting into exact details, Wansink found that the amount of awful stale popcorn consumed by movie goers was dramatically influenced by the size of the container of awfully stale popcorn (I believe folks who received larger tubs ate 30% more despite ranking the popcorn as equally awful).

Well check this out. Some folks out in California explored things a bit further.

Three experiments:

1. Awful, stale popcorn at the movies.
2. Awful, stale popcorn in a meeting room.
3. Awful, stale popcorn at the movies handled with subjects' non-dominant hands.

Researchers also subdivided folks into those who were habitual movie popcorn eaters, and those who weren't.

In the movie situation, habitual eaters ate just as much awful, stale stuff as they did the fresh, but not so in the meeting room, and not so when eating with their non-dominant hands!

Basically if the habitual nature of the pattern was disrupted (by taking popcorn out of context or by using a hand that required conscious attention), people seemed to notice just how awful the stale popcorn really was.

A fascinating result and one that lends credence to the importance of mindful eating practices, as well as to actively attacking your own automated eating patterns (like not eating in front of the TV for instance).

And maybe (just maybe) it means that switching which hand you regularly eat with, especially if eating habitual and/or highly palatable foods, is an effective weight loss strategy.

Couldn't hurt.

Neal, D., Wood, W., Wu, M., & Kurlander, D. (2011). The Pull of the Past: When Do Habits Persist Despite Conflict With Motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167211419863

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hogwarts - which house are you?

Today's Funny Friday video suggests if it's Hufflepuff, you might want to try to switch.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers need to visit the blog to watch)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Study suggests eating Chef Boyardee helps weight loss?

If I worked for Chef Boyardee I guarantee I'd be featuring this study in an advertising campaign. I'd be doing the same if I worked for Smucker's, Lean Pocket's, Kashi or Campbell's.

Here's the scoop. Straightforward study. 17 folks were provided with all of their meals and snacks 5 days a week for 5 consecutive weeks. First week was a buffet where foods were weighed before and after eating. Next two weeks half the group selected their lunch from a selection of six commercially available portion controlled "foods" and could eat whatever and however much they wanted for the rest of the day. The other half kept hitting the lunch buffet. For the last two weeks the split groups were reversed.

The calorie controlled "foods" being consumed at lunch (you'll understand why I put "food" in quotes in a moment)?

All rang in at roughly 200 calories and included Chef Boyardee Pasta, Smucker's Uncrustables, Kashi Bars, Lean Pockets or Compbell's Soup in Hand.

What'd the study find?

Consuming portion controlled ultra-processed awfulness at lunch led to a daily caloric savings of 250 calories!

That's actually a great many calories.

Mathematically eating 250 fewer calories per day could lead a person to 1/2lb of weight loss weekly.

So should you start eat calorie controlled portions of ultra-processed "food" for your weight management effort?

Only if you plan on doing so forever.

I know I'm a broken record, but whatever strategy you employ in your weight management efforts, unless you plan on keeping it forever, is just a waste of time.

The argument about the nutritive value of this intervention? That's a toughie. Sure it's easy to look down at these "foods" and make fun of them nutritionally, but you might just as easily make the case that were a person able to lose and maintain a loss by eating them, that the benefits of the loss shouldn't be casually discounted.

[Thanks to Dr. Arya Sharma for passing the study my way, and thanks too to all the readers here - today marks my 1,500th post!]

Levitsky, D., & Pacanowski, C. (2011). Losing weight without dieting. Use of commercial foods as meal replacements for lunch produces an extended energy deficit Appetite, 57 (2), 311-317 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.015

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Why I never eat breakfast cereal.

(Warning, this is a non-evidence based, anecdotal post)

I've been working exclusively in weight management for over 7.5 years. I figure during that time I've had over 4,000 patients. I've also been tracking my own eating, and at times, so too has my wife hers.

Something I've noticed?

Cereal doesn't hold me well. Many of my patients neither.

Doesn't matter if the cereal's fortified with protein or not, high fibre or low, if I consume the same number of calories from a more "solid" food like eggs and toast, or toast and peanut butter, it provides me far greater satiety.

My wife, during her 3rd pregnancy, was much hungrier than her other two. When she tracked her hunger in a food diary it became clear to her - it was the cereal.

Working with my patients, I've often seen the same pattern.

And sometimes it's not daytime hunger that's amplified by breakfast cereal, but rather afternoon and nighttime struggles and cravings.

Whether it's a carb thing, an insulin thing, or some other thing, I don't know. Carb wise, given my go to is toast with something, I'm not convinced, but whatever the cause, I know cereal and me, we don't work well together.

So if you're a cereal eater, and if you also happen to struggle with cravings and hunger at any point in the day, why not try the very simple personal science experiment of swapping out the cereal? Worst case scenario, it doesn't help at all, and best case, you'll have some improvement over dietary control.

If you want to be pseudo-sciency, pick up a food diary for the experiment. Keep track of hunger, cravings, control etc., and then if you're really keen, try a bunch of different breakfast options, rotating them around (including cereal), to see if there are certain breakfasts that work better for you than others at conferring better full day control.

What have your cereal experiences been like?

(Full disclosure - I have no affiliation whatsoever with toast, egg or peanut butter manufacturers, and I'm not selling any cereal makers short)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Will there ever be a grand unified theory of obesity?

In the nutrition blogosphere there's a bit of a debate going on right now. It started during a recent conference on ancestral health when Why We Get Fat's Gary Taubes criticized the theories of researcher and blogger Stephan Guyenet, and while criticism is all fine and dandy, it was the manner in which Taubes addressed Guyenet that led Guyenet to launch his own critical analysis of Taubes' work.

In a nutshell, Gary Taubes is the champion of the carbohydrate hypothesis of obesity, and Stephan Guyenet, the food reward hypothesis.

So who's right?



Both and neither?

Does it matter?

While I'm not fond of the way Taubes tends to argue in terms of what appears to me to be his liberal use of logical fallacy, personal observation, straw men, and ad hominem, I do think highly processed carbohydrates are involved in societal weight gain.

I also think there's a great deal of merit to Guyenet's belief that the hyperpalatable foodstuff that makes up the bulk of our modern food environment short circuits the brain's normal ability to moderate intake (you can read Guyenet's series on food reward on his blog starting back in April of 2011).

As a clinician however, neither strike me as the one right solution. Most people simply aren't going to be willing to restrict carbohydrates to the point of a natural reduction in caloric intake, nor do I think people are going to be willing to live on bland diets forever.

That said, reducing carbohydrate intake (especially ultra-processed carbohydrates) and trying to minimize exposure to hyperpalatable foods, are in fact both recommendations I regularly provide my patients.

So why isn't there one right way to go?

Probably because people are complicated. Both psychologically and physiologically. Brains are pretty crazy places, and so are chromosomes in that there are literally 100s of genes involved in eating behaviours, metabolism, appetite, etc.

So does anyone truly believe obesity has only one cause and therefore only one solution?

In Guyenet's case, the answer's clearly "no" as he's said as much,

"The food reward/palatability hypothesis of obesity is not mine, it's a hypothesis that originated in the 1970s, perhaps earlier, and is a major subject of ongoing obesity research. I don't expect it to explain every instance of obesity."
In Taubes case, it would appear as if his answer's "yes". Carbs or bust. In fact his most recent blog post recounts how he believes that for decades, presumably unlike he himself, pretty much all researchers have been operating with, "suboptimal intelligence" and that their "wrong answers", "border on inexcusable".

It's quite the righteous stance given the very clear holes Guyenet (and others) are able to poke in Taubes' theories.

Of course I'm confident Taubes will find some real holes in Guyenet's theories as well - something he plans on doing on his blog over the course of the next little while.

That's because unlike physics, I don't think anyone (other than potentially Taubes) really believes that there's one grand unifying theory of obesity, so there will always be holes to find in every theory.

The Daily Lipid's Chris Masterjohn covered this "Dietary Dogmatism" well, and I just want to weigh in and comment that pigeon holes are small.

Carbs, food rewards, mindfulness, whatever - it doesn't really matter. Bottom line being that if you figure out what works for you, stick with it regardless of whose theories resonate with you intellectually, because unless their application helps you to find a means to manage your weight living a life you actually enjoy, you'll have to keep on looking.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Saturday Stories - home births, "bans", and liberation therapy

The Skeptical OB skewers Ricki Lake over her promotion of home births.

Macleans' Colby Cosh pours some cold water on MS's liberation therapy.

Lastly - found my interview with CTV regarding Edmonton schools' junk food "ban"

Friday, September 02, 2011

40 something ex-video gamers must watch this video!

I realize today's Funny Friday won't appeal to everyone.

But, if you're like me, a 40 year old man who spent way too many hours playing Doom, who now has kids, you'll adore this video.

Have a great long weekend (no post on Monday)!

(email subscribers, you've got to head to the blog to watch the video)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Is pretending food's not junk worse than serving junk food?

A few days ago I did an interview with CTV NewsChannel on Edmonton schools' "junk food ban", a "ban" enacted with the explicit purpose of helping combat childhood obesity.

I think the producer was a touch surprised during our pre-interview when I explained to her that not only hasn't Edmonton banned junk food, but they've gone and done worse, they've used nutritionism and health haloing to pretend the junk food they're still selling is in fact healthy.

What do I mean?

Instead of regular potato chips, they're selling baked potato chips.

Instead of high calorie candy, they're selling bags of dried apple slices.

Instead of sugared soda and energy drinks, they're selling juice and chocolate milk.

Oh, and they're calling bags of pulverized vegetable pulp, combined with pulverized rice and potato flour (vegetable chips), vegetables.

Hey School Boards! Listen up! Baked chips are still potato chips, they've just got marginally fewer calories and fat grams. Bags of apple slices? Sure they were once apples. In fact they were once 4 apples - with each bag containing all 4 apples' calories - 18% more than a Snickers bar, along with over 15 teaspoons of sugar. Juice? Drop per drop it has the same number of calories and same amount of sugar as soda. Chocolate milk? Double the calories and 20% more sugar.

Baking doesn't make chips healthy!

Dried fruit, while certainly a yummy choice, is just fibre with highly concentrated sugar!

Juice and chocolate milk? Don't get me started.

And vegetable chips as vegetables? Ugh.

Worse still, despite trotting out the banner of childhood obesity, there are no caloric guidelines to the school food reforms, and they still allow for extremely high levels of sodium, which in turn is often used in making highly processed junky food taste good, and consequently home cooking, comparatively bland.

So at the end of the day, what Edmonton (and Ontario, and virtually all Canadian school boards) are doing is still selling junk food, but now they're labeling it as "healthy". They're also contributing to the de-healthy-palate-ification of our children, and making parenting more difficult, even for parents who do say, "No", because now parents like me who actually take the time to teach kids about true evidence based nutrition, have a very real authority figure in schools telling our kids that what we've taught them about juice, chocolate milk, baked chips, pizza and ice cream days, is wrong.

There's a world of difference between slightly less awful and good, and yet here they're serving at best (and that's a huge stretch) slightly less awful food, and telling kids and parents and society that it's good for you.

We're a very long, long way away from healthy schools. If this had been rolled out as a small step towards a much more comprehensive long term reform, maybe I could clap. Given that it's being rolled out as health food, it makes me wonder whether the schools would be better off selling absolute garbage - because at least then they wouldn't be undermining parents like me because they couldn't get away with pretending it was healthy.

Oh, and one side argument. Some folks have said that given kids can just walk across the street and buy junk, that the schools should too. I'm pretty sure they can buy cigarettes across the street - doesn't mean schools should sell them.

Schools should be safe, healthy, exemplary places, because you're damn right, pretty much everywhere else is horrifying.

My two lines in the sand?

1. Schools shouldn't be serving or selling foods that their teachers teach their students not to eat.

2. Schools shouldn't be selling junk food and calling it healthy.

So terrifically sad.

End of rant.