Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Badvertising: Fruitwashed Bacardi Real Jüs - How is this Legal?

Saw these at the checkout aisle of my local liquor store.

They're Bacardi's Real Jüs rum coolers made with, "25% Real Juice"

Simply horrifying, and it honestly surprises me that a front-of-package inferred health claim is something that can legally be placed on alcohol in Canada.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Parental YES! Files: Local Church Edition

Again, battles can be won.

Here's a note I received from a long time reader (who'd prefer to remain anonymous).
I thought you should know the positive influence you have had on our church culture.

You're responsible for me noticing that the Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and Soccer Camps associated with my church were constantly feeding my kids junk food, "just for this one special event." For about a year, I randomly complained to anyone who would listen. Finally, I wrote to the head pastor, the children's pastor, and a board member. I explained what I had observed and pointed out that unhealthy food choices were constantly being given to the children, even in the same services that we told them to care for the bodies God gave them. The day after they received the letter, there was an announcement in the bulletin for "healthy snacks after the service". Also since that day, I have seen veggies with hummus in Sunday School area for the first time ever. I have had to volunteer to bring 80 healthy snacks to soccer camp on Monday...but I'm good with that!

I don't know how often you're credited with changing things in the church Dr. Freedhoff...but I couldn't resist letting you know!
If you'd like to try to influence positive changes in your community, a ways back I published a brief guide on how to do so. And for readers of yesterday's post you should know I'll be having a run at the camp for next year.

[If you have your own Parental YES! (or No) story, please don't hesitate to send my way. yonifreedhoff at]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Parental "No" Files: WTF is a "Cabin Party" for 8 Year Olds?

My oldest girl is spending a week at sleepaway camp this summer.

We received an email last week from the camp that included packing lists and various logistical information. This note was included,
"Campers are encouraged to bring a snack with them to share during their cabin party on the first night."
We called the camp to double check on what we were supposed to send snack wise for this "cabin party" and we were told generally campers bring chips, candies, and chocolates.

It's a junk food fest, and no doubt it's easier than ice breaker games to make kids happy, but is it really necessary, or in our children's best interests, to tie junk food to summer camp with their first experience literally being a candy crush?

And what if we wanted to opt out?

Well I suppose we could not send our daughter to camp in the first place. Or we could encourage our shy 8 year old to say, "No" and in so doing put herself in the spotlight of, "that kid's weird", or we could send her with "healthful" snacks and again risk her peers' childlike judgement.

Or we could sigh, buy her a family sized bag of chips, send her on her way, and further resent the fact that the world doesn't even try anymore to entertain or reward children with anything other than candy and that we feel, as parents, that to resist in this circumstance is not in the best interest of our child.

And 4 hours after this post goes live, that last option is exactly what we'll be doing.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Stories: Shakeology, Let's Move, and Mice

Pharmadaddy obliterates Shakeology

Great piece from the LA Times on the political pitfalls of Let's Move when it comes to the food industry.

Not only are human beings not simply large mice, but apparently mice research is fraught with bias.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, my US News and World Report column covered some evidence based provisos and concerns that David Freedman didn't mention in his controversial Atlantic pro junk food piece]

Friday, July 26, 2013

Is the Secret to Happiness Being More Dog?

That's what today's Funny Friday would have you believe.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Badvertising: iÖGO Nano Drinkable Yogurt (Might As Well Be Ice Cream)

Clearly aimed at Moms and Dads everywhere, iÖGO Nano drinkable yogurt is billed as,
"Goodness made special for your little ones"
And of course it also packs the healthy inferences of the words "yogurt" and "strawberry".

Hmmmm, let's see.

A 93mL bottle of iÖGO Nano Strawberry Yogurt contains 70 calories, 11g of sugar (1g shy of 3 teaspoons), and not exactly brag worthy quantities of calcium and vitamin D (15% and 8% respectively).

A 93mL serving of Breyer's All Natural Strawberry Ice Cream contains 81 calories and an equivalent 11g of sugar.

Pretty sure if iÖGO Nano drinkable yogurt was billed as melted strawberry ice cream parents wouldn't be fooled into giving it to their kids and believing it to be a healthy choice, but rather perhaps on occasion as a treat.

And yet....


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

More SunRype Badvertising, This Time SunRype Just Fruit & Grains Bars

Sure seems clear. According to the ad copy SunRype Just Fruit & Grains bars,
"are made with 70% fruit, 30% grains and seeds, and nothing else."

"No fillers.
No added sugar.
No artificial flavour.
So let's take a quick and easy peek at those claims.

Each bar weighs 30g and of course, if the copy is to be believed, is made up purely of 70% fruit and 30% grains.

So presumably, their Summer Berries bar would be 70% mixed berries and 30% grains and seeds.

For the sake of this exercise let's assume of the grains portion 80% are rolled oats and 20% are flax seeds.

That would mean 21 grams of mixed berries, 7.2 grams of rolled oats and 1.8 grams of flax seeds.

Nutritionally that mixture amounts to 59 calories and 1.9g of sugar.

These bars?

Pretty much double those calories and almost ten times the sugar predicted by just fruits and grains.

So what's actually in the bars as clearly they're not simply my concoction of mixed berries, oats, and flax?

Don't you think it'd be great if our government denied the food industry the ability to call concentrated fruit juices and purees "fruit" and forced them instead to label them as the simple sugars that they are?

Oh, and in case you were curious, an equivalent 30g portion of a Mars bar? It has less sugar than this health-washed deception.

If you're looking for fruit and grains, eat fruit and grains.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Badvertising: SunRype Fruit Plus Veggies Plus Fibre!


I was alerted to the existence of this product by an RD who "liked" it on Facebook.

According to its internet copy, it is full of "extra healthy goodness", and no doubt, its front-of-package screams extra healthy (along with the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check for added punch).

Wanna know what the actual ingredients scream?

Sugar water.

Sugar water with 2 lonely grams of fibre added to each glass' 6.75 teaspoons of sugar to be exact, and a health halo that's no doubt duping consumers into believing that they or their kids' consumption of this sugar water is a fair replacement for consuming actual fruits and vegetables.

If only there were such shortcuts.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guest Post: A Parental YES! and a Battle Won

Long time readers may remember a post from a ways back detailing the goody bag given out to children who completed a "Kids of Steel" triathlon (25m swim, 1km cycle, 200m run) - my calculations had it at 450 calories with 15 teaspoons of sugar.

Well Jennifer Wilson, a reader who'd participated in that original race, decided to do something about it, and this year, instead of M&Ms and candy masquerading as fruit the kids received half a banana and a bubble wand!

Here's her story:

Hi Yoni,

I wanted to send you a parental "we'd had enough" file "so took matters into our own hands" story.

After the 2012 event I had sent a somewhat nasty and true letter to the kids of steel organizers letting them know our feelings on the food provided, the example it set and the impact it could have on kids. After talking to the organizers (who were greatly offended by our comments), they asked "well what are you going to contribute to change it"? Although this question was annoying (IE why is it my job to make sure an active organization promoting kids activity has healthy food choices), I also realized that if I didn't offer to help nothing would get done and I'd be angry again at the race this year. So in August of last year I said I'd like to be on the committee to help with ensuring healthy food choices were there for the kids and help with some of the logistics (i.e. handcuffs) at the race venue/hosting site due to contracts/agreements etc. (Why a city would choose to host a kids event at a facility that charges literally hundreds of dollars for the smallest of healthy platters is beyond me, but that's another story, another battle for another day). They graciously accepted my help and said they would start meeting around November.

As November, December passed by and I had not been contacted, I was continually sending emails to try to connect. I knew if I didn't pursue, it wouldn’t happen. Finally in the spring (after many attempts to contact) I received a response and they agreed to meet me to discuss options.

Basically I was told they had no money, uphill battle with the location to have outside food, it's only one day (I know you love that one!) etc. etc. However when I asked the question of "If I can get a sponsor for the healthy food" will you work with me? They agreed!

The sponsor I was talking about was my husband's company (as we had previously discussed this option as I anticipated their response) and of course they loved to be involved. When I proposed what was needed … I would get all the food (and bubbles for fun!; again a concept lost on the organizers "why would they get bubbles?"), if they provide the volunteers for day of and man the station. After all my son was racing, and I'm not missing that! Agreed.

I can't describe the feeling of satisfaction when I saw kids running around at the finish line chasing bubbles (yes, they were moving and running instead of sitting eating junk food, yeah movement!), eating their bananas, laughing and having fun. What kid doesn't want a bubble stick when they cross the finish line of a race…it was great! Compared to 2012 it was night and day. I'm not saying this works in all cases, nor should we as parents have to FIGHT with the organizers or facilities or camps or whatever to have healthy food. But the satisfaction for us as parents came in knowing that simply having healthy food (and only healthy food) at the finish line of a triathlon can help kids know what to eat and that healthy food is what you should be given post activity, should you be hungry - NOT rewarded with junk food for finishing an event, the feeling was great!

Sorry for the ramble - but a good update is always good! Love your blog - thanks for writing it!

There is hope … However we do start kindergarten in the fall. We are expecting that to be an adventure…will keep you updated!

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Stories: Snakes, Tooth Fairies and a Terrorist

Somewhere not to put on your bucket list - Ilha de Queimada Grande

Did you know there are plans afoot to brand and commercialize the tooth fairy?

Don't get put off by the cover, that Rolling Stone piece on the Boston bomber is tremendous journalism.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook, here's this week's US News and World Report piece on whether or not it'd be wiser to cut out boxes rather than sodium, and below there's a bonus video from Tanya Fields, one of my fellow presenters at the University of Vermont's Food Systems Summit and one heckuva speaker as she discusses her work with the Bronx' BLK ProjeK]

Friday, July 19, 2013

Some Dogs Are Quite Simply Fearless Hunters

Today's Funny Friday is a rivalry as old as time itself between dog and ..... dandelion.

Have a great weekend!

(Email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Normalizing the Abnormal - My Talk From University of Vermont's Food Systems Summit

I called it, "The World is a Candy Store", but it might just as well have been called, "Normalizing That Which Should Not Be Normal".

It's 17 or so minutes long.

Thanks to the organizers for both inviting me, and sharing the video.

(Note, one slip of the tongue. When I spoke of the London Children's Hospital I meant the London Children's Museum)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Badvertising: Dairy Queen's Triple Berry Julius - More Sugar Than a GALLON of Berries!

Good lord!

Looking at the nutrition breakdown of Dairy Queen's new "Julius Original" smoothies that the ad up above suggests are fruits I couldn't help but make some comparisons.

Their large "Triple Berry" Julius Original smoothie? At 920 calories (with no "boosts") it has the caloric equivalent of nearly two large Dairy Queen  chocolate sundaes and with 48 teaspoons of sugar (a full cup), it packs the sugar equivalent of more than a gallon of actual mixed berries (and nearly 3.5x their calories).

So no Dairy Queen, your smoothies don't give you a "fruit" department, but they do give you a badvertising one.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What the Tiny Archipelago of Vanuatu Can Teach Us About Obesity's Causes

Vanuatu is an archipelago in the South Pacific made up of 68 inhabited islands with 255,737 residents (as of early 2012). The islands are all in various stages of economic development and given the uniformity of the population (98% are Melenasian) the islands and their inhabitants in a sense can be considered a natural experiment of health transition consequent to progress which allows researchers to try to determine which elements of change are responsible for increasing rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity.

And that's exactly what researchers did.

In a study published in the journal Obesity, researchers assessed body composition and behavioural patterns including diet, physical activity and substance use on three islands that varied in their degree of economic development. They then analyzed relationships among their measures. One of the islands was characterized by small rural villages made up of subsistence farmers. The other was also rural but their main economy was tourism. The third was Vanuatu's urban capital city.

Researchers asked questions about: Ancestry, family history of NCDs, occupation, education, subsistence related activities, 24 hour dietary recall, frequency of sports and sedentary behaviours and substance use. The researchers measured: BMI, body fat percentage (both by means of bioimpedance analysis and multiple skin folds), waist circumference, and waist to hip ratio.

The findings weren't all that surprising, yet still are worth reviewing. Risk of obesity, increased body fat percentage, increase waist circumferences and waist to hip ratios all went up in lock step with degree of economic development.

And the biggest predictor of weight change? Processed food consumption - in this case tinned fish canned in oil or sauce served with instant noodles or rice (versus the more traditional fresh fish with root crops and vegetables).

As would be expected, physical activity and sedentary behaviour had much weaker associations with weight change than did diet.

Unfortunately convenience foods aren't particularly convenient for health.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Guest Post: What Reading That Artificial Sweeteners "Study" Actually Told Me

Today's guest post comes from Colby Vorland. You can always count on Colby to carefully read source articles before weighing in on them. Like me, Colby has no vested interest in whether or not artificial sweeteners are risky or beneficial, but also like me, Colby prefers to rely on evidence to inform his opinions rather than conjecture or gut beliefs. So when I saw him wading into the fray on this irresponsibly published piece (you'll understand what I mean when you read Colby's post), I invited him to summarize his concerns here (and he's also done so in even greater and fully referenced detail on his excellent blog, Nutritional Blogma)

An opinion article in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism by Dr. Susan Swithers about artificial sweeteners made for scary articles last week. Here is a small sampling:
And many, many more. Her message reached millions.

These news pieces were largely based on a press release from the journal publisher (Cell Press) titled "The dark side of artificial sweeteners". The press release and article argue that artificial sweeteners increase risk of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome (and therefore heart disease). It is true that some research associates artificial sweeteners with these outcomes, but it is also true that some research does not. With a look at the article, there are a number of mistakes and/or misleading things about it, and it does not reflect all the evidence. Below I review the article's sections on artificial sweeteners and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. Dr. Swithers and others have done interesting neuroscientific rodent work with artificial sweeteners which is the second half of her article which I do not review here.

Here is what is missing from media stories about this publication:
  • This was not a systematic review of all research. In fact, the oldest paper on artificial sweeteners cited was published in 2007. There are a lot of studies published prior to 2007 on this topic.
  • All of the cited studies were trying to support a view that artificial sweeteners are harmful, and all studies suggesting artificial sweeteners have no relationship with disease were ignored as you can see below.
  • Strangely, these are not the fault of Dr. Swithers, but the requirements of the journal: "Opinions should present a personal viewpoint on a research-related topic, rather than a balanced review of this topic." They also note that you should not cite meta-analyses, and there is a reference limit.
So to summarize - the journal specifically requests non-balanced articles of only recent research, then puts out hyped press releases without saying this, and as a consequence, frightens millions of people. To me, scientific "opinions" should be based on a dispassionate analysis of the whole relevant evidence-base, whereas this is simply irresponsible, and it should change.

  • Swithers cites 2 observational studies that purportedly show a relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
  • The first made no statistical adjustments for any dietary variables.
  • The second found a cross-sectional relationship but not a longitudinal relationship, the latter being a stronger study design. 
  • There are stronger designs not cited (for example Mozaffarian et al. (2011) and de Koning et al. (2011)) that found associations between lower weight and higher artificially sweetened beverage intake.
  • A review not cited Anderson et al. (2012) concludes "there is no evidence that low-calorie sweeteners can be claimed to be a cause of higher body weights in adults."
Metabolic Syndrome
  • Next Swithers discusses observational studies associating artificial sweeteners with metabolic syndrome, citing 4 studies.
  • The first I blogged about and I would not say it shows there is an association.
  • The other 3 did find positive associations between diet soda and metabolic syndrome, but all of the papers caution about interpretation and suggest that diet soda could be a marker of poor diet/lifestyle habits or be the result of associations with other dietary variables.
  • Diabetics consume 3 times more diet soda per day than non-diabetics (Mackenzie et al. (2006)), so it may be that many of these associations are simply the result of people with new disease diagnoses switching to diet soda, rather than diet soda promoting disease.
  • The first study that Swithers cites to support an association between artificial sweeteners and diabetes actually showed no associations after all statistical adjustments. This is incorrectly described in the article.
  • In the second study cited, Swithers discussed only 1 of 2 cohorts within the study and ignored the other (which found no association).
  • The third citation is the only one that appears correctly described.
  • This last study is cited as supporting a positive association between at least 1 artificially sweetened beverage per day and diabetes, but there was no overall relationship with full statistical adjustments. Swithers then notes that in participants of normal weight at baseline there was a positive association, however she doesn't note that there was no relationship in those with overweight or obesity.
Cardiovascular Disease
  • Finally, 4 studies are cited that purportedly associate artificial sweeteners with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
  • For the first and second, Swithers notes a positive association in the "age-adjusted model" but doesn't note that there is no longer an association all statistical adjustments are made.
  • The third does support a positive association, and indeed in 3 large cohorts. But we don't have good reason for why this is.
  • The last one I also blogged about here, which paradoxically found that sugar-sweetened beverages do not increase heart attack and stroke risk but artificially-sweetened beverages do. This study has a small number of participants and therefore a small number of cardiovascular events in each group and therefore I am not sure it is appropriate to draw conclusions without more studies.
Human Trials
  • Swithers only looks at human trials in the past 5 years (2 of them).
  • The first suggests that children consuming artificial sweeteners don't gain as much weight as those drinking sugary beverages, but there is no water group so it is dismissed.
  • The second is oversimplified and therefore misrepresented, as there were some beneficial effects from using diet drinks compared to water.
  • Swithers does not cite a meta-analysis (because the journal requirements wouldn't let her anyway) by de la Hunty and colleagues (2006) of short-term human trials that suggests substitution of sugar with aspartame/other sweeteners reduces total calories.
When all evidence is considered, it is a much more nuanced story. In my opinion, the evidence is weighted toward artificial sweeteners being fine. I would recommend the scientific statement by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association published last year for a good review of human research on the subject. We do need more long-term human studies on metabolic outcomes and weight, but it seems like substituting sugar with artificial sweeteners does generally result in a small reduction in calorie intake.

Colby Vorland is a nutritional science graduate student. He blogs about various research topics in nutrition at and is on Twitter @nutsci.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saturday Stories: Heaven, Old Age, and Popeye

Esquire's Luke Dittrich wonders whether or not there really is "Proof of Heaven".

One of our time's greatest thinkers (Oliver Sacks) on what it means to him to be turning 80.

Maria Popova talks spinach, decimal places and Popeye.

[And if you don't follow me on Twitter or Facebook this week's US News column of mine is on whether or not there are "healthier" processed foods, and here's an interview I did on NPR's Air Talk with Larry Mantle on juice cleanses]

Friday, July 12, 2013

Forget Rube Goldberg Machines, The World Needs More Dog Goldberg Ones

Today's Funny Friday is a brilliant example of taking a tired old idea and making it very, very new again.....with dogs.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

So What Happens to Employee Health After a Year of Treadmill Desk Walking?

Not as much as one might hope or guess.

This month's Obesity journal details a year long study conducted at a financial services corporation in Minneapolis where 36 sedentary office workers had their desks swapped with treadmill desks.

The treadmill desks cost roughly $126,000 ($3,500 or so a piece - that's a photo of one up above from Steelcase) so no doubt any company considering making this switch will want to evaluate the outcomes.

So what were they?

Well it isn't about to help folks lose piles of weight, but maybe a teeny tiny bit. As far as statistically significant differences go there were four. A 3lb weight loss, a 7% rise in HDL, a 1.6 inch decrease in waist circumference and a 3 point drop in systolic blood pressure.

As far as impact on activity and sedentary time goes - a $3,500 treadmill desk led workers to take on average 852 more steps a day and decrease their sedentary time by 43 minutes a day.

The desks weren't found to lead to any changes in workplace performance (for the better or for the worse).

The questions I can't answer are:

1. Would these extremely modest improvements lead to sufficient health care savings so as to be cost effective enough for a corporation to consider the desks' capital cost outlay?

2. How/why did having a treadmill desk in place of a sitting one only lead participants to be 43 minutes less sedentary and increase their daily steps by just 852?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Former Biggest Loser Contestant Sued For Weight Regain

That I'm not a fan of The Biggest Loser won't come as a shock to anyone. I think it's a hideous spectacle of every toxic attitude society has ever had regarding weight that teaches a nation that self worth is measured in pounds and that people who struggle with obesity are truly just lazy gluttons who don't want it badly enough.

Regarding those Biggest Losers who do manage to keep off their weight (and according to the former contestants I've interviewed that's a very small number) I've always said that the Losers who keep it off may well do so consequent to having translated their weight losses into careers as product spokespeople, celebrity trainers and motivational speakers.

Well maybe even that's not enough to help maintain the severity of a Biggest Loser lifestyle as one such Loser, Tara Costa, is apparently being sued because she'd gained back enough weight (according to news reports she had regained 29% of her Biggest Loser losses) that one of the companies for who she was a paid spokesperson felt that they could no longer use her in their advertising and that her weight gain in turn was in breach of her contract which specified that she needed to, "maintain her current level of fitness and conditioning".

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Washington State Dairy Council Serving Kids Dessert for Breakfast

And not only serving it to them, but encouraging them to eat it so that they get entered into a contest to win an iPad as you can see from this poster that was up in a Bethel, Washington elementary school (and kindly, anonymously, punted my way).

This dairy industry funded scheme leads me to ask two questions: 1. Is dessert for breakfast a better plan than no breakfast? 2. Is advertising breakfast dessert to elementary school kids as being something that will improve their grades, give them more energy and make them more friends wise?

Not saying I know the answers, but certainly I have to believe that someone who actually cared about kids' nutrition could have found a non-dessert offering that would have fit the bill.

BTW - this contest/promotion conducted in Washington's Bethel school district - one I've covered before when their district's actual child nutrition staff literally sold fundraising fast food pizzas - clearly the "nutrition" folks over in Bethel's school district are in the ends-justify-the-means camp of selling out health for dollars.

[And in case you're interested, here's this dessert's nutritional's basically a bowl of sugar]

Monday, July 08, 2013

Vemma - The Multilevel Marketing Scheme Preying on Your Teens

Talk about chutzpah!

I'm guessing most readers of this blog are already familiar with multi-level marketing schemes involving glorified magic juices - but Vemma's the first such scheme I've come across that's reportedly targeting teens to become pushers, I mean, "brand agents".

An alert put out by the Toronto District School Board to all of its Superintendants notes,
"a company called Vemma is approaching students through Facebook to become “brand agents” (sales representatives) to sell their drink Verve! The drink is not sold in stores. They target middle and high schools students (ages 14 to 16 and over). They have a strong marketing plan, there is a cost for the start-up kit, and messaging on their website tells students that becoming a Verve Brand rep will help them develop leadership and business skills, as well as make them a lot of money. There is also an incentive program that offers cars and more. The students are strongly encouraged to recruit others as “brand agents”."
And so what's Verve? It's Vemma's version of Red Bull replete with this grab bag of "medicinal" ingredients,

But I guess if you're already a company that is comfortable selling theoretical hope as magic, preying on children to peddle your wares isn't much of an ethical stretch.

[Hat tip to my wonderful Canadian editor Random House's Pamela Murray]

Friday, July 05, 2013

An Adorable 6 Year Old Sings Her Heart Out (Trust Me, It's Worth a Click)

Today's Funny Friday comes courtesy of America's Got Talent and it involves a very talented 6 year old singer and her 9 year old brother.

Have a great weekend!

(email subscribers, head to the blog to watch)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

A 4th of July Reflection - Is Junk Food Part of America's National Heritage?

[Sidelined from actual writing by having to pick up a sick daughter, for the 4th of July here's a repurposed 2012 piece from here in Canada. American readers - today, while wandering through the various official, state-run, festivities, have a peek at the foods being served. Is junk food America's national heritage or is it all in good fun and celebration? It's true, humanity, likely since time immemorial, has celebrated with food but do our celebrations these days go too far? Or do they occur too often? Or is everything hunky dory? And of course, if you see anything truly crazy, snap a photo and send my way at yonifreedhoff over on gmail or via Twitter (@yonifreedhoff)]


This past weekend we took our 3 little girls to Hog's Back park. It's all at once a lock station, water control dam, retaining dam and lookout point, and it's been part of Canada since the Rideau Canal was opened way back in 1832. It's beautiful and it's maintained by Parks Canada.

In that picture up above you can see my kids and wife looking down over the falls, but what's in that red circle that I've highlighted nestled among the trees?

Here's a close up:

Yup, it's a Lone Star cantina. Here's the menu:

Nary a healthy choice to be had.

But this post isn't really about Hog's Back, or Parks Canada, or Lone Star. It's about hypocrisy, duplication and inaction.

From my vantage point here in Canada, more specifically Ottawa, Ontario here's what I see:

(CANADA) February 27th, 2012 - The Federal Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq launches the national Summit on Healthy Weights and concludes her remarks with,
"Let's work together to create environments that help make the healthier choice, the easier choice."
(OTTAWA) May 7th, 2012 - The City of Ottawa publishes their Healthy Eating, Active Living and Healthy Weights 2012" report that rightly notes,
"the settings in which we live, learn, work and play, which can influence the choices we make including the food we consume"
(ONTARIO) May 18th, 2012 - The Province of Ontario announces the establishment of their Healthy Kids Panel whose aims include,
"minimizing the factors that contribute to obesity during childhood"
Is it all just feel good blather? If our federal, provincial or municipal governments truly wanted to start improving our children's environments and setting a leadership example for change would chimichangas really be sold in one of Canada's National Heritage Sites? Similarly, if change were really on the menu, would our schools, hospitals, arenas and community centres still be selling no name junk food? Wouldn't we be seeing a much larger investment in water fountains, farm to table programs, cooking skills classes and caloric literacy?

So much talking!

I know I'm a broken record, but we don't need more talking. Back in 2006 the House's Standing Committee on Health, over the course of eight months, heard hours and hours worth of testimony (including mine) which in turned helped to shape their March 2007 report Healthy Weights Healthy Kids.

How much expert testimony and consideration did the Committee hear? By my count, over eight months they heard from 111 different experts representing 65 different public and private institutions whose reports the Committee then summarized in a formal 60 page report with 42 explicit recommendations.

Does anyone think that the science has change dramatically over the course of the past 5 years? Were 111 different experts too few? Why are we duplicating an extensive 2007 federal effort at not one, not two but rather three different levels of government and why are we paying for that effort's recurrent duplication?

Let's finally stop talking and start doing and at the very least someone please get the damn chimichangas out of our park!  And please don't talk to me about the importance of giving people "choices".  The world is full of them, that's not changing, people will have plenty of horrible choices to choose from - but when it comes to our publicly funded institutions, the only choice should be health.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book Review: Michael Moss' Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

[Full disclosure - was sent a review copy by the publisher]

With Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Michael Moss has laid out the foundation and blueprints of the inevitable future raft of class action lawsuits targeting the food industry for knowingly and scientifically designing products that encourage their over-consumption despite their known and well understood risks.

While I’m no lawyer, I did recently have the occasion to have breakfast with newly graduated law student and fructose shunning paediatric endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig (Author of Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar) and when I asked Dr. Lustig about burden of proof (as unlike tobacco, it seems less clear that the food industry had sufficient knowledge of the potential harm of their products) his legal opinion was that there was plenty.

Take the recent findings of a study that demonstrated foods advertised as healthful for children actually contain higher per gram amounts of sugar than their adult version's counterparts. According to Moss' interview with Julie Mennella, one of the food industry's science incubator Monell Chemical Senses Center's food biopsychologists (if that isn't a creepy term in the context of Big Food I don't know what is) not only are those discrepancies by design, it would seem that it’s very clearly understood that they’re important to that child,
What basic research and taste in children is shedding light on – and why the foods that they’re making for children are to high in sugar and salt – is they are manipulating or exploiting the biology of the child. I think that anyone who makes a product for a child has to take responsibility because what they are doing is teaching the child the level of sweetness or saltiness the food should be. They’re not just providing a source of calories for a child, they’re impacting the health of that child
And so begins Moss’ tour of where industry knows what it's doing may well be causing harm. It’s important here to point out that the food industry is simply doing what the food industry does which is strive to always sell more of their products, but what will matter to future litigators is whether or not they understood that their marketing and processing of the products would contribute to harm.

In regard to obesity and still with Monell and sugar, Moss speaks with Michael Tordoff who recounts a study conducted on the beverage industry’s behalf in 1990 looking at the impact of consuming 40oz per day of diet soda vs 40oz per day of regular soda for a period of 3 weeks. Diet soda had no impact on weight, while during the regular soda arm, where the soda was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, subjects gained half a pound per week.

Moss’ skills as a world class investigative journalist shine throughout with him somehow obtaining quotes from former Coca-Cola executives noting that their marketing efforts boiled down to one question and one question only,
How can we drive more ounces into more more bodies more often”,
teenagers became the battleground for early brand adoption,”
and, in regard to the food industry's "promise" not to market to kids under the age of twelve,
magically, when they would turn twelve, we’d suddenly attack them like a bunch of wolves."
Broadly Moss explains that the typical practice for the food industry has been once one of the core pillars of salt, sugar or fat fall out of societal favour, for manufacturers to simply swap to a new pillar leading me to wonder whether we’re about to experience the low salt, low sugar era of high fat processed foods and whether or not that will be a useful formula or whether it will bring with it its own health concerns?

The book is a painful joy to read. Painful because it does a bang up job of demonstrating just how screwed we all are – not only in that the food industry is savvier and scarier than we might imagine, but in the complicity of government to look the other way, or at times, as with the beef checkoff program, divert public funds to fight industry unfriendly messages as was done when the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that consuming processed meats raised the risk of developing cancer.

Salt Sugar Fat also speaks to the marketing of “better for you”, “healthier” brand extensions which according to Moss, if done right, actually boost sales for the original less healthy mainline products – where these less awful versions actually serve as gateways to the awful brands, and likely, as Brian Wansink has shown, lead to excess Health Halo’d consumption in their own rights.

The most fascinating part of the book for me had to do with a Frito-Lay executive named Dwight Riskey who was an expert in salty cravings. Riskey joined Frito-Lay in 1982 and at that time their predictions were dire. Studies had demonstrated that as we age we become less interested in salty snacks and consequent to the timing of the baby boom the prediction was that salty snack consumption was going to drop. Amazingly to Riskey and the rest of the food industry, rather than drop, sales were climbing. I found this part to be fascinating as it validated something I see regularly in my office. Riskey theorized that the rise in sales of salty snacks in contradiction with their predicted demise was due to a phenomonon that according to food industry data took root in the early 1980s - meal skipping. The 3 square meals days were dying as people were rushing out to start their increasingly frenetic lives. And most folks, in my experience, when they skip meals and snacks, get hungry, and like every supermarket and food executive knows (and as do we all), go shopping hungry and you’re much more likely to have a stroll down the chip aisle than if you go shopping on a full stomach. We simply don’t crave green leafy salads when we’re hungry – we crave salt, sugar and fat the holy trinity that in fact made up the entirety of Riskey’s product line.

That the food industry’s job is to sell food isn’t in and of itself a surprise to anyone, though it’s a pleasure to read Moss’ recounting of their aims and how he truly hammers home the fact that regardless of how socially responsible their campaign sounds, ultimately it's designed to sell product, and while not part of the book, here's a short video from the Cannes Lion advertising awards put together by Kellogg's detailing the partnership between Frosted Flakes and ESPN (skip to 1:30 to see the impact on sales).

Kellogg's describes the impact of their ESPN/Frosted Flakes partnership

My favourite quote from the book no doubt was this one, delivered by ex-Coca-Cola wunderkind Jeffrey Dunn in reference to why he felt there’s not likely to be a so-called smoking gun vilifying his company,
The gun is right there. It’s not hidden. That’s the genius of Coke.”,
As for my endorsement - simply put - if you eat food you should read this book.

Want a copy? Click here for an Amazon Associates link.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Canada's Capital City's Official Canada Day Celebrations Included The Pepsi Taste Challenge?!

From the WTF files.

Honestly, was there not a single person involved in the planning and organizing of Ottawa's Canada Day celebrations that didn't speak up and point out that perhaps "The Pepsi Taste Challenge" and the consumption of sugared soda isn't something to do in the name of "Family Fun" (that's how it was billed in the program)?

As far as how it happened - well that's easy. Pepsi was a "major sponsor" of Ottawa's Canada Day celebrations.


Because what says Canada more than drinking soda?

Hey wasn't Ottawa's Mayor once the Minister of Health Promotion? Mayor Watson, did this event promote health?

[Hat tip to BMI's Director of Operations Lorne Segal]

Monday, July 01, 2013

University of Waterloo Celebrates Canada Day with Gluttony Contest

Image Source
Competitive eating's about as nonsensical a "contest" as one could imagine.

And while I personally wish it would just go away, even I can appreciate its appeal as being akin to slowing down driving by the scene of gruesome accident.

What struck me though was this statement from the University of Waterloo's Canada Day celebrations press release,
"The show will also include a challenge for current Waterloo students to see if they can match the pro-eater Timbit for Timbit"

Higher education - courtesy of the University of Waterloo.

[Hat tip to Dr. Terry Polevoy]