Thursday, January 24, 2019

Now That Canada's Food Guide Has Markedly Improved, What's Left For Canadian Nutrition And Public Health Advocates To Champion?

Ok. So we have an exciting new food guide here in Canada, but please don't think that means there's nothing left to push for in Canadian nutrition policy.

Back in 2009, I published a piece about the top 10 nutritional hills worth fighting on.

Included on that list were:
  • An evidence based food guide
  • A national trans fat ban
  • Mandatory menu-board calories
So it's nice that at least some progress has been made.

Though far from exhaustive, and in no particular order, here are 6 hills still worth fighting on (adapted from that same original post):
  1. We need to get fast food out of our schools. Though pizza days, sub days, shawarma days, and more may well raise a bit of money for our school system, and may give parents a day where they need not pack their kids a lunch (assuming they haven't taught their children to do so - and here I'll say that yes, kids can do so, even kids as young as 8 or 9), I don't think those ends justify the means. And here I don't care if the fast food pizza (or whatever) is formulated in a way to satisfy a nutrition policy document, because it doesn't change the fact that school provided branded fast food weekly just because it's Thursday teaches children, even those who don't order it, that fast food is a normal and healthy part of weekly life. Given that some schools have a different fast food offering every day of the week, consider the message that's teaching our children.
  2. We need a national school food program. Canada is one of very few Western nations that does not support a publicly funded national meal program for its students. It has been shown that school food programs markedly improve the mental and physical well being of students who utilize them with some reporting increases in standardized test scores, less illness, better discipline and improved alertness. According to Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's former Chief Medical Officer of Health,
    "When children go to school hungry or poorly nourished, their energy levels, memory, problem-solving skills, creativity, concentration and behaviour are all negatively impacted. Studies have shown that 31% of elementary students and 62% of secondary school students do not eat a nutritious breakfast before school. Almost one quarter of Canadian children in Grade 4 do not eat breakfast daily and, by Grade 8, that number jumps to almost half of all girls. The reasons for this vary – from a lack of available food or nutritious options in low-income homes, to poor eating choices made by children and/or their caregivers. As a result of being hungry at school, these children may not reach their full developmental potential – an outcome that can have a health impact throughout their entire lives"
    If interested, sign this formal House of Commons e-petition to the government requesting one.
  3. We need to ban advertising to children. Plain and simple, young children are not able to discern the difference between truth and advertising and consequently I believe it's entirely unethical to allow marketers to target them. Furthermore food, and specifically unhealthy food, is the number one source of television commercials seen by children. Frankly to me whether or not they impact childhood obesity rates (they do) is beside the point as I think targeting children period is unethical.The somewhat heartening news is that unlike in 2009, there's action now, with Bill S-228 having passed its third reading in Canada's House of Commons, but given it has yet to receive royal assent, it still needs support.
  4. We need a soda tax. Nanny state alarmists tend to try to paint soda taxes as a draconian cash grab and an infringement of civil liberties, but really what's generally called for is a nominal tax on beverage manufacturers for each ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages produced which would raise the cost of a can of soda by roughly 12 cents. Hardly a huge amount of money for each individual but likely to generate well over $1 billion annually in Canada which if utilized to fund such things as a National School Food Program, would be an unbelievably beneficial tax (and according to studies would also result in a 10% decrease in national soda consumption). And as far as the tax being regressive, as my friend RD Andy Bellatti has been heard to say, try diabetes, and also have a peek at this piece which expands on this thought in The Lancet.
  5. We need to put an end to front-of-package health claims, or at the very least, dramatically rein them in. Sure, the new food guide states, "be aware of food marketing", but why should the onus be on the consumer to turn packages over to ensure that the claims on the front aren't deceitful, or that the product in the package isn't nutritional chaff? There's a great deal of room to improve our reality where Kellogg's can brag about Froot Loops' Vitamin D content and whole grains on the front of its boxes. Personally, I'd prefer a marketplace with no health claims, and though I don't think we're going to necessarily get there, boy does there look nice.
  6. We need to treat the supplement industry (and their purveyors) the same way we do pharmaceuticals. Plainly, if a product is being sold to treat a medical condition, the same burden of proof we require of pharmaceuticals (actual evidence of safety and efficacy) should be applied to so-called nutraceuticals. That would mean a huge hit to supplement sales given Canada's Natural Health Product Directorate is comfortable accepting stuff like traditional use claims as a means to receive approval. Doing so costs Canadians in more ways than one in that not only do these products often cost a significant amount of money, but some will certainly forgo actual medical care and evaluation in place of shameless hucksters who prey upon fear, goodwill, and personal misfortune by selling hope in bottles.
Here's hoping that I can cross a few more of these off my list over the coming decade.