is Misleading. It should be seen more as a warning than an endorsement of a food product.
When it is somehow allowed to be placed on an advertisement for a burger, a juice with much higher sugar levels than pop, then you know something's wrong.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) promotes a Health Check program that is supposed to recommend food products that are beneficial, and not harmful to a person's health.
From the HSF article entitled, Judge a food by its label, is this statement about the Health Check symbol:
The Health Check symbol on menus is designed to help you make healthier meal choices when you are away from home.
On the contrary, and this is appalling, the Health Check stamp is getting stamped on products that are excessively unhealthy, and increase the risks of cancer, obesity, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
The HSF is a volunteer-based health charity, that is regularly seen in public ads. They have done great work in raising research funds - $90 million in 2005, and as it says on their splendid web site, they promote healthy living. It does not fit the image or the otherwise good work that this huge organization does, to be endorsing foods that cause the very illnesses they fight against.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff is a specialist in obesity and weight loss. He was consulted by journalist Wendy Mesley for last weeks broadcast of Markeplace, which reported on sodium in food.
His blog, Weighty Matters, gives the scoop on the Heart and Stroke Foundations Health Check program. This current blog post is spreading the word about the revelations posted at Weighty Matters. Dr. Freedhoff's evidence-based information backs up his assertions that the practices of the Health Check program is unethical and misleading. (for future reference check his November, 2007 archives)
The criteria for a food product getting the coveted Health Check stamp is that the product has to meet the Canadian Food Guide standard. There's a big problem - the Food Guide that is still being used is 15 years old, has been criticized as deficient, and therefore, drops the standards so that many unhealthy meats, drinks, and children's food products, can get the Health Check symbol.
In light of the major study released just over a week ago that showed the relationship between red meats, high sodium level, and cancer, many of the foods that are endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation are detrimental to one's health.
As Dr. Freedhoff points out,
"Health Check, the Heart and Stroke Foundation's program that with their little logo, steers patients to products in a manner that they promote as,"
when you choose foods with the Heart and Stroke Foundation Health Check symbol, it's like shopping with their dietitians.
This is what people want to hear alright. People want to trust national health organizations.
Health Check's CEO Sally Brown, pointed out that "products must comply with nutrient criteria based on Canada's Food Guide."
That sounds great too.
Unfortunately, what sounds good is not what it seems. The Canada Food Guide that Ms Brown refers to is the 1992 Canada Food Guide. That, according to Freedhoff, "even Health Canada recognized as being deficient and behind the times."
A revised version was released in February of 2007 - "slightly less woefully deficient" (Dr. Freedhoff).
You would think that the criteria has also changed for applications for products to get Health Checks. The Heart and Stroke Foundation site says that the criteria will be revised and they hope to finish their revisions "in the next few months." It's 9 months since, and no revised criteria.
Why the hesitation? Work overload? Laziness? A cozy relationship with big meat and food companies? Money? Possibly. This is interesting - the Health Check program generates over $3 million annually.
From the good doctor's blog:
Perhaps it is that $3,000,000 annually, a $3,000,000 that has explicitly purchased the Health Check seal, that prevents Sally Brown from explaining how it is the Heart and Stroke dietitians are unable to state that in fact red meat's not healthy, that refined flours lead to metabolic syndrone, that sugar contributes to calories which contributes to obesity, that using cartoon characters to promote nutritionally deficient foods to children is wrong ...
Even though there is a small print disclaimer on ads, saying "this is not an endorsement", the Heart and Stroke Foundation actually brags about it.
With ground beef burgers being one of the most popular meats in the summer months, having the Health Check symbol in place now helps consumers understand that lean and extra lean ground beef can be part of a healthy diet.
The Health Check symbol is a powerful label, with magnetic product-selecting effects on the consumer. Food companies know this. In fact, in a 2004 research study, an HSF dietitian, Carole Dombrow said,
65% of consumers recognized the Health Check logo as meaning the food is
'nutritious', 'healthy', good for you', or 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.' Sixty-eight percent agreed with the statement: 'I can rely on Health Check to help me make healthy food choices.'
Here's an example of one the "healthy food choices" that Health Check endorses for kids:
Disney's Buss Lightyear Milk Buddies - a sugar sweetened milk beverage.
It has 22 grams of sugar per serving along with 140 calories. That' 5.5 teaspoons of sugar per 200 ml. Drop per drop it's the same amount of sugar found in Coca Cola and almost double the calories. For an obesity specialist like Dr. Freedhoff, calories and sugar are key players in diabetes and obesity. For more examples and detail, see his post on how Health Check sells junk food to children.
Just over a week ago when the World Cancer Research Fund released the results of an extensive report which recommended no more than 500 grams of red meat a week, not surprisingly, the Big Meat industry complained about it.
In his blog post, Why the Food Guide Matters Part II, Dr. Freedhoff points out, they turned to Canada's Food Guide to defend their product.
"Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide continues to recognize red meat in the diet. The Food Guide recommends 1 to 3 servings of Meat & Alternatives per day."
Again, that guide is outdated, but still used as criteria to allow food products to get the coveted Health Check symbol.
The informative Weighty Matters blog reveals much about the HSF and the Health Check program. Dr. Yoni has written letters to them in protest, outlining specifically the harmful food products they put their label on. He continues to discuss openly with HSF representatives this whole issue, and demands answers - but the answers do not justify the actions. The HSF and Health Check are being exposed, and will lose the public's trust if they continue to promote foods that lead to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, cancer and other medical problems. Right now the Health Check symbol is very misleading, and that has to change.