Friday, February 29, 2008

Health Canada Warm & Cozy with Big Food

Yes we are free to eat what we like, eat the very healthiest of food, all, some, or none of the time. So to a large extent, one would think, we can control health, and therefore protect ourselves against many sorts of medical problems associated with diet. Unfortunately, according to this award winning science/tech blog site called Weighty Matters, Health Canada, is looking out for the best interests of Big Food (see Feb. 27 articles). Now that's indigestible.

Health Canada is holding public consultations on whether or not to increase the available claims that Big Food can place on packaging, i.e., what constitutes a "low-fat", "reduced calories", etc. Such labels create health halos around the food.

According to obesity expert, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Big Food wants Health Canada to make it easier for them to put labels on food which help them sell more of their products, for example, "low-fat" on candy snacks. The intention of food manufacturers of course is to increase sales, and properly worded marketing is worth $ millions. They know that "low-fat" or "reduced calories" will sell more. Researchers like Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University showed in three studies show that low-fat labels lead all consumers — particularly those who are overweight — to overeat snack foods.

While it's deliciously healthy, and quite filling for industry execs, it is not at all in the best interest of peoples' health.

Freedhoff is becoming a nationally recognized consultant on nutrition. He has appeared on Market Place on at least two occasions to open the lid on the misleading Health Check symbol (see previous posts here on the Health Check symbol sham).

In two recent blog posts he again exposes Health Canada's conflicting interests. Here's a slice from a Feb. 27 post:

Stay tuned tomorrow when I introduce you to the goings on behind the scenes at the current Happy Corporations (Health Canada) consultations into food labeling where surprise, surprise, the food industry has an invited seat to the table, the process is skewed dramatically in their favour, and with industry of course wanting it be made easier for them to make outlandish health claims on foods (health sells) in the absence of real evidence to support them.

If Health Canada is protecting the food industry's profits, while the very foods that get approved are hurting individual's health, then what authority can the general public rely on for real, and healthy, food nutrition information? Well one answer is, depend on yourself to research and educate yourself about foods, what's in them, and how food ingredients affect your health. Ok, yeah sure, we're all gonna become food researchers and find out about safe foods - just like how we take for granted, what elected representatives and their departments are expected to do.

Really, are millions of Canadians expected to spend countless hours, days, or months researching everything they consume or will consume?

Most people are busy with work, families, activities and living - they want quick information about food, but the more lax government criteria becomes regarding nutritious-sounding "health halos", the more likely people will overeat food that is harmful to them, get sick, and continue feeding the cycle of news-making "health care system problems".

The problems in Canada's health care system has been a constant in the news for decades. There are long waiting lists, staff shortages, lack of equipment like MRI, or CT scan units, and huge mistakes in testing, and emergency room problems. The interest of Health Canada should ONLY be in promoting the best habits of people, which in large part is food and diet related. It's such a misleadingly name department when they make it easy for food companies to get a misleading label on unhealthy food, yet people die by the tens of 1000s each year from consuming these very foods. What a contradictory organization!!

How about the department of health and the department of finance get together, talk about how much health cost expense could be saved if people were getting sick less, were not mislead by food labels, were assisted in their daily health education.

Speaking of education, perhaps education departments would want to get involved and teach some real world evidence-based information on healthy eating. Teach kids about what harmful product ingredients promote sickness, what are the recommended daily intake levels of known suspects like sodium, sugar, fat, white flour, red meat, and processed meats. Inform them of how most modern foods are grown, i.e., pesticides used in growing food. Teach them how to interpret nutrition labels - basically how to make educated food choices.

Hey Health Canada, help cut down on the health care problems by being on peoples' side, and promoting food which is evidence-based healthy. Protect people, not the food industry.

Note: The words in the above cartoon have been modified from the original. The artist is Matt Carmody, and the cartoon was taken from this site.

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