Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is Canada’s Food Guide making us fat?

Oh goodie. Nina Teicholz is at it again (still at it?). In an article in the National Post the other day she purportedly claimed that the cause of obesity in Canada is our strong adherence to Canada’s Food Guide.

See, that might be a remotely good argument if Canadians were actually following Canada’s Food Guide (even then, the causal relationship is unlikely). However, we’re not. Not even close. Only one quarter of the population (two years of age and over) met the minimum recommendation for vegetables and fruit according to one study. Similar results are consistently found through the CCHS (Canadian Community Health Survey administered by Stats Canada). We don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit, we don’t get enough milk (or alternatives), we eat too much meat…

Even if it were true that we were all following Canada’s Food Guide there are significant flaws with this logic. One, it’s a spurious correlation. You know, like the correlation between the number of people tripping over their own feet and dying and the number of lawyers in Nevada.

number-of-people-who-tripped-over-their-own-two-feet-and-died_number-of-lawyers-in-nevada

Just because two things happen to correlation doesn’t mean that there’s a connection between them. Just because obesity rates have been rising since the latest incarnation of CFG doesn’t mean that the CFG caused the rise in obesity.

Two, what about the rising obesity rates across the planet? Does Teicholz mean to suggest that Brits, Americans, and Australians are all strictly adhering to the Canadian Food Guide? Who knew our guide was so popular!?

Three, obesity rates were quite likely rising before we adopted Canada’s Food Guide. Both in Canada, and around the world. It’s impossible to say what the trend in obesity would have been if Canada’s Food Guide hadn’t been adopted in the 1980s. It’s possible that the trajectory would have been the same. Maybe it would have been even more rapid, slower, or dropped. There’s probably no causal relationship between the adoption of our national food guide and the increase in obesity rates.

Fortunately, there’s a voice of reason. Unfortunately, it comes in at the end of the article (after most people have likely stopped reading). Lyons says what I’ve said all too often, that we shouldn’t be demonizing or glorifying any foods. Rather than go all-in on saturated fat, we should be consuming fat from a variety of sources (save for man-made trans-fat). Rather than go from low-fat to high-fat we should consume a variety of foods. Let’s not sweat the small stuff so much.