Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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You won’t need a meal plan in the nanny state

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You know what I find ironic? And not Alanis ironic, which is really just crap luck, but genuinely ironic. How vehemently opposed to government “interference” in their lives many people are and how many people ask me to give them meal plans. I’ve had people say to me “just tell me what to eat” (if you’d like to know why I don’t do that, check out this old post). Which is voluntarily completely relinquishing control of what they put in their mouths and people are willing to pay for this service. Yet, people rail on and on about the “nanny state” and how the government should stay out of our kitchens when all public health wants to do is help make it easier for you to make healthier choices.

No one in government wants to tell you exactly what to eat at every meal. Through legislation public health dietitians would like to make nutritionally void foods (like pop and candy) less accessible. We would like to ensure that fast food joints can’t open across the street from schools so that your children aren’t eating shakes and fries every day. We would like to make sure that local food systems are strengthened so that farmers are making living wages and produce is affordable and accessible.

Unlike what people want from a meal plan, we want to make it easy for people to make healthy choices. We don’t want to forbid you from buying pop or chips, we just want to make it easier for you to buy carrots or to fill-up your water bottle.

Why is it that people are so ready to relinquish all control over their diets to a dietitian or nutritionist but when it comes to creating an environment in which making healthy choices would be easier suddenly everyone’s all up in arms?

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Childhood obesity is not something to be battled

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Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

“Disappointed” doesn’t cover how I felt reading this article from the CBC. I’m used to hearing people blame individuals for being overweight. It’s always frustrating. However, it’s enraging to see a director of a Childhood Obesity Foundation laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of parents. He should know better than that.

In the article he says that the government should assume some responsibility for “combating childhood obesity” but that “the buck sort of does stop with the family”. So much no.

Obviously parents want to raise healthy children. Yes, it’s the parents who buy and prepare the food for the household. That doesn’t mean that the onus for “combating childhood obesity” should lie with them.

Our society is designed in such a manner as to make healthy choices incredibly difficult. Forget about combating obesity – can I just say how much I hate that wording? We should be talking about fostering health. The proliferation of cheap calorically dense and nutrient light quick and easy meal options makes the unhealthy choice all too easy. The lack of value on time spent cooking and the over-emphasis on time spent at work makes these options all too appealing. There are myriad reasons that children are overweight and/or unhealthy. Most of which stem from societal issues; not from lack of parents caring and trying to do the best for their children.

Tom Warshawski, the director of the Childhood Obesity Foundation gives three tips for parents to “fight childhood obesity”. The first tip is to “take authority”. Stand-up to the Lunchables and big sodas. Fair enough, until our government stand-up for its citizens and makes these types of food less heavily marketed, affordable and available, it really is down to the parents to try to swim against the tide and limit purchases of such items.

Tip number two, sticking to a recommended diet, is one that makes me cringe a little. It’s that damn four-letter word. Sure, ensuring your child, and you, follow a nutritious diet is important for good health. That doesn’t mean that any specific diet regime need be enforced. Being overly strict about food may backfire and lead to disordered eating later in life. Go for nutritious meals that the family enjoys and let there be treats. Try not to take the pleasure out of eating.

Tip number three is that it’s a family battle. While I wholeheartedly agree that the entire family should be making the same healthy choices, I disagree with the way that this is framed. This is not a battle. If you think about food as a battle then you are always going to lose. Food is not the enemy. Healthy eating isn’t an all or nothing scenario. You don’t all have to give-up chips and pop to be healthy. Parents should lead by example and role model healthy eating behaviours and attitudes. Leading their children into battle against food is not doing this.


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The dirty game of fast food charity #MiracleTreatDay #BurgerstoBeatMS

Last week it was “Burgers to Beat MS Day”. A couple of weeks ago it was “Miracle Treat Day”. Each occasion got me a little riled up and I sent out a few snarky tweets about the “occasions”.

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In case you’re not aware of these clever marketing opportunities fundraising initiatives let me give you a quick run down. On Miracle Treat Day (I feel wrong capitalizing this, these days aren’t worthy of anything more than lowercase) $1 from every blizzard sold in the US and Canada was donated to participating Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Burgers to Beat MS is pretty much the same except it’s $1 from A&W teen burger sales going to the MS Society of Canada. These are just two examples of fast food aligning themselves with healthcare to detract from the fact that regular consumption of fast food contributes to a number of diseases.

It’s a total win-win. The fast food corporation comes out looking like they’re doing amazing things to cure disease and improve the lives of sick children. They also make money while doing it ($1 is not the cost of a teen burger or a blizzard and most people will buy more than the one item). The hashtags are all over twitter for the day garnering free positive publicity for the company which surely boosts sales well after the one day promotion ends. You really can’t fault the fast food companies for creating such initiatives. I also don’t fault the people buying the blizzards and the burgers. Who doesn’t want to be made to feel like they’re doing a good deed by eating a delicious blizzard or burger? If you can help suffering children or cure MS by eating a treat, why not? The real fault lies with the hospitals and MS Society, and all the other organizations that willingly embrace this form of fundraising. Of course, to be fair, the real real fault lies with the lack of government funding for these vital organizations but the buck has to stop somewhere and I think that hospitals and organizations promoting health should not associate themselves with fundraisers that promote illness.

I’d also like to get people thinking a little bit more critically about charitable fundraising. Dairy Queen proudly proclaims that in 2015, over $5 million was donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the US and Canada as a result of Miracle Treat Day. In 2014, international DQ sales were $4.1 billion and Dairy Queen was one of the world’s top performing fast food chains. That $5 million that sounds like so much to us average people is less than pennies to DQ. It’s about 0.12% of total sales. $5 million is next to nothing for one hospital’s budget, let alone spread amongst the 170 hospitals in the network. That’s $29, 411 per hospital; about 10% of the cost of an MRI machine or nearly 7% of the salary for one pediatric surgeon. Whereas, assuming the average blizzard size purchased is a medium, DQ is pocketing about $15 million in sales from Miracle Treat Day. This is solely from the sale of blizzards alone, on one day. In comparison, A&W’s Burgers to Beat MS has resulted in a paltry $8 million in donations to the MS Society of Canada over the past seven years.

How sad is it that hospitals and organizations like the MS Society are so desperate for funding that they’re willing to provide marketing for fast food chains and to encourage the consumption of less than nutritious foods for a little more funding?

No, I am not opposed to burgers and blizzards. However, I don’t think that we need to be encouraged to consume these foods anymore than we already do. How does raising a little money for one chronic disease justify the development of other chronic diseases incurred by the regular consumption of fast food? At what expense are these “healthcare” organizations willing to get a few bucks? I know that many people think “it’s just one treat” but when it’s something you’re only buying because you’re being made to feel good about it by the charity aspect and these events are happening on the regular it’s never “just one”. It’s part of a broader problem in our food environment. There’s constant justification for the consumption of treats and foods that should be consumed infrequently. There is no excuse for promoting heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and type two diabetes under the guise of supporting hospitals and health charities.

I implore the hospitals and charities not to participate in such fundraising endeavours. I beg the government to start allocating more of my tax dollars to healthcare funding; especially toward health promotion and disease prevention.

It’s not all on the government and organizations though. As long as we as consumers continue to support these promotions with our money, our mouths, and our hashtags, the companies and organizations involved will continue to conduct them. The next time one of these days comes around please consider donating the money you would have spent on fast food to a charity of your choice. If you do participate in the fundraiser please don’t share it on social media. Dairy Queen, A&W, and all of the other fast food chains don’t need your free advertising.

 

 


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Are daycares driving the obesity epidemic?

An article published in the latest issue of the Journal of Pediatrics found that children who were cared for in daycare centres, home daycares, and to a lesser extent by family outside the home, were more likely to be overweight ten years later than were children who were cared for at home. Much has been made of this in the news and the article concluded that further investigation into the level of physical activity and foods served at daycares was warranted. I think that this would be a worthwhile endeavour; we should ensure that the healthiest possible environments are being provided to children in daycare settings. However, I also think that we should be looking beyond the daycares to determine the reason for the difference in obesity rates between children cared for bytheir parent(s) and children cared for outside the home. It’s premature to blame the daycares for providing limited opportunities for physical activity and nutritionally inferior foods. We should also be looking at what’s happening with these children outside of daycare hours.

It’s more than likely that most of these children are enrolled in daycare because their parents are busy working during the daytime. Any future studies into the reasons for childcare outside the home increasing childhood obesity should look at the home lives of these children. Are they eating a nutritious breakfast before being dropped-off at the daycare? What happens after the children are picked-up from the daycare? Are they being fed nutritious home-made suppers? Are their parents playing with them or encouraging them to engage in active play?

I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming parents. Really, I think that the fault lies with our society. Our priorities are skewed. We need to focus more on allowing time for family and for raising the next generation and less on putting in hours at the office.

*I found a lot of play blocks like the ones pictured above when I was searching for an image for this post. I think that this speaks volumes about the state of our diets and the world in which children are being raised. When I was growing-up our play food was all whole foods. Now, apparently, there is a proliferation of packaged processed crap play “foods”.

 


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Killer Cola?

It’s hard to know what to say about the case of the death of a woman in which Coca Cola has been implicated. There are so many issues at play here. As a huge believer in the impact of our food environment on health status and obesity rates I feel that was a major factor in this woman’s death. If nutritionally void foods weren’t so cheap and easily available perhaps this death could have been avoided. However, to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Coca Cola (despite my dislike for both the company and their product) seems unfair and simplifies a complex issue. Now, I do think that Coca Cola’s response was ludicrous. Coca Cola said that even water can be deadly in high doses over a short period of time. I mean really, too much of anything is bad for you, but likening excessive pop consumption to hyponatermia is a little far-fetched and insensitive.

From the details of the case that are publicly available it sounds like a number of factors contributed to the death of this young woman. Overall poor nutrition, excessive soda consumption, smoking… This woman had eight children and was only 30 years old so I’m thinking that stress might have been another contributing factor. Yes, Coca Cola may have contributed to her death but I don’t think that the blame can be placed solely on them. When things like this happen it’s easy to see how a good media story can come out of it sensationalizing the role of pop in a death. However, it’s important to consider the bigger picture. Why was this woman consuming practically only Coca Cola? Perhaps she had an eating disorder. Can Coca Cola be blamed for that? Perhaps she had little money for food and Coca Cola was an easy way to get calories? Can Coca Cola be blamed for that? Yes, Coca Cola was more than likely a contributing factor in this young woman’s death. There were other factors as well and there were likely other reasons behind these factors. If anything good can come out of this story it should be an increased call for a revamping of our food system.