Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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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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Bring on the nanny state

 

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By Marlith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve written before about my reluctance to jump on the soda (why are we calling it soda in Canada, anyway? It’s pop, people) tax bandwagon. I just don’t think that it’s addressing the true problem and it’s once again placing the onus on individuals. I’d much rather see high-fructose corn syrup become less artificially inexpensive to produce so that pop would cost more to manufacture and therefore be sold for more. Start paying the farmers more for the corn. Anyway… I found myself in a weird situation when I read the un-authored (what the heck MacLean’s? Where’s the byline?) editorial about the ill-conceived soda pop tax.

According to the author, the problem with the Senate’s new report on obesity is that it lumps all overweight and obese people into one category. Thus, implying that anyone who surpasses the magical BMI cut-off is unhealthy. I don’t disagree with the fact that it’s possible to be healthy at many different weights, shapes, and sizes. I do take some exception to the argument that overweight people are actually healthier than those of “normal” weight. The problem with studies that suggest this is that they’re not taking into consideration changes in weight and the fact that many people lose weight when they’re ill. This may give the false impression that weight is protecting people from illness rather than showing that unintended weight loss is a consequence of illness.”Healthy” weight people may die younger than overweight people because illness may be missed until it’s too late to treat in people who appear to be healthy.These studies also tend to only look at mortality, giving “healthspan” no consideration. Just because you’re living a longer life doesn’t mean that you have good health or a good quality of life during those extra years.

Anyway… I’m a little off-track from the topic I really wanted to address. Essentially, the author is saying that it’s not the government’s job to “tell us what to eat or how much we should weigh”. It’s suggested that the senate report should have focused more on health promotion, which they define as getting kids more physically active. Sigh.

Health promotion is actually providing people with the tools they need to control and improve their own health. It’s more of a population health approach than an individual approach. As such, a pop tax would be a method of health promotion. As essential as physical activity and exercise are to good health it’s fairly well established at this point that diet has a far greater bearing on weight than exercise does. This pop tax is certainly not the approach I would take toward decreasing obesity rates and improving the health of Canadians. However, it’s better than nothing and if it gets people to drink less pop then that’s a positive outcome. If the author truly believes that the government is not already affecting the food choices of Canadians through policies and systems then they’re sorely mistaken.

I’ve read some very good criticisms of the senate’s report. This editorial was not one of them. If you’re interested, check out Dr Sharma’s blog and this piece by Michael Orsini in the Globe and Mail.


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More on fat tax

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Recent research showed that a combination of factors was best at discouraging purchasing of “junk” foods. It also showed that, on their own, cheaper healthy options, anti-obesity advertising, and healthy food advertising were ineffective at dissuading “customers” from purchasing the junk food. However, increasing the price of the “junk” by 20% was persuasion enough for customers to select the healthier options.

While an interesting result, there are a number of problems with applying these findings in the real world. The research was done with participants in a laboratory. Thus, their economical means and purchasing behaviours may not have been representative of how they would act in “reality”. Also, were participants representative of the population? I worry the most about the impact of jacking up prices on “junk” food on those who are experiencing food insecurity. Increasing the cost of these foods may cause more harm than good.

In addition, as mentioned in the article we’ve already seen the failure of the “fat tax” in Denmark. Why would we think that increasing the price of “junk” food would be any more effective in North America? And who will decide what foods are healthy and what foods are unhealthy and deserving of taxation. I’ve seen granola bars that were not permitted under school nutrition policies that (in my opinion) were healthier than those that were permitted. The ones that were permitted contained chocolate chips. The ones that weren’t contained almonds, causing the fat content to be too high to meet criteria! Research is always evolving and even within the dietetic world there isn’t consensus on some matters. Some dietitians would rule out butter in favour of margarine. Some would be okay with added sugars, while others would eschew them. Most would say that all foods are okay, with some being everyday foods and others being occasional foods.

Also, what would happen with the increased revenue from “junk” foods? Would it go to the food industry? Would it go to the government? Or would it go to subsidise vegetables and fruits or create community food initiatives?

Yes, this research provides some insight into human behaviour. However, I’m not sure that it’s all that useful of a weapon in the war against obesity.


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Why obesity prevention is not the answer

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One of my twitter friends recently shared a link to this article: How Early Should Obesity Prevention Start? My immediate reaction was that they’re asking the wrong question. They should be asking how early health promotion should start.

While I think that the authors make some good points about obesity influences beginning in the womb, I stand by my initial reaction. No one likes to hear the term obesity. No one wants to be told that they’re obese or that their weight may cause their children to become obese. Is an obesity intervention really going to make much of a difference? I’m doubtful. Framing such an intervention as health promotion, and not only targeting overweight and obese women might be slightly more effective. However, these interventions are still putting the onus on the individual. Interventions targeting individuals and groups serve a purpose in the battle against obesity in the same manner that food banks serve a purpose in the battle against food insecurity and poverty. They are bandaid solutions for gaping wounds.

As I’ve said many times before: we need systemic change. The only way that we’re going to truly see a decrease in obesity rates is if we, as a society, change. We need to put more emphasis on food preparation and incorporating physical activity and exercise into our daily routines. We need to stop wearing long workdays and sleep deprivation as badges of honour. The best way to address the obesity problem is to not talk about obesity.