Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Childhood obesity is not something to be battled


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.


Will new nutrition labels make us all thinner?


Not to be negative, but I saw this headline: How much will new nutrition labels help fight obesity and I immediately said “not at all” (in my head because I was at work and our office is open-concept).

I know the new (American) nutrition facts panel is supposed to help curb obesity because they’ve made the calories so damn big but personally I think it’s not going to help anyone to lose any weight. If people are counting calories and trying to lose weight making them bigger isn’t going to make weight loss any easier. If someone’s not counting calories it’s unlikely that a big bold calorie count is going to prompt them to change their minds about their purchases. I also think the emphasis on calories is not beneficial to anyone.

Yes, lots of people find calorie counting helpful when they’re trying to lose weight. I still yearn for a simpler time when we didn’t need this information. When we didn’t rely to heavily on prepackaged foods that managed to jam in so many calories and so few nutrients. Personally, I think that, for the average consumer, the ingredients label is where they should be looking more often than the nutrition facts panel. The NFP doesn’t tell you anything about what’s in the food you’re potentially putting in your mouth. It just tells you about the artful mastery of the manufacturer who wants to make sure you buy into the charade of fortified highly processed products as healthy choices.

Putting calories front and centre puts a negative lens on food. It takes away from food tasting good, being pleasurable, and providing us with energy and puts the emphasis on guilt and shame. Neither of which are things we should be associating with food.

Rather than focusing our efforts on fighting against obesity we should be fighting for health.

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Have Millennials bucked the obesity trend?


Something about this article rubbed me the wrong way. And it wasn’t just the ever-shifting arbitrary generation names. But, I have to say, it drives me nuts. I remember when I was just entering my teens, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X came out. Generation X was definitely older than me. Years later, my youngest brother fell into Generation Y, and I was left in some weird void between X and Y. Now, somehow, my brothers are both Millennials, I’m a Gen Xer, and Generation Y has vanished. I just don’t understand how the names and categorization of generations can keep changing. Anyway… End rant one.  Onto the more topical rant for a nutrition blogger.

The article states that a new report shows that Millennials are the only generation (relative to Generation Xers and Baby Boomers) to have bucked the obesity trend. Yes, despite Millennials reporting higher alcohol and cigarette consumption, and lower fruit and vegetable consumption in comparison to the other two currently existing generations.

Apparently Millennials have an obesity rate of 20%, compared to 32% and 33% amongst Gen Xers and Boomers, respectively. Which would seem to be good news on the surface. Is it really though? I’m not sure it has much meaning at all. Most people gain weight as they age so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the rates amongst Millennials (provided they don’t keep shifting the damn generations around) increase in a few years.

The article also raises the important point that weight is not necessarily an indicator of health. So what if Millennials aren’t overweight. If they’re leading unhealthy lifestyles I’d say that’s more of a concern than their weight. I’d also hazard a guess that Gen Xers would have lead similarly unhealthy lifestyles, and had lower (than they currently do) rates of obesity when they were the age that Millennials are now.

Then, when I see the way they determined how healthily everyone eats, I wondered about the entire survey. This is what was asked: if they “ate healthy all day yesterday”. That’s so subjective as to be completely meaningless. For one person eating healthy all day might mean eating a plant-based diet. If they also ate some ice cream or chocolate or chips did that mean they didn’t eat “healthy all day”? What about the avid Bulletproof coffee, protein shake drinking person? The juice faster? Or the person who thinks that the salads at McDonald’s are healthy? I just don’t see responses to this question as being meaningful.

So, let’s not get too excited about Millennials beating the obesity crisis or whatever. Let’s focus more on figuring out how to get more people to the place where they’re leading healthier lifestyles and survey makers away from subjective judgemental questions about how healthy people ate on the previous day.


Mars has a new health (read: marketing) initiative


Not having internets yet (we moved last weekend) has put a cramp in the blogging. Sorry for leaving you all post-less on Wednesday. I’m currently posted up at my fave local cafe with a pina colada tart and a vat of coffee, using the wifi, the sacrifices I make for you guys ;)

Have you heard that Mars Food has launched a “global wellness initiative”? This Health and Wellbeing Ambition will ostensibly develop and promote healthier food choices. Skeptical? Yeah, me too. I’d love to think that this would be effective but I’m inclined to think that it’s more lip-service and marketing than a genuine concern for the health and well being of people.

The key changes that they’ll be making include:

  • providing consumer guidance on the package
  • changing the Mars Food website to include a list of “occasional” products (those to be enjoyed once per week) and a list of “everyday” products
  • reducing added sugar (in a limited number of sauces and light meals by 2018) and sodium (an average of 20 percent by 2021) and adding vegetables and whole grains
  • expanding multi-grain options so that half of all rice products include whole grains and/or legumes; and will also ensure that all tomato-based jar products include a minimum of one serving of vegetables

Honestly, I don’t see any of these “changes” being dramatic or making a significant different in the health of consumers. I’m curious what the consumer guidance on the packaging will look like. However, I can’t imagine anyone going to the Mars website to check to see how often they should be consuming chocolate bars. It’s not the Ben’s rice that’s having a negative impact on peoples health (well, I guess that depends on the individual, but generally speaking…). It’s the incredibly inexpensive chocolate bars (yes, that’s only one piece of a complicated puzzle) that are available everywhere in prominent displays.

Just as a bit of an aside, tomato sauces will include a minimum of one serving of vegetables?! What sauces are these that they don’t already? Unless they’re increasing the serving size, there’s no way that this can be achieved by simply adding more vegetables. It’s the sort of statement that sounds good until you actually think about it. At which point you realise that all of the statements made by Mars are that sort of statement. Designed to make the company look good without making any real significant effort or meaningful change.


Should doctors be treating obesity?


Image “Bigger than your head” by Mandy Jansen on Flicker. Used under a creative commons licence

I was thinking about Western medicine the other day and how all too often it seems that the approach is to treat the symptoms rather than to determine the cause and to try to remedy that. That got me to thinking about our approach to obesity and how, in a sense, having doctors (or any medical professionals) treat it means that we’re treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Yes, there are many causes of obesity. But when we boil them all down it really comes to our environment and collective lifestyle as a society. The way our lives are set-up it’s a battle to avoid becoming overweight or obese. Our jobs, our food system, our neighbourhoods, our social activities, our sleep habits, etc. are all contributing to the ever climbing obesity rates.

Sure, many medical professionals are fighting the good fight. Some are trying their best to help their patients learn to reengineer their lifestyles to lose weight. Some are pushing for changes to our built environment. But these battles are large and weren’t intended to be fought by MDs, RDs, and RNs. None of us learned how to design communities, to build grocery stores, or to structure offices while we were in school.

The real battle needs to be fought by government officials, engineers, designers, and planners. These are the people who can get to the root of the problem. Maybe as healthcare professionals we can help direct them to the sources of the issue. We can also continue our efforts to treat the symptoms as they surely deserve some tending to. However, until we can create some sort of coordinated widespread interdisciplinary approach to curbing obesity we’re just going to be continuing to give out bandaids to those in our care.