We would like to welcome our new intern, Wendy Wai-Yei Leung, an MPH candidate at the University of Waterloo, with primary interests in global maternal and child health and nutrition.
You are what you eat
Television, YouTube… catching up on interesting documentaries can be stimulating. As much as I love learning about food, this is a topic there is much to talk about. I separated this blog in three parts so to cover the three main aspects of the topic on a global level. What is happening in well-developed countries, what about underdeveloped countries, and how complex is really the food issue?
You are what you eat: Food Police (Part 1)
Obesity is prevalent in as high as 50% of adults in industrialized nations and has been found more often in lower income countries over the last ten years. Industrialized nations obesity stems from the over-abundance of processed foods full of preservatives, loaded with sodium, unhealthy fat, and sugar. Government agencies attempt to regulate food to ensure that the population accesses healthy food, and makes efforts to teach consumers to make healthier choices. However, the issues around health education and communication efforts to educate the population on nutrition are conflicting and different in various nations.
In May 2013, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting organised by Canada 2020 on Crisis in Public Health. The topic was related to issues related to obesity: which policies were implemented and lessons learned. There were 4 speakers:
- Melody C. Barnes, Vice Provost, NYU and former White House Director of Domestic Policy under President Barack Obama
- Alex Munter, President and CEO, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
- Rodney Ghali, Director General of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention, Public Health Agency of Canada
- Alexis Williams, Director of Health and Wellness, Loblaw Companies Limited
Each of them provided an insight of what is done, but my personal highlight of the discussion was about the effort made by Loblaws Supermarket to encourage customers to make healthier choices easier and faster, which include:
- offering affordable cooking classes for all ages
- healthier food choices (Blue and Black label) by voluntarily reducing the amount of sodium in food
- “Guiding Stars” program (3 stars-scoring for nutritional value)
- Pharmacist, dieticians
- Gym found within the supermarket
I was interested to learn that a local Ontario supermarket had taken such great initiatives to promote health, aside from all the debatable issues on food, namely food tax.
Food tax and ban
Various government agencies in a variety of cities worldwide have tried implementing bans on food advertising, bans on sugary drinks (New York City), controlling fat tax (in Denmark, dropped in 2012 following criticism), or establishing a sodium reduction plan (Canada). Since many stakeholders are involved, from consumer, chefs (restaurants), sellers, manufacturers, etc., the issues and discussions pile up and consensus can not be reached. As much it involves health concerns, and even if New York City has a population where nearly 60% of New York City adults and 40% of city schoolchildren are overweight or obese, as per CNN report, argument stands that it interferes with the freedom of choice. Even more surprising are restaurants that promote unhealthy eating by providing free meals if the customer weighs over 350 lbs, and offers to their client- at 8000 calories per burger.
While regulation/legislation or enforcement is difficult to implement, health promotion is the way to go. With the goal of changing/altering behaviors, the key is to ensure children are adopting healthy habits and keeping them as they grow. Many initiatives have been taken to reduce fat, sodium and sugar in food, while providing healthier food choices at school. Results? As much as we care about our future generations, these initiatives are much more accepted by parents. What more can we do? The power of marketing, habits, behaviors, and addiction overpowers the idea of a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t help if processed food is always more accessible and cheaper than healthy food.
written by: Wendy Wai-Yei Leung, Go-MCH intern