When average portions of soda have increased from 7 oz. to 42 oz, burgers from 3.9 oz to 12 oz. and fries from 2.4 oz to 6.7 oz., it is more than a little disingenuous for critics to complain of a “nanny state” any time regulators try to put the brakes on.
Portions have ballooned since the 1950s. The gradual increase coincides with increases in diet-related chronic diseases. It also overlaps the burgeoning of industrial agriculture and the increasing control of the food system wielded by a handful of chemical corporations.
In “Improving Health Outcomes: The Role of Food in Addressing Chronic Diseases”, the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for Food in Canada looks at part of that complex weave of factors. Drawing on data from Statistics Canada and Health Canada, they examine the dietary choices Canadians make and make recommendations to government and industry.
Not surprisingly, they find that Canadians’ preferences for the highly processed and highly advertised choices they are offered are making them sick. For example:
- Canadians consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium per day. Although that is “apparently one of the lowest average sodium consumption levels in the developed world,” it is enough to dramatically increase rates of hypertension.
- Less than half of Canadians 12 and older consume the recommended five or more portions of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Half of Canadian women and 70 per cent of Canadian men take in more calories than they need, leading to significant weight gain across the population.
- Of the calories Canadians consume, 21.4 per cent come from sugar, and only 30 per cent of that comes from fruits and vegetables.
When it comes to recommending actions for addressing the problems, the report reverts to the lifestyle interventions and awareness raising governments have tried for years, with limited success. The section of recommendations for the food industry is even more conservative, letting industry off the hook with statements such as, “However, what the industry produces and sells depends on consumer demand. If enough consumers prefer less-healthy junk foods, then firms will meet their demand.”
That Canadians eat too much salt, sugar and fat is clear. That a highly processed diet, heavy in those three ingredients, is linked to soaring health costs is also clear. But the keys to changing that will take a far more comprehensive and innovative approach than is proposed here.
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