A Conservative senator who helped craft a report on the country’s obesity crisis is cheering the federal government’s plan to overhaul the Canada Food Guide, but wants Health Canada taken to task for what he considers flawed dietary advice.
Sen. Kelvin Ogilvie, chair of a Senate committee that spent more than a year examining the obesity issue, said the review needs to address what he considers obvious problems, such as characterizing fruit juice as a healthy food choice.
“When you take a glass of squeezed orange juice as the equivalent of roughly the sugar of five oranges in a single glass, that is obscene,” Ogilvie said in an interview Monday after Health Minister Jane Philpott unveiled the proposed changes.
“Using an example like fruit juices as an example of a healthy diet is simply wrong.”
Philpott used a key policy speech in Montreal to announce that Health Canada is launching consultations on revamping the venerable food guide—an exercise whose success needs to be measured in actions, not words, Ogilvie said.
Part of the revision process will include looking at all dietary guidance on beverages, Health Canada officials said Monday, adding the department is very aware of the “debate” around juice and will take it into consideration while reviewing the guide.
The guide, which was last updated in 2007, will be the subject of public consultations until Dec. 8, the government said.
Ogilvie cheered the decision to update the guide, but said he has a hard time understanding how Health Canada can continue to defend it in its current form.
“The statement by Health Canada that its food guide is fairly good, that it is based on science … is absolute nonsense,” he said. Scientific evidence contradicts the guide in a number of areas, including carbohydrates, he added.
“The minister needs to take Health Canada in this area and shake them by the neck,” he said. “How can they, today, make that statement that their food guide is based on science?”
Philpott, speaking at the Cardiovascular Congress in Montreal, acknowledged that the long-overdue changes are likely to have an impact on the food industry.
“We need to make choices that are good for Canadians, that will support them in making healthy choices, and we will obviously make sure that we will do that in a way that allows industry time to catch up.”
The revision is part of a multi-year, healthy eating strategy that will also include regulations to eliminate trans fats and cut the amount of salt in processed foods.
Health Canada says four out of five Canadians are at risk of developing cancer, heart disease or Type-2 diabetes.
Statistics show that six out of 10 adults are considered overweight and nearly one-third of young people also fall into the overweight or obese category.
The Health Department said it plans to updated dietary guidelines by the end of 2018 that will reflect the most up-to-date scientific evidence on diet and health.
Other initiatives include updated nutrition labels on pre-packaged foods and restricting marketing to children.
Quebec has had legislation in place for years that restricts marketing and advertising to children, said Philpott, who added that the federal government will draw on that example for inspiration.
“There’s evidence that children in Quebec have less consumption of fast foods, for example,” Philpott said. “We are now going to be looking at legislation and regulations at the federal level that will restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids.”
The government is also watching closely as countries around the world take steps to curb consumption of sugary drinks, but it hasn’t made any decision to introduce a tax on soft drinks in Canada, she added.
The Senate committee, which called on the government to consider a ban on advertising food aimed at kids and to consider a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, concluded Canada’s obesity problem will only worsen without intervention.
The report found that the number of obese Canadians has doubled since 1980, while the number of obese kids has tripled.