Health

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By Peter Hadzipetros

After months of delay, Canada's new food guide was unveiled earlier this week — to mostly positive reviews.

It's the first update in 15 years — and the first time the guide told Canadians to limit their intake of junk food like cookies, pastries, potato chips, and doughnuts. But there have been some pretty significant complaints, like the guide says nothing that would show us how to limit the number of calories we taken in and that a person following it could potentially gain a whole lot of weight.

In other words, it may not be much of a weapon in the war against obesity.

Meanwhile, south of the border, the new governor of Arkansas is trying to can a pet project of his predecessor — one aimed at addressing the growing problem of childhood obesity.

Mike Huckabee created quite the stir back in 2003 with his obesity report card program. Huckabee — who dropped 110 pounds after he was diagnosed with diabetes — got schools to send home obesity report cards to warn parents of the risks of their children being overweight.

Under the program, children would be measured and weighed every year and their body mass index would be calculated. If it was too high, parents would find out through a report card. When the program came in, 38 per cent of Arkansas kids were either overweight or at risk of getting there.

Three years later, the rate came down, a little.

Several states followed Arkansas' lead.

Huckabee's been out of office since Jan. 9 and the new governor — who has never had a weight problem — is considering ditching the program, or watering it down substantially.

Mike Beebe says the school weigh-ins and report cards had a lot of negative, unintended consequences and hurt some children's self-esteem. He wants to make it easier for parents to drop out of the program. He also wants the state to test kids less often.

Not long after the program launched, CBC-TV's Marketplace went to Little Rock to check it out. They found some pretty upset kids. And some parents who were grateful. Kathy Caudle said when her son brought home a report putting his BMI at borderline obese, she knew it was time to change the way her family eats. She says her son was upset at being told he was overweight.

Huckabee has dismissed complaints that being told you're overweight damages your self-esteem.

"A person who is overweight — I’m speaking from the voice of experience — doesn’t need to be told that he or she’s overweight. The person’s already depressed."

Question is what works better: someone bluntly telling you that you're on the fast track to health problems, or a guide that makes wide-ranging suggestions? Results may vary.

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Comments (6)

Candace R.

The Canadian Food Guide is a beneficial tool to educate the general public in making healthy food choices.

All too often individuals do not take responsibility for the lifestyle choices they make these days. They make excuses, such as, "I'm too busy, so I can't exercise or prepare meals" to avoid taking responsibility for poor health choices. If more individuals adhered to the Canadian food guide then the indirect costs for our health care system would be reduced.

All of the individuals that take the time to make healthy lifestyle choices should be saluted. (Good for Anne to be so healthy. I wish you many more enjoyable years on this planet.)

Making healthy choices mean I feel strong, have ample energy to enjoy friends & family, rarely get sick (I don't get the flu shot), and I still have the time & energy to clean the house and go snowboarding. And, I too am like most Canadians that work 40 hours per week, take university classes at night, and have other commitments. I make the time to prepare meals and go to the gym at least three times per week.

Therefore, one must choose to make healthy living a priority. I choose to be healthy because I want to be able to enjoy the beauty life has to offer.

If you don't have your health what do you have? What do you choose?

Posted February 12, 2007 02:57 PM

Sarah

Edmonton

I think it's important for overweight people to know they are overweight. It's better they hear it when they're young enough to avoid becoming an obese adult.

Maybe they'll cry a few tears when they get home from school, but isn't that better than the complications involved with diabetes? Or the drastic life style changes they'll be making when they find out the have high cholesterol? Or the tears their children may cry if they loose their parent to a heart attack?

Posted February 12, 2007 10:33 AM

R. Gilbert

Ontario

I find the comment that the new food guide "says nothing that would show us how to limit the number of calories we taken in and that a person following it could potentially gain a whole lot of weight." The food guide has never said this. It's something else you do need to be aware of. If you consume more than you expend, you will gain wait. If you do the opposite, you'll lose weight. It's only us who are responsible for what goes into our mouths and if we eat too much, then we gain weight. Even if you eat no junk food, you still have to be conscious of how much you are eating.

Posted February 11, 2007 12:48 AM

Daniel

Ottawa

Just a comment about the Canada Food Guide. I always knew how dumb the Canada Food Guide was. I have not seen the new revised version but I know from that old one, you are expected to eat like 15 pounds of food per day if you want to follow their unscientific guidelines.

Posted February 10, 2007 09:38 PM

Anne Alcock

D. Burton's comments were right-on and brilliantly told. I agree wholeheartedly with everything she says. I, too, am getting really sick of the people who are in charge always worrying about hurting someone's feelings or discriminating against them.

I am 60 years old, and come from the era where we HAD to take P.E. (Physical Education). I hated it and I was certainly not athletic, but I know that it has helped me over the rest of my life. Cancelling the P.E. programs in the schools has proven to be a costly mistake in terms of illness and obesity.

I exercise every single day now, eat sensibly (very few high-fat foods, lots of veggies and fruits, whole grain breads and cereals, fish, skinless chicken, a little red meat, milk, yogurt - things like that.) It's surprisingly easy, and there are loads of choices nowadays.

If I were to give the youth of today (or anyone, for that matter) some advice, I would say it's easier than you might think, once you get into a routine. You will feel so much better both mentally and physically. I take no medication (unlike many in my age group) and I feel good every single day. I don't go to an expensive gym or trainer - I walk lots, use a treadmill in my house regularly and go to a local (cheap) Keep Fit class 3 times a week. I don't deny myself the odd treat of chocolate or a glass of wine a couple of times a week.

So, everyone, give it a try if you think you're overweight - don't wait till someone has to tell you. Instead of spending money on medication, buy more fruits and vegetables instead - they'll do you a lot more good. Obviously, if you really need medication for a disease, that's different. But, for most of us, a simple life-style change works wonders.

Posted February 9, 2007 05:33 PM

D. Burton

When I was a kid in school, we had to participate in the Canada Fitness Guide program. It was a marvellous.
We all competed to see who could get a broze, silver, gold or the ultimate, "Award of Excellence".

The program was scrapped because it discriminated against some kids. What kids? the kids who were overweight and/or unfit. Isn't that defeating the purpose of the whole program? It was there to tell us if we needed to improve. If we didn't measure up, it was up to us to change that... and we did. I remember getting a bronze and being determined to do better the next year, by getting in better shape. The next year I got a silver. The year after that, a gold.

This potential demise of the report card system in Arkansas is the same thing. If we decide to scrap every initiative that tells people they are on the road to heart disease, obesity, diabetis, etc., just because it might hurt their feelings, we are doomed to be a civilation of soft, fat, unfit, and very unhealthy people.

Let's face it... Nobody likes to hear that they're fat. But once they hear it, chances are they'll be more determined to do something about it.

There's also the fact that parents don't always see what's right in front of them. If a kid gets slightly heavier gradually, parents are likely not to see it. Or they'll justify it by calling their child "sturdy" or "big boned". Parents are parents, and they will always find some way of colouring their children in the best light regardless of the facts. Seeing the truth in black and white might just give them the kick in the butt that they need.

I think the original program in Arkansas was a huge step in the right direction. If all states, and provinces of Canada, were to do the same, I would support them enthusiastically.

And yes, I am a mother.

Posted February 8, 2007 01:48 PM

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Peter HadzipetrosPeter Hadzipetros is a producer for the Consumer and Health sites of CBC News Online. Until he got off the couch and got into long distance running a few years ago, he was a net importer of calories.

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