To fix unhealthy diets: activism before ‘an apple a day’


Marty_Logan_blog_health_environment_070419Kudos to CBC News reporter Kelly Crowe for this article about a recent global health study on the deadly impact of unhealthy eating, in which she goes beyond simply presenting the newest numbers to discuss the ‘why’.

The news itself is shocking: in 2017  poor diets worldwide caused 11 million deaths, concludes the report, published in The Lancet journal. Eating too much salt and not enough whole grains and fruits were the major culprits.

Obstacles to healthy eating

But what Crowe also highlights are those factors that are beyond the control of individuals and are known as ‘environmental determinants of health’. These range from absent or misleading labels on food packages to prominent placement of junk food in supermarkets to the unaffordability of the fruits, vegetables and other healthy food that we’re supposed to be eating more of to prevent those 11 million deaths.“Yet the barriers to healthy eating are all around us,” points out Crowe. In Canada,  prices of fresh vegetables have risen 14% since January and fruit prices 4%. If you live in the northern part of the country you pay basically twice as much for your groceries than Canadians in the south.

“It’s all shaped to push the most profitable options and those options are the less healthy foods that can be mass produced that are really cheap” – Dana Olstad, University of Calgary

Canada’s food policy is still focused on helping individuals make better choices, and they would if they could says a researcher who Crowe interviews. “We make the individual responsible for making those better choices. But we do nothing to help them,” says Dana Olstad from the University of Calgary.

“But why don’t they do it?” she adds. “That’s really because of our environment. It’s all shaped to push the most profitable options and those options are the less healthy foods that can be mass produced that are really cheap.”

Income tax advice for better nutrition

Crowe quotes another doctor in Toronto saying that along with diet counselling he advises his patients on how to file their tax returns to take advantage of programs that can help them save money, so that they can afford more nutritious food.

And she interviews a researcher who has a different approach to the adage ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’: “My takeaway tends not to be ‘eat more fruits and vegetables.’ It’s change things at your workplace, band together with people in your neighbourhood to improve the food that’s available, because that’s going to be more powerful than every person eating one more apple,” says Catherine Mah from Dalhousie University.

Learn more about healthy and uhealthy diets from NCD Alliance

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