The Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program driving positive change in Canada's food supply: Research

OTTAWA, Feb. 22, 2012 /CNW/ - Two recent external studies show that The Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program is having a positive effect on the Canadian food supply including driving significant reductions in sodium content. Health Check also announced a follow-up study on sodium that will assess impact and guide further reductions of the program's criteria.

Sodium study released in Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research
A study highlighting significant sodium reductions in Canadian food products prompted by the Health Check program was released in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.

"Reducing the amount of sodium in the foods available to Canadians is a priority concern," says Rickey Yada, PhD, Chair, Canada Research Chair in Food Protein Structure, Scientific Director Advanced Foods and Materials Network (AFMNet) Department of Food Science University of Guelph, and Chair, Health Check Technical Advisory Committee. "Health Check is doing this in a practical way, over time, by encouraging food companies to make significant and lasting improvements."

The study by Jane Dummer, registered dietitian, identifies the role Health Check nutrient criteria played in triggering industry program participants to reduce sodium in their products from 2004 - 2008. The study concludes that 150 products reduced sodium levels to meet the Health Check criteria for a total reduction of 800,000 kg of salt (~322, 000 kg of sodium), an amount equivalent to 88 dump trucks of salt being driven out of the Canadian food supply (abstract available at healthcheck.org).

More studies - and dump trucks - are on the way
Follow-up sodium study announced
A follow-up to the sodium study will commence in Spring 2012, led by Dr. Mary L'Abbé, Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. This study will examine reductions in sodium levels in Health Check program grocery products between January 2009 and December 2011. During this period changes to the Health Check sodium criteria came into affect with reductions of between 25% - 70% in many categories. The results are expected to be significant and will include the total amount of sodium removed from these products both as a result of reformulations and new product development. This study will also take an even more comprehensive approach by examining other nutrients.

"We are thrilled with the results of the study published in the Journal that clearly illustrates the positive difference the Health Check program is making to the Canadian food supply," says Bobbe Wood, President, Heart and Stroke Foundation. "And we look forward to making an even bigger difference as the program continues to strengthen and evolve."

While a small amount of sodium is necessary to maintain health, Canadians are consuming on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day when they should be consuming no more than 2,300 mg per day. More than three-quarters (77%) of the sodium Canadians consume comes from processed food sold in grocery stores and in food service outlets. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is committed to helping Canadians reduce the amount of sodium in their diets, and Health Check is one practical way it does this by challenging food companies to reduce the amount of sodium in their products.

Findings from formal evaluation of the Health check program
A formal third-party evaluation of the Health Check program led by John Spence, PhD, University of Alberta was completed in 2011. This evaluation examined a number of factors including the impact of the program on helping consumers make healthy food choices and the extent to which Health Check has influenced the reformulation of products and the development of more healthy products.

The findings noted that food manufacturers interviewed claimed Health Check criteria stimulated companies to reformulate existing products and was the standard used when developing new ones.

This evaluation also proposed recommendations for improvements in the areas of program management, marketing and promotion, and future research. Most of the proposed changes were already in progress when the evaluation was completed and the remaining recommendations are currently being addressed. The full list of recommendations and how Health Check is addressing them as well as the executive summary from the evaluation are available on the Health Check website (healthcheck.org).

ABOUT HEALTH CHECK
Health Check is one way the Heart and Stroke Foundation helps Canadians eat well.

  • Health Check helps Canadians make healthy food choices in grocery stores and restaurants; educates consumers on healthy eating; and challenges and works with the food industry to make the food supply healthier.
  • Nutrient criteria are developed by Heart and Stroke Foundation registered dietitians based on recommendations in Canada's Food Guide.
  • Nutrient criteria have been developed for the following nutrients: total fat, saturated fat and trans fat, fibre, sodium, sugar, protein, certain vitamins and minerals.
  • The criteria are not evaluated independent of each other - many products or menu items include several criteria if appropriate, for example the criteria for breakfast cereals include fat, trans fat, fibre, sodium and sugar. The nutrient criteria were developed for each food category by looking at the nutrients that would make a difference to the category.
  • Health Check is the only neutral, third-party, not-for-profit food information program in the country.
  • Industry has not involvement in setting the criteria.
  • Grocery items and restaurant menu items must earn the right to display the logo. Companies pay a modest fee to participate only once the criteria are met.
  • The program is not for profit and runs on a cost recovery basis.
  • Health Check is on a journey. The program continues to evolve - the criteria will strengthen, restaurants and food companies will continue to reformulate and develop healthier items, and Canadians' palates will adjust and their eating habits will improve overall. Health Check is moving the dial and making positive changes to the food supply so Canadians will have better access to, and be able to identify, healthy food choices wherever they are.
  • For more information visit healthcheck.org

SOURCE HEART AND STROKE FOUNDATION OF CANADA

For further information:

MEDIA INQUIRIES
Stephanie Lawrence
Heart and Stroke Foundation, Health Check
slawrence@hsf.ca
613-569-4361 ext 351

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HEART AND STROKE FOUNDATION OF CANADA

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