Feds omit the salt in health campaign

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The federal government launched a healthy eating campaign this spring. But as John Geddes revealed in a Maclean’s scoop on July 9th, the government chose to bury its own research on the benefits of discouraging excessive sodium consumption.

As Geddes details, market research firm Harris-Decima was paid $75,000 by the government last year for a three-city, 1,800-person focus group survey of parents with children 12 and under, to test the effectiveness of various advertising approaches.

The survey results were clear: Harris-Decima declared that “messages that focused on sodium rather than general healthy eating appeared to make a stronger connection with participants than more generic messages.” But when Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq launched the “Eat Well” campaign in March, the sodium-specific messages were mysteriously missing.

Removing the most effective message from a campaign? As Geddes notes with irony, “This isn’t the way they do it on Mad Men.”

Aglukkaq’s communications director Steve Outhouse told Geddes that consumers can make their own decisions based on nutrition labels, adding that “Government won’t decide that for you.”

Reading between the lines, that sounds a lot like a laissez-faire approach that puts industry demands ahead of public interest.

After striking down Bill C-460—which would have implemented an effective sodium reduction strategy to great public benefit—earlier this year, and cancelling the sodium reduction task force in 2011, this is the latest indication that the Harper government doesn’t take sodium reduction seriously. We can speculate as to their reasons, but the detriment to public health speaks for itself.

 

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