New U.S. policies show real leadership, pour salt in the wounds of Canadian public health advocates

US on a diet

Recent advances in public health nutrition policies south of the border, from coast to coast, municipal to federal, have cast doubt on the effectiveness of governments across Canada and left public health advocates fuming.

San Francisco has introduced a package of ordinances to curb the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, likening their health effects to tobacco and recognizing that a sustained, long-term effort will be required to change consumer habits.

New York City has proposed adding warning labels at restaurants on foods high in sodium. Even though the proposal would only apply to food with an extremely high (full day’s worth) of sodium and would simply identify rather than restrict these foods, the trade association for salt producers attacked the proposal by calling the government’s daily sodium consumption targets “faulty,” suggesting (rediculously) that they were harmful.

Finally, in what may be the boldest and most sweeping public health protection effort the United States has ever seen, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that dangerous trans fats were to be phased out of the food supply within three years. Meanwhile in Canada, our government stopped monitoring trans fat in the food supply in 2009. They also refused to regulate additions of trans fats to foods, even when strongly advised to do so by the health and scientific community, Health Canada’s own experts, and public polls that showed strong support for regulations by the Canadian public.

While Canada’s public health advocates are bolstered by the introduction of progressive, impactful policies in the United States, they are frustrated by government and food industry inaction in Canada. There are a number of things we know we can do to improve the health of Canadians or, at the very least, to protect them from a food industry that continually fails to act in the best interests of its customers. As the government of Canada overhauls nutrition labels and a public dialogue is taking place about food, Health Minister Rona Ambrose would be wise to do more than simply “look at what they are doing” down south – the time to act in Canada is now.

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