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Wanted: Canadian Public Figure to Head Canada’s Obesity Strategy

Later today, Michelle Obama will step in front of the press in Washington to launch her initiative on addressing the childhood obesity epidemic in the US.

I am certain that she has no illusions as to the size of this challenge (no pun intended).

I will not go into details about the planned campaign or the considerable obstacles that she will need to overcome (for a thoughtful discussion of this go to the Canadian Press article by Nancy Benac).

Rather I’d like to turn my gaze to Canada and dare to ask the question: Where is the prominent Canadian public figure that is prepared to stand up and head a Canadian strategy to match Obama’s efforts?

If the US has an obesity problem, so do we!

If the US is now going to seriously take on this issue, so must we!

As Director of the Canadian Obesity Network, I can assure anyone willing to step forward that the Network with its over 4000 members and partners stands prepared to take up the challenge.

Any prominent Canadian public figure wishing to follow in Obama’s footsteps is welcome to simply step forward and drop me a line.

In the meantime, I will be carefully watching to see if the US initiative actually has enough support and teeth to really take on the countless interest groups and stakeholders that are perfectly happy with leaving things just the way they are.

Send me your comments on why you think so far no Canadian public figure has stepped forward to spearhead a campaign to address our own obesity epidemic and whether or not you think this would really make a difference.

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. Hmmm… I’m trying to picture various politicos hula-hooping…..
    …our GG would certainly do us proud!…

    (Today’s “Weighty Matters Blog” by Dr Freedhoff is related to this challenge – “Obesity now #1 preventable cause of death – now what?”)

    Americans have a tradition of the President’s spouse adopting a personal cause. We don’t have that, but we do have a health care system that reaches all Canadians and which has a long term presence. Any prominent Canadian who takes this challenge has that system to work with – I hope that’s a benefit! – as well as the Obesity Network.

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  2. The Weighty Matters Blog post was from Tuesday Jan 12 2010, not today’s post.
    Sorry about that.

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  3. The U.S. is NOT going to seriously address its obesity problem. You’re just seeing political posturing.

    [The solution doesn’t lie in the hands of the government anyway.]


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  4. A campaign against obesity could be led by anyone in Canada and most importantly CON and its advocates. The question is why do we need a Canadian Public Figure to take an initiative to increase awareness/help promote healthy eating. What prevents CON to partner with food industries and health Canada and speed up the efforts for healthy life style/diet?
    I have no problem with having a Canadian Public Figure as long as that person could drive the agenda. What I have problem understanding is do we need to follow US foot step rather coming up with other innovative ideas of our own for the cause???

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  5. I’m a Canadian working in the US fighting childhood obesity in my clinics. I think Michelle will only have enough time to look at the problem, create advertising campaigns and direct money into research during her tenure. CON is way ahead of her with organized analysis of potential safe solutions taking place on a daily basis, along with the motivation, compassion and ability to influence and eventually direct Canadian Healthcare. Even if she had a solution, millions of kids are uninsured. The American system is sickening, literally.

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  6. We at Thee Quest are on “The 28 days to perfect health challenge” right this moment.We have great people from all over the world that believe in finding solutions to the obesity crisis. I myself would love to have someone speak on behalf of all Canadians about how to solve the obesity crisis.
    Thee Quest is an organisation fighting for people’s health especially children. The person to take charge, with your assistance, does not have to come from the filed of Medicine.
    What about Nancy Green?
    Pierre William Trudel
    Thee Quest

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  7. I agree with Aema about needing specifically Canadian ideas.

    I am wary of the CON “Partnering with food industries.”

    Food industries are in business to make money. CON wants people to eat healthy.
    Those two objectives are often in conflict.

    For example, I read about an award-winning entrepreneur in far northern Canada (sorry I don’t have exact source right now.) He had a great business and made money putting pop vending machines in northern communities. He was certainly a good businessman, he also certainly contributed to the culture change which has brought obesity and diabetes to northern Canada. He doesn’t force anybody to drink too much pop, but his goal (get people to spend as much money on as much pop as possible) would be counter to CON goal (get people to drink no pop, or drink pop rarely as a special treat). Other stores already sold food, he saw an opportunity and took it – hence the well-deserved entrepreneur award.

    It is relevant to the CON how the food industry makes money. For example, how does the industry decide what goes in grocery stores? Why does my grocery store have an entire aisle of pop and bottled water? There is no food value in that above tap water. However, it must make pots of money – maybe they make more money off that aisle of pop than they do off the aisle of fresh produce. There are many examples – why miles of ketchups and mustards? Why dozens of kinds of yogurts but nothing local? Why so much salt in prepared food – cheapest spice, maybe? What food is advertised? What human emotion is the advertising appealing to? What kind of a social norm about food is the advertising creating?

    I’m afraid CON might be concerned about food and diet, and make the mistake that the food industry has the same concern. For CON good food is the goal. For the food industry the goal is making money, and they go for anything that works to that end – including good food if that sells profitably, but even better, food that can be sold as good but is cheaper to make, and even better than that, really cheap food that can be sold really profitably by using advertising or prominent grocery store display to make it part of everyday diet.

    If someone from CON went to visit a food industry person, they’d talk about nutrition, new good food products, store brand healthy foods, etc, etc. The industry rep might even be a nutritionist or dietitian, and there would be a lot of agreement and common focus between the CON visitor and the industry rep.

    Now imagine an investor going to a food industry like a chain grocery store. Would the discussion be about how to promote healthy food? More likely the investor would be given a tour of the store noting profit per square foot, profit from deals with producers to buy shelf space, profit from control of supply chains, profit margins on various products, etc.

    Now imagine the food industry rep going to the advertising firm. Is the food industry rep saying “advertise rolled oats. They’re inexpensive, easy to make, and very healthy. We make a 10cent profit/unit, we’ll pay you 1 cent/unit” Or, is the food industry rep saying “advertise sugah-crucho-cereal, It’s expensive, it’s really easy for people, we can throw in a few vitamins and call it healthy, also we get money from this company when we give them prime shelf space. We make $1.00 profit/unit, we’ll pay you 10cents/unit.

    The CON could very well study “rolled oats” vs. “sugah-cruncho-cereal” from the point of view of nutrition. The grocery store rep will point out that the ready to eat cereal sells better, so people want it. The store dietitian may point out that sugah-cruncho cereal fits busy lives, and besides, it’s better nutritionally than the breakfast pastry with icing in the next aisle, and it has added vitamins – all true.
    The grocery store rep when talking to the CON person may not mention the profit margins on the two products, and related deals that get profit from the products.

    The CON person, thoroughly schooled in nutrition, the chemistry of metabolism, physiology, etc, may be totally oblivious to the details of the economics running the food industry, and won’t be able to understand what’s going on past the “Product A nutrition vs Product B nutrition” comparison offered by the industry rep. “Product C” isn’t even there.

    The CON will surely be interacting with the food industry, which does have valuable expertise. To be on an even footing I think CON needs to get independent expert help to understand how the food industry makes money. A workshop on the economics of food – production, retail strategy, government control and subsidies, international treaties, advertising, …I don’t know exactly what. I’m not an expert, I do know I see just the tip of the iceberg.

    To deal with the food industry the CON will have to understand it well, and recognize that although they have common concerns on which they can work together, the goals of the Canadian Obesity Network and the goals of the food industry are different.

    Sometimes the CON and the food industry will be in conflict.

    Partnership? I would prefer to see the Canadian Obesity Network as an independent science based group.

    If I saw a “CON approved” product in a store I’d burn all my printouts of Sharma Obesity Notes posts!!

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  8. Would love to address the problem … but why does it need to be someone “famous”? Why can’t joe or jill smith do it… there is lots of us out there who would gladly take it on…but give us the funds/resources to do it!

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