February 17, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 76  

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Blubber as bad as phlegm? Clogged arteries as bad as iron lungs? You decide

By Amy Ferguson
Gazette Staff

You may want to think twice next time you order that burger and fries, because according to the latest study by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, “fat is the new tobacco.”

The Foundation’s Annual Report Card on Canadians’ Health found the number of overweight and obese Canadians poses a huge threat to the nation’s public health.

“We’re at the place we were 30 years ago with smoking,” said Elissa Freeman of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

Since the 1970s, smoking has decreased by 53 per cent while the number of obese adults has increased by about 50 per cent. According to Freeman, the numbers keep growing.

“The problem is availability. When you walk out of class, the first thing you see are vending machines and cafeterias selling junk food. We need the food industry to step up and offer healthier products,” she explained.

“About 30 per cent of teenagers are in fast food restaurants every day,” said Anthony Graham, cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“It’s a complicated problem,” he added. “Regulating tobacco is easier because there is no safe level. Food on the other hand is vital, and that makes coming up with a solution more difficult.”

In an effort to combat this growing trend, the Foundation has proposed an action plan aimed at both the food industry and the government. Suggestions include removing vending machines with junk food from elementary and high schools, having the food industry reduce the amount of saturated and trans fat in foods, making nutritional information in restaurants mandatory and implementing a public health system with resources about obesity and the prevention of chronic diseases.

“I generally agree with the suggestions made by the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” said John Jordan, professor of family medicine at Western.

“Targeting [both the food industry and the government] will hopefully prove effective. Physicians can only do so much. Changes need to be made on a day to day basis,” Jordan said. “Even something as simple as changing the oil used by [fast food restaurants] can have a huge impact.”

Alicia Garcia, professor in human ecology at Brescia University College, said consumers play a vital role. “While the recommendations [made by the Heart and Stroke Foundation] are excellent, in the end it is the individual’s responsibility.”



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