Public Health Achievement #1: Safer and Healthier Foods

January great public health achievement badgeYesterday I got an email from the Canadian Public Health Association1, which is celebrating its centenary in 2010, telling me about the website they’ve launched to celebrate the successes of the field of public health over the last 100 years.  Would you believe “that the average lifespan of Canadians has increased by more than 30 years since the early 1900s and 25 of those years are attributable to advances in public health?”  Thirty years!  That’s almost my entire lifespan so far in *extra* years of life!

As part of their celebration, they have listed twelve great achievements of public health in last 100 years – one to highlight each month:

January Safer and healthier foods
February Control of infectious diseases
March Healthier environments
April Vaccination
May Recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard
June Motor-vehicle safety
July Decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke
August Healthier mothers and babies
September Acting on the social determinants of health
October Universal policies
November Safer workplaces
December Family planning

And they even have snazzy badges to put on your blog (as seen above).  And far be it from me to be able to resist a snazzy blog badge!

This month’s theme – Safer and Healthier Foods – is one that is near and dear to my heart, what with being a nutritional scientist and all.  And the fact that it’s the theme of my birth month is just the icing on the cake2!

Some random interesting facts about food and nutrition:

  • the idea that vitamin deficiencies could cause disease was first published in 1912
  • Canada’s first food guide – The Official Food Rules – were first published in 1942 with the aim of preventing nutrient deficiencies during wartime rationing
  • goiter was eliminated in Canada by the mandatory fortification of salt with iodine (1949)
  • sometimes symptoms of food poisoning don’t appear for a month after you eat contaminated food!
  • the Canadian Community Health Survey (Cycle 2.2) in 2004 was the first time in 35 years (!) that we had national nutrition data
  • Canada was the first country to mandate labeling of trans fats
  • more than 10% of Canadians (that’s about 3 million people) experience food insecurity

Fight Bac!

Stuff you can do:

Check out the cpha100 website to read about all the cool things that public health has done to make our food safer and healthier, from fighting foodborne illnesses to the creation and updating of Canada’s Food Guide to work on food insecurity.

  1. being that I now work in Public Health, I joined the CPHA []
  2. ha ha! icing and cake in a nutrition posting []
  3. the whole avoiding processed foods will help with that []
  4. I know that there is always lots of debate around the Food Guide, but the basics – eat real, whole foods; eat more plant-based foods; use reasonable portion sizes; get variety in your diet – and the fact that studies show that if you follow the Food Guide, you meet the nutrient recommendations, are pretty solid []

Comments |3|

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  • I'm not so sure I agree with "recognition of tobacco as a public health hazard" as an accomplishment. Of course it is a hazard, and of course it should be recognized. The problem is that, for non-smokers, tobacco tends to be viewed as a nasty smelly sickening menace (helped along by the overreactors sputtering and coughing because they spotted a smoker 100 paces away.) So many health risks, including plenty genuine severity, are entirely pleasant even for outsiders enjoying a particular vice for the first time. For example, many popular dietary practices manage to be much more deadly than a cannabis habit without even being recognized as vices.

    My complaint here is that smoking tobacco (which I quit years back, never having been more than a pack-a-week kinda guy anyway) is all too easy to demonize. Public perception builds up around unhealthy behavior as something that is necessarily unpleasant to the uninitiated. The underlying reality is that the inhabitants of prosperous nations are surrounded by wickedly unhealthy choices that involve zero short term discomfort as a function of embracing those choices.

    I would not argue any society should treat deep fried food or movie theater popcorn butter with the same zeal (and sometimes malice) used to constrain smoking. However, I would argue that the focus on smoking has created a sort of smoke screen behind which all manner of comparably serious health concerns may find cover. Public concern and political action will tend to be misdirected while the emphasis on harm reduction remains keenly focused on behaviors that, by superficial quirks of their nature and/or social context, can be much more easily villainized than any of numerous popular and momentarily satisfying life-shortening choices.


  • One of the more fascinating facts about Canada's food guide is that there is a version for First Nations, Inuit and Metis which recognizes that the "food rainbow" available to those groups differs significantly from the "food rainbow" available to other population groups.


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