The Heart and Stroke Foundation is winding down its Health Check program, a tool used to steer Canadians towards more nutritious food choices for the past 15 years.
In the next few months, the red and white Health Check logo will gradually disappear from roughly 1,500 grocery store products and 20 restaurant chains that qualified for the seal of approval, program director Terry Dean said Thursday.
“We’re quite proud of what we’ve accomplished,” said Dean. When the Health Check program launched in 1999 to provide nutritional information to shoppers and promote healthier choices in the grocery aisles, “we were really the only show in town.”
In 2006, it expanded to restaurants.
However, today the landscape has changed significantly. It is packed with players, and consumers are bombarded with information, he said. While the Health Check criteria has evolved, the model is out of date and “we’re just not able to compete,” he added, so the organization is looking at how to more effectively use its limited resources.
The program had also come under increasing criticism for criteria that some experts deemed not strict enough on foods with significant amounts of fat, sugar and sodium. The system was set up as a “cost-recovery model” where companies paid for the Health Check logo to appear on packaging after testing revealed their products met the criteria.
There has also been mounting concern in general about consumption of processed food and more emphasis on the health benefits of fruit, vegetables and home-cooked meals.
Dean said the Heart and Stroke Foundation will continue to provide its online resources to help Canadians make more nutritious choices. It will also advocate for policies and practices that promote healthier foods and eating habits, he added.
Among those critical of the program over the years was Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, founder of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa.
When it launched, Health Check “was incredibly well intentioned and truly ahead of its time,” he wrote on his Weighty Matters blog on Thursday.
But over the years, “the program didn’t evolve with our changing understanding of both nutrition and consumer psychology.”