The Heart Foundation Tick or the Coles Tick, which is worth less?

The Heart Foundation is getting its undies in a twist about Coles using a tick in their branding. But consumers might be healthier if they let the Coles tick guide their purchases.

Heart Foundation healthy weight director Susan Anderson complains “we receive many calls and emails from outraged shoppers who have been tricked by phony ticks.” And Senator Nick Xenophon wants to call in the Feds, saying “Coles is being deceptive and the ACCC should investigate.”

Incidentally Nick isn’t worried about the consumer accidentally choosing an unhealthy food. He explains his real concern is that consumers will think the product is Heart Foundation approved and “that is fundamentally unfair to the Heart Foundation. “ Oh, ok, good point. We wouldn’t want to endanger their licensing revenue.

A major study released in April showed definitively that when it comes to Heart Disease (presumably the primary concern of the Heart Foundation), sugar consumption was (by far) the strongest indicator of risk. So how do the products which bear the Heart Foundation Tick stack up in the sugar stakes?

Nestle’s Fruit Fix Bars proudly bear the Heart Foundation tick but are around 72% sugar. However a tick-free Mars Bar is only 58% sugar. I guess they’d need to top it up a bit to earn a ‘tick’?

Other high sugar products proudly bearing the tick include Nestle’s Billabong Ice Blocks (23% sugar), Nestle’s B-Smart Milo (32% Sugar), Kellogg’s K-Time Twist Bars (38% sugar), and Nestle’s Nesquik Plus (60% sugar). It looks like letting the Heart Foundation tick guide you through supermarket aisles could land you in very high sugar territory indeed.

But what of the claim that Coles is leading healthy-food seekers astray with their tick? We all eat breakfast cereals, so the brekkie aisle is a good place to do some comparison shopping.

Coles make a few breakfast cereals emblazoned with their tricky ticks. They are Rolled Oats (no sugar), Wheat Biscuits (less than 1% sugar) and Corn Flakes (10% sugar). Nothing too dreadful there (even if the corn flakes could have less sugar).

But the Heart Foundation endorsed list of breakfast cereals includes Australia’s tenth most sugary cereal (Kellogg’s Just Right – 32% sugar) and the 12th most sugary (Nestle’s Healthwise for Heart Health – 30% sugar). Following the Heart Foundation down the cereal aisle could fill your breakfast bowl with at least three times as much sugar as opting for the Coles tick.

The good news is that if you are prone to ticklexia, you’re in much safer territory from a sugar (and therefore heart health) perspective. Although you probably want to be a little bit careful. Coles have ticks on shaving cream and laundry powder too.

Even when you venture out of the supermarket, the Heart Foundation can be treated as fairly consistent warning of high sugar content. Over at the much-maligned Macca’s the tick approved meals are some of the higher sugar options on (the non-pudding part of) the menu.

A tick-approved Seared Chicken Sweet Chili Wrap, Garden Salad and Italian Dressing will serve you up 4 whole teaspoons of sugar (quite a bit for a salad really). But a plain old Big Mac will add ‘just’ 1.5 teaspoons of sugar to your day. And a Filet-o-Fish, piles on a mere half teaspoon.

The Heart Foundation happily endorses high sugar products because unlike its US counterpart (and in the face of overwhelming science), it considers sugar a harmless (even necessary) addition to our diet. In response to one of my earlier rants, Susan Anderson even told Cardiology Update “Although associated with tooth decay… eating sugar itself is not clearly associated with other health problems.”

I had always believed (like most of us, I suspect) that the Australian Heart Foundation was a powerful force for good in ensuring we all ate well. We trust the Heart Foundation to tell us the truth, not what is commercially convenient for its clients.

The science on sugar says it is lethal. We wouldn’t tolerate our doctor taking payment from sugar manufacturers in return for recommendations. So why should we tolerate it from the Heart Foundation. Whacking a tick on a children’s food product (like Fruit Fix) that has more sugar than a Mars Bar is at best a conflict of interest and at worst, negligent.

So, please Heart Foundation, let’s have less media hype about Coles (using a logo vaguely reminiscent of the tick) and a lot more media hype about the lethal effects of sugar. I know that will hurt your income stream but is that really what’s important here?

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Also published in Crikey (subscription required). You can also read the Heart Foundation’s response here (about half way down the page – no subscription required).

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • louella says:

    Great points. I love the call-a spade-a-spade way you write 🙂

  • This piece also ran on Crikey yesterday. Today the Crikey published a response it had received from the Heart Foundation. I think its only fair that readers of this blog also get to see what they say.

    So here is their entire response:

    Susan Anderson, National Director, Healthy Weight, National Heart Foundation, writes: Re. “Heart Foundation tick and Coles tick go against the grain” (yesterday, item 13).

    Yesterday in Crikey, David Gillespie continued the argument he regularly prosecutes in Crikey and on his blog that the Heart Foundation should not award the Tick to products containing sugar. We disagree.

    The advice of the National Heart Foundation is based on sound science. We advise that the best way for Australians to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease is to reduce their intake of sodium and saturated fat and increase their intake of dietary fibre. Given cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Australians, we dedicate significant resources to assessing and awarding the Tick to meals and products that meet our strict criteria across a range of food categories.

    It is true that companies pay us a license fee to cover these costs. There is no scientific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease. However, like climate change, there is a differing minority opinion that the presence of sugar is dangerous. We believe that while overall kilojoule intake is important, other factors such as levels of sodium, fibre and saturated fat are more important in preventing cardiovascular disease.

    Mr Gillespie also criticises us for awarding the Tick to processed foods and snack items that nearly all health advocates, including us, would recommend as “occasional” foods that ought not be eaten every day. However, we’ve taken the view that since we live in a world where people do indulge in ice-cream from time to time or grab a ready meal to fast-track dinner, we’ve developed the Tick to provide us with healthier options when we do. Tick improves foods. It’s not a miracle makeover transforming a treat into a healthy snack.

    We think Aussies are smart enough to get that; fruit = healthy snack; ice-cream = treat; ice-cream + Tick = healthier treat. Mr Gillespie also uses his views on sugar to discount our concern about use of the Coles Tick on some budget products. He argues that some products with the Coles Tick have an acceptable nutritional profile. Terrific.

    Our point is that the appearance of a tick on these products is no guarantee of such a profile. Admittedly the products do not claim to be healthier, but with the presence of a tick so similar to our own we’re concerned that consumers who can rely on the Heart Foundation Tick to provide a quick and easy way of choosing a healthier product are being misled.

  • So why do they advertise the tick as a healthier product and has done so for years, otherwise, why do it??? Maybe she needs to read the facts on sugar before she gets to comment. Maybe the National Heart Foundation need to invest in sugar research – oh hang on a sec – they won’t, why? Because their products won’t sell.

  • Charlie says:

    as usual, brilliant!

  • szentsteve says:

    Great blog, keep up the good work.

    Paradigm shifts eventually happen despite the naysayers/majority/established view having the loudest voice for a while.

    If the prevailing view is based on sound science, why is health in western countries going down the toilet…??


  • paul says:

    Nice blog. It’s really interesting to know more about that information. Thanks a lot for sharing.

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