Did you know that in Sweden the state subsidizes training that teaches people to eat more saturated fat (butter, cream and bacon)?
Did you know that in Sweden the consumption of butter, cream and full fat milk has increased a lot over the last years, so much so that there was a shortage of butter in the fall 2012 (the sale of butter has increased by 40% in three years)?
Did you know that in Sweden the sale of health-branded low-fat products has decreased so much that the producers might stop selling low-fat cheeses?
Did you know that researchers last year published articles showing that the cardiovascular risk factors are increasing in the Swedish population?
I guess you didn't know. Sweden is still trying to keep up it's healthy image but when it comes to food and health we are really on a slippery slope. There is of course more than one explanation for this change in food consumption and deterioration of public health. One contributing factor is that low carb high fat diets, LCHF, has totally dominated the diet scene in Sweden over the last years. Books, media and a group of offensive doctors pushing for low carb and more saturated fat has really reached the public. The message "eat as much cream, butter and bacon as you want" has been easy to sell to the Swedes. The low carb message "don't eat sugar" has not had the same impact on consumption, the Swedes are still big on candy and baked goods. So the success of the LCHF movement is belived to be one contributing factor in the change in consumption and increase in cardiac health risk factors. We also had a big discussion (books, media etc) about additives and real food versus industrial foods. This discussion has had a positive impact on food producers, they have taken away some of the totally unnecessary additives. Part of the real food discussion has focused on butter versus low-fat margarines. Butter (and oils in their natural form) of course wins that discussion (one or two ingredient versus 15-18 in margarines). This has also helped increase the consumption of butter. The third explanation is political apathy when it comes to food and health. Sweden and Albania are the only countries in Europe that lack a national strategy for food and health. There is not enough political interest and the only thing the National Food Agency gets is cuts in its budget (except when it comes to food in schools and for the elderly) The minister in charge of food, Eskil Erlandsson, has launched a big project to make Sweden a top culinary country (and compete with France) but in this project health is not mentioned. The minister in charge of public health, Göran Hägglund, told the audience in a seminar about his dieting and that he does not eat bread and potatoes, that's his most well known public statement about food and health.
But everything is not dark when it comes to food and health in Sweden, the government has made big investments when it comes to better foods in schools and for the elderly. We also now have a law setting the nutritional standards of school lunches. There are a lot of nutritionists, dietitians and behavioral scientists working in big projects and doing a fantastic job both when it comes to food for children and the elderly. But the population in the age-range from 19 to 65 is on a slippery health slope when it comes to food. Of course there are local initiatives and doctors, professors and other health professionals doing great work, but it's not enough. I have previously worked as a nutritionist and head of the nutrition department for the Swedish National Food Agency and I know what a tough situation people working there have. Without political will and funding the National Food Agency can't support health professionals, try to influence consumption or stop the potential hearth health decline. To get our politicians to wake up and act, I think we need to make the rest of the world aware of the Swedish slippery health slope. Hopefully we can go from apathy to action when it comes to food, health, climate and environment. Sweden has previously been regarded as leader in this field as you can see in this NY-times article from 2009.