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The Health Check program is being eliminated.

The Canadian Press

The Heart and Stroke Foundation announced Wednesday that it is disbanding its controversial Health Check program, after years of criticism the criteria on which approvals were based were too soft on unhealthy foods.

The program, which awarded food products that met predetermined nutrition criteria with a Heart and Stroke Foundation seal of approval on the front of package labels, was created 15 years ago to point consumers toward better-for-you options.

But the program has come under fire for establishing nutrition criteria that still allowed products with significant amounts of fat, sugar and sodium to qualify for the Health Check seal.

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The Heart and Stroke Foundation agreed that the criticisms may have played a role in the decision to kill the program. The organization will instead focus on broader initiatives aimed at helping consumers make better choices.

Terry Dean, director of the Health Check program, said the model is simply outdated in the current marketplace and more needs to be done to encourage governments and industry to adopt broader policies to get healthier foods on the market – such as by requiring restaurants to post nutrition information at the point of sale.

"We need to have impact [with Health Check guidelines,]" he said. "It's frankly tough to compete [with other similar programs] and have our message heard. The current model has to change if the foundation aims to live up to its commitment to advocate for a healthier food supply."

A key flaw in the program, Mr. Dean said, was the inability to put the seal of approval on fruits and vegetables. "We want people to be eating more vegetables and fruit as well as less sodium and less trans fat," he said.

The decision to eliminate Health Check was recently made after almost a year of discussion; individual companies were informed on Tuesday.

He estimates it could take six to 12 months to fully wind down Health Check, adding that the foundation does not want to rush over fears companies will dump out-of-date products with the Health Check logo en masse in landfill sites.

"We're not leaving the nutrition scene at all, we're just coming at it from a different angle," Mr. Dean said. "Our current model just didn't allow us to have the footprint that we needed. And having nutrition available at point-of-sale in restaurants is something … that government should be supporting, and the industry should be supporting."

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