April 2017 Newsletter

Rudd Center Recent Publications

Parents Increasingly See Unhealthy Food Marketing and Easy Access To Junk Food as Obstacles to Raising Healthy Children

Eighty-five percent of parents surveyed about their views on food marketing to children agreed that companies should reduce advertising of unhealthy food to their kids, according to a new report from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

Support for policies to promote healthy eating habits for their children in the media, schools and communities increased between 2012 and 2015 among parents surveyed for this study, with black and Hispanic parents significantly more likely to express support than white parents. The new report, "Parents' attitudes about food marketing to children: 2012 to 2015," updates findings from a 2012 Rudd Center report with new data collected from 2012 to 2015.

“Most of the parents surveyed indicated they are willing to take action to improve food marketing to children,” said Jennifer Harris, Director of Marketing Initiatives for the UConn Rudd Center, and the study’s lead author. “Black and Hispanic parents in our survey were even more likely to believe that their children were impacted by unhealthy food marketing and said they were more willing to do something about it."  

"Regulation of Food Marketing to Children: Are Statutory or industry Self-Governed Systems Effective?"  

Dr. Harris was also a co-author of an editorial piece in the April edition of the journal, Public Health Nutrition, that examines industry-initiated vs. statutory approaches to limiting the marketing of unhealthy food to children. "Regardless of approach, regular independent monitoring of the food industry is essential and it is notable that, both in the USA and UK, there is an active advocacy community and robust academic research being conducted to ensure that food marketing does not simply slip under the radar. Good-quality evidence - of marketing impact and evaluation of regulatory approaches - is essential to drive political will for change ... With current rates of childhood obesity and the dire consequences for children's health, there is no room to be complacent," the piece concludes.

Words Really Matter When Talking to Youth About Their Weight  

Children are vulnerable targets of the body shaming and weight stigma that have become commonplace in American society. In fact, weight-based bullying is one of the most prevalent forms of bullying reported by youth. In efforts to reduce negative societal weight stigma, words matter when it comes to talking about body weight. Research shows that adults feel stigmatized and blamed when certain words are used to describe their excess body weight, and that individuals with obesity may avoid future health care if a doctor uses stigmatizing language to talk about their weight.

While this research has highlighted the importance of considering language about weight with adults, until now no studies have addressed these issues among youth. In the first systematic examination of views about weight-based language among youth, the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut found that adolescents struggling with overweight or obesity prefer neutral words such as “weight” and “body mass index” rather than “obese” or “big.” But there were gender differences in word preferences. The study was published online April 4 in the International Journal of Obesity.

“These findings highlight the importance of considering one’s choice of words when talking to youth about body size, which is especially important for doctors and other health care providers who talk to children and families about weight-related health,” said Rebecca Puhl, lead author of the study, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center, and Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at UConn.

Rudd Center in the News

Jennifer Harris, UConn Rudd Center Marketing Initiatives Director, was interviewed for a hard-hitting Reuters Health News article on energy drinks: "Potentially harmful effects of energy drinks - it's not the caffeine." Harris was quoted in the April 26 piece on the possible dangers. "The energy drink industry claims that their products are safe because they have no more caffeine than a premium coffee house coffee," Harris said. "However, energy drinks also contain a proprietary 'energy blend,' which typically consists of stimulants and other additives. Some of these ingredients (including taurine and guarana) have not been FDA-approved as safe in the food supply, and few studies have tested the effects of caffeine consumption together with these 'novelty' ingredients," she said. "On top of that, energy drinks are highly marketed to adolescent boys in ways that encourage risky behavior, including rapid and excessive consumption...As a result, emergency room visits by young people in connection with energy drinks are rising."

NBC Right Now, and UConn Today featured the study by Dr. Harris and her marketing team members on parents' attitudes about food marketing to children. "More than 60 percent (of parents surveyed) were supportive of policies to promote healthy eating for their children, in the media, schools, and communities," the NBC coverage noted in its April 19 report.

An April 20 article in Food and Wine magazine highlighted a study co-authored by Dr. Harris that linked exposure among pre-school children to fast food advertising with an increase in fast food consumption - the first study to find a link in this age group. 

Dr. Puhl was quoted extensively in an April 30 piece in The Wire about the effects of stigmatizing portrayals of individuals with obesity in the media. "We know from research that insensitive or stigmatizing news reports of obesity can increase negative societal stereotypes and stigma towards people who have obesity," Puhl told The Wire. "It's likely that when people who themselves might be struggling with weight read such reports, they are also potentially at risk for internalizing negative societal stigma and self-blame."

The Connecticut Post and other Hearst CT papers highlighted Dr. Puhl's study on youth preferences for how to spoken to about weight, and the impacts of stigmatizing language about weight. Health writer Amanda Cuda wrote the April 4 piece: Words hurt when it comes to describing weight.

UConn Rudd Center Director of Economic Initiatives Tatiana Andreyeva expressed fears that restrictions on SNAP to prohibit purchases of certain items could lead to harm for the overall food stamp program. Andreyeva was quoted in an April 10 Associated Press article, Republicans Hope Trump Amenable To Food Stamp Restrictions, that was picked up by nearly 400 media outlets with a potential readership of more than 12 million.

UConn Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz commented on a study that was featured in an NPR piece: Forcing People At Vending Machines To Wait Nudges Them To Buy Healthier Snacks.

Our Center's 2015 report showing that food advertising targeted to Hispanic and black youth likely contributes to health disparities was cited in an April 5 article in Medium, Fake Pepsi Protest in New Jenner Ad Actually Happened IRL.  

What's Simmering With Our Friends

#WellnessWins Campaign Launches

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a final rule in July 2016 to strengthen guidelines for school wellness policies, and the deadline for compliance is June 30. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the American Heart Association's Voices for Healthy Kids initiative launched a new digital campaign #WellnessWins on April 17 to highlight existing school district "wins" and inspire other districts to advance their school wellness policies. These policies can enable districts to implement healthier nutrition, physical activity, and health and physical education practices.

News to Chew On

Fate Of Philadelphia's Soda Tax In Limbo As It Faces Legal Challenge
Multnomah County voters may decide whether to tax soda, sugary beverages
Pepsi’s pulled protest ad is part of a long history of big soda exploiting black and Latino youth
WCSI (New Mexico)
Lawmakers push to end 'lunch-shaming' at schools
The San Diego Union-Tribune
They're not lovin' it: L.A. school resolution would ban McDonald's school fundraisers
As California Weighs Soda Warning Labels, Tax In Berkeley Shown To Dilute Sales
Jamie's Food Revolution
Another win for the sugary drinks tax!
Eat, Sleep, Repeat: How Kids' Daily Routines Can Help Prevent Obesity
America's Second-Largest School District Says No to McDonald's McTeacher's Nights
Santa Clara Co. supervisors ban sugary drinks from being included in fast food kids' meals