February 2014 Digest Archive


First Lady Announces New Rules on Junk Food Marketing in Schools 


First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced new wellness guidelines that will eliminate junk food and sugary drink marketing in schools. The guidelines part of a wellness policy provision under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

"The new standards ensure that schools remain a safe place where kids can learn and where the school environment promotes healthy choices," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who joined the First Lady in the announcement at the White House.

The new rules would prohibit advertisements for unhealthy foods and drinks on school campuses during the school day and ensure that all foods and beverages marketed in schools are in line with the Smart Snacks in School Standards, nutrition guidelines that are scheduled for implementation in the 2014-2015 school year. 

"The First Lady and the USDA have done a remarkable job promoting better nutrition in schools, and now the messages in the school environment will be consistent with the foods served," said Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz, PhD, who attended the announcement at the White House. "Students in school will no longer be a captive audience targeted by advertising for products that have excess sugar, salt, and fat."

This action comes after the White House Summit on Food Marketing to Children last fall in which Mrs. Obama called on the food industry and public health advocates to ensure children’s health was not undermined by marketing of unhealthy food.

Food and beverage companies currently spend nearly $150 million a year marketing mostly unhealthy products to kids in schools. "Marketing undermines parents’ efforts to keep their children healthy and also undermines nutrition education at schools," according to Carol Hazen, Rudd Center’s Director of Advocacy Resources, Food Marketing Initiative.

The announcement also included a new policy which would require that free breakfast and lunch be served universally in schools in which 40 percent or more of the children qualify for free meals. “This means that all children will have access to the school meal program, and breakfast and lunch will become part of the daily routine for the entire school," noted Dr. Schwartz. "Serving nutritous meals should be part of the educational mission of the district."

Public Health Advocates Urge Olympians to Renounce Fast Food Endorsements

Public health organizations, including the Rudd Center, recently co-signed a letter to Olympians urging them to be a role model and renounce any current or future endorsement from McDonald's.

The letter, written by Corporate Accountability International, reminds Olympians that by taking sponsorships from McDonald’s, it sends the wrong message to children. The fast food chain aggressively markets its unhealthy products to children, helping to drive an epidemic of diet-related disease.

"By aligning itself with athletes who represent the epitome of health, the fast food corporation deflects public health criticism," wrote the co-authors. "Sponsoring the Olympics and high-profile athletes enables McDonald’s to mislead people worldwide into thinking that its brand is healthy."

The letter can be viewed and signed here.

A Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages May Result in Modest Job Gains

Modest job gains in the public and private sectors would result from a 20 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. This is the first study to investigate how a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would impact the labor market.

"It’s encouraging to see that there will be net job gains as a result of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages," said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director. "This is a win-win situation for both health and employment. Research shows that a tax on these beverages would reduce high rates of obesity and related debilitating and expensive chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease."

This study focused on the impact of a tax in California and Illinois, and the researchers expect the overall results would be similar in other states. 

Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes have been proposed as a way to reduce consumption, to help prevent disease, improve health, and provide substantial funding for health-promotion efforts.

Research shows that a 20 percent increase in the price of sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., one to two cents per ounce) is estimated to reduce consumption by up to 24 percent. In addition to net job gains and significant health savings, a tax on these beverages is expected to raise over $500 million in Illinois and nearly $1 billion in California, according to the study.

Upcoming Rudd Center Seminar Speakers

March 26, 2014, 12:30 pm
Parke E. Wilde, PhD
Associate Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University
Innovations in SNAP: Merit Goods and Healthy Incentives

April 2, 2014, 12:30 pm
William R. Spencer, MD
Suffolk County Legislator
The Politics of Public Health Policy

April 9, 2014, 12:30 pm
Faith Boninger, PhD
Research Associate, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado, Boulder
Examining Trends in Schoolhouse Commercialism  

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive reminders of upcoming seminars and schedule changes.

Unless otherwise noted, seminars are held at the Rudd Center. The seminars are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. The full schedule for the Spring Seminar Series is available online and for download.  

California Lawmaker Proposes Warning Labels for Sugary Drinks

California Senator Bill Monning has introduced a bill that would require all sugary drink bottles, cans, vending machines, dispensers, and restaurateurs to display warning labels for obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act aims to protect consumers and promote informed purchasing decisions by making known the scientifically proven health risks of sugary drink consumption.

"Sugary drinks are the single largest contributor to the obesity epidemic and our research shows that young people in particular are exposed to a massive amount of marketing for these drinks," according to Roberta Friedman, ScM, Rudd Center’s Director of Public Policy. "Just like with tobacco, consumers should be informed of the health consequences of consuming these products."

Over 60 percent of California adults and nearly 40 percent of the state’s children are overweight, leading to higher incidences of diabetes and other disorders, including heart disease, cancer, and asthma. If passed, sugary drinks would join tobacco and alcohol products in carrying health warning labels in California. 

Salud America! Launches Website to Fight Latino Childhood Obesity

Salud America!, a national obesity prevention program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on Latino children, has launched a new website that presents the latest news, research, resources, stories, and videos promoting healthy living among Latino families.

The website, Salud America! Growing Healthy Change, is a first-of-its-kind clearinghouse of Latino-focused resources to promote changes - healthier marketing, improved access to healthy food, and physical activity - for Latino kids across the nation who face obesity issues.

"We believe this website is a critical tool to show the latest healthy changes for Latino kids that are popping up across the country, and also to educate and motivate people to start creating changes of their own, like opening playgrounds to the public after school hours or starting up a farmer’s market," said Amelie G. Ramirez, DrPH, Director of Salud America!. "What’s great is that you can find what changes are happening in your own backyard, or see what’s happening 1,000 miles away, and how you might be able to make that happen in your area."

Recent Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Proposals
City of San Francisco

San Francisco supervisors plan to place a tax of two center per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages on the November 2014 ballot.  Read more.

City of Berkeley
Berkeley officials recently took steps to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Read more.

State of Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut Mayor Toni Harp encouraged the state to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce obesity and raise revenue. Read more.

State of Illinois
Chicago Senator Mattie Hunter has proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as part of an effort to promote healthy living. Read more.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Health Interventions can Boost Students’ Health and Academic Achievement 

A strong relationship exists between student health and academic achievement, according to researchers at Yale University. The study suggests that school, home, and community environments that promote student health will also lay the groundwork for higher levels of achievement. The study is published online in the January issue of the Journal of School Health.

The study examines the relationship between a variety of health factors and students’ standardized test scores. The most important predictors of academic achievement included having no television in the bedroom, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically fit, being food secure, and rarely eating at fast-food restaurants. Other significant factors included not drinking sweetened drinks and getting enough sleep.

Researchers used physical assessments, fitness testing, surveys, and district test score records to gather data on the health and achievement of 940 students. The students surveyed were 5th and 6th graders at twelve randomly selected public schools in New Haven, Connecticut, an ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged, urban area. Data were collected 3-6 months prior to testing and analyzed after the standardized test scores were released.

Students with more health assets were more likely to be at goal for standardized tests in reading, writing, and mathematics. Students with the most health assets were twice as likely to achieve goal compared with students with the fewest health assets.

The authors assert that creative approaches which integrate curricular and non-curricular school-wide efforts to promote healthy behaviors among all students are worth the investment. 

“Many urban families sadly face the harsh challenges of persistent poverty,” said Jeannette Ickovics, PhD, lead author and Professor of Epidemiology and Psychology at Yale University, and Director of the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, a program of the Yale School of Public Health. "Health and social disparities, including academic achievement, are increasing. One way to reduce disparities and close the equity gaps in health and education is to coordinate community-and family-based efforts with comprehensive school-based approaches."

Authors include Jeannette R. Ickovics, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Director, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Director, CARE, Yale University; Amy Carroll-Scott, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, Department of Community Health & Prevention, Drexel University; Susan M. Peters, APRN, MPH, Director of Coordinated School Health for New Haven Public Schools; Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Director, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University; Kathryn Gilstad-Hayden, MS, Data Manager, CARE, Yale University; Catherine McCaslin, PhD, Director, Department of Research, Assessment, and Student Information, New Haven Public Schools.  

Using Optimal Defaults to Prevent Pediatric Obesity 

Over the past 30 years there has been a 300 percent rise in pediatric obesity in the U.S., burdening the health care system and putting children’s health at risk. Researchers have recently been shifting the emphasis from treatment of already obese children to prevention and policy-level changes.

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Food & Nutritional Disorders, researchers assert that optimal defaults can be applied to prevent pediatric obesity. The term "optimal defaults" refers to offering pre-selected, healthier choices which are designed to produce a desired behavior change.

According to the authors, the concept is attractive to policymakers because it steers people toward desirable behaviors while preserving free choice. People can opt out of the healthy alternative by asking specifically for a less-healthy one.

In the current paper the authors discuss how optimal defaults can be applied to pediatric obesity prevention in several domains including public policy, and the institutional, private sector, and home environments. While the authors conclude that there are obstacles to overcome in implementing optimal defaults, it is a promising part of a multi-level strategy for preventing pediatric obesity.

Authors include Cynthia Radnitz, PhD, Professor of Psychology, School of Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Katharine L. Loeb, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Director, PhD Program in Clinical Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Julie DiMatteo, MA, PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Kathleen L. Keller, PhD, Assistant Professor Department of Nutritional Sciences and Department of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University; Nancy Zucker, PhD, Director, Duke Center for Eating Disorders; and Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director.

Policy and System Changes in Food Marketing to Children 

Rudd Center Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD, recently participated in a roundtable discussion with experts in policy, nutrition, and pediatrics to discuss food marketing to children.

"The current marketing of kids' food in the US is not acceptable on two fronts," said Dr. Schwartz, during the discussion. "One is that the sheer volume of marketing is a huge problem because kids are being exposed to multiple messages every day to eat foods that their parents may not want them to eat. The second reason is that the research has shown, very clearly, that the foods marketed to kids are the least healthy foods in that category." 

The experts spoke with the Editor-in-Chief of Childhood Obesity about how to accelerate progress in regulating food marketing and reduce advertising of unhealthy foods to children.

The panelists were David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, Director, Yale Prevention Research Center; Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultant; Francine R. Kaufman, MD, Head, Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director; and Margo G. Wootan, DSc, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.  

Addressing Weight Bias in Medical Training  

Rudd Center research shows that weight bias has been documented not only in the workplace, educational institutions, and the media, but also in the healthcare setting.

In an article recently published in MedScape, Rudd Center's Deputy Director, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, discusses research demonstrating weight bias among medical students and trainees in professional health disciplines, the effects weight bias has on patients, and strategies to reduce weight bias in medical training.     

What’s a Parent to Do? Rudd Center blogs in Psychology Today about Food Marketing to Children 

Parents face many challenges when it comes to protecting their children from harmful food marketing. Yet Rudd Center research shows that most Americans—including most parents—believe that parents are responsible for protecting their children from harmful influences in the media.

According to Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives, “it makes no business sense for food and beverage companies to spend $1.8 billion every year in marketing specifically targeted to children and adolescents if they honestly believe that parents make all the food choices for their children."

In Harris’ recent blog in Psychology Today, she asserts that there is a common belief that children can be “inoculated” against the effects of advertising by teaching media literacy in schools. However, she states, there is no evidence that understanding the motives behind food advertising actually reduces its effects on children’s food preferences. 

According to Harris, research shows that media literacy can increase children’s skepticism about food advertising but evidence also shows that greater skepticism does not reduce the effectiveness of food advertising.

"It’s good business for advertisers who target children to deflect criticism by saying they have no role in shaping kids’ tastes and desires—and blaming parents for poor parenting," said Harris. She adds that it is in their best interests to support initiatives—such as media literacy and promoting physical activity—that place the onus on the individual to resist unwanted influence.