July 2014 Digest Archive

Healthier Versions of Lunchables Outnumbered and Out of Reach 

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When Kraft Foods joined the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) in 2006, it committed to advertise only healthier dietary choices, including some varieties of Lunchables, directly to children.

However, a recent report by the Rudd Center examined the nutritional quality and marketing of Kraft Lunchables and found that just five out of 42 varieties meet CFBAI’s nutrition standards for advertising to children. In the supermarket, less nutritious versions of Lunchables outnumber the healthier ones by six to one, and the healthier varieties are most likely to be stocked on the top shelf, above eye level for both children and adults.

In response to the report’s findings, the Rudd Center and the Food Marketing Workgroup recently sent a letter to Kraft asking the company to:  

• Adopt a comprehensive policy on brand advertising and marketing;

• Update Kraft’s food marketing policy to cover in-store and on-package marketing; and

• Extend Kraft’s marketing policy to cover children ages 12 to 14.  

Brand marketing, in-store and on-package marketing, and the exclusion of children ages 12 to 14 as part of company marketing policies, are key weaknesses of self-regulation that the Food Marketing Workgroup has been pushing to strengthen.

In addition to sending a letter to Kraft, the Food Marketing Workgroup launched a social media campaign urging followers to share information on how Kraft baits parents by advertising a few healthy brands on TV, then hides those brands on store shelves among 37 unhealthy varieties containing cookies, sugary drinks, and fruit snacks.

Howard County’s School Wellness Policy Gets Top National Ranking 

Howard County, Maryland's school wellness policy ranked among the best in the nation, according to the Rudd Center’s Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT). The WellSAT assesses the comprehensiveness and strength of nutrition education and promotion, physical activity/physical education, school meals, and competitive foods in school districts’ local wellness policies.

Howard County Board of Education’s policy was awarded an overall grade of "A" and earned a "B" for effectiveness of enforcement. The policy scored highest for its school meal plans and programs, vending machine offerings, and evaluation measures, all of which earned a perfect 100 percent overall. Physical education and activity earned an 86 on the comprehensive score and 57 for enforcement.

"The Howard County school wellness policy is one of the very best I've seen," said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center’s Director. "The nutrition sections in particular should serve as a model for other districts around the country."

The policy, which aims to promote the health of Howard County’s nearly 52,000 students, was assessed for the Horizon Foundation, a Howard County philanthropy focused on public health.  

Rudd Center’s Deputy Director is Keynote Speaker for ObesityWeek 

Rudd Center’s Deputy Director, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, will be the Integrated Health Keynote Speaker for ObesityWeek, an international event focused on the basic science, clinical application, and prevention of, and surgical intervention on obesity.

Hosted by The Obesity Society and The American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, ObesityWeek brings together world-renowned experts in obesity to share the latest innovations and breakthroughs in science.

ObesityWeek will be held on November 2-7, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.  

Pledge to Reduce Children’s Intake of Sugary Drinks in Your Community 

PreventObesity.net is asking people to take action to reduce sugary drink consumption among children by pledging to make a change in their community – such as getting faith-based organizations to agree to cut soda and other sugary drinks out of gatherings, petitioning local government to replace broken water fountains in parks, or bringing sugar-free drinks to a community event. What will you do to give your community a sweeter summer with fewer sugary drinks? Pledges will be displayed on PreventObesity’s website.

Students Adjust to Healthier School Meals 

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated nutrition standards for school meals went into effect in 2012, many students complained about the healthier lunches. However, according to two national surveys of school administrations, the majority of students liked the new meals to some extent by the end of the 2012 school year.

The surveys were conducted by Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and are the first to examine students’ reactions to the updated meal standards.

"I am thrilled to see scientific research that tells us how the transition to healthier school lunches is really going,” according to Rudd Center’s Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD. "Everyone knows that change takes time, so these early findings are extremely encouraging. These data are consistent with our work in schools, where we see food service directors doing an excellent job implementing the new standards, and students accepting the new lunches."

The authors assert that the positive reactions among students to the updated standards indicate that the standards are a promising strategy to improve the diets of children and adolescents. They also urge policymakers to continue to assist schools with implementation of the standards.  

Public Policies Contribute to Positive Restaurant Changes 

The Centers for Disease Control recently released a report of a study conducted by Stanford University which examined the effects of San Francisco’s 2010 Healthy Food Incentive Ordinance, which prohibited the free distribution of toys with less healthy meals.

Researchers examined restaurant response as well as purchase data from McDonald’s and Burger King fast food chains before and after a restriction on the use of free toys in children’s meals went into effect. The restaurants responded by selling the toys for an additional 10 cents with the purchase of the happy meal.

Changes in children’s meals were also observed, specifically reduction in calories, sodium, and fat, due to a switch to more healthful sides. These changes did not appear to impact the number of children who selected the children’s meal.

The researchers concluded that the wording of an ordinance is important, saying that restaurants could basically bypass the intent of the ordinance by offering the toys for ten cents.

The authors noted that while improvements were not directly attributable to this specific ordinance, public policies can play a role in improving diets, especially by pressuring restaurants to provide more healthful default menu items.

The report is published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Using Appropriate Language to Discuss Obesity 

The language that is used to discuss obesity can either promote or reduce weight bias and stigmatization, according to Rudd Center research. In a recent article in Medscape, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, discusses what measures healthcare professionals should take to avoid language that contributes to the already well-established weight bias in healthcare settings.

"Well-meaning healthcare providers can unintentionally stigmatize their patients with the language they use to talk about obesity," according to Puhl.

Puhl suggests that healthcare professionals use people-first language in the context of obesity (that is, "a person with obesity" rather than "an obese person"). In this way, individuals are not defined by their diagnosis and treated with more dignity and respect as they face both societal and medical challenges related to their health, asserts Puhl.