June 2014 Digest Archive

New York Court of Appeals Fails to Reinstate Sugary Drink Size Limit 

The New York Court of Appeals has ruled that New York City’s health department "exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority" when it adopted the Sugary Drink Portion Cap Rule, an initiative aimed to limit the sales of soda and other "sugary drinks" in sizes larger than 16 ounces.

"The research is clear: sugary drinks lead to diabetes, and skyrocketing rates of diabetes are going to bankrupt our healthcare system," according to Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director. "The government and private industry must continue to do everything possible to educate the public and decrease consumption of these harmful beverages. This decision is disappointing, but those of us who care about the public’s health will continue our efforts to help people stop drinking so much sugar."

"Today’s ruling does not change the fact that sugary drink consumption is a key driver of the obesity epidemic, and we will continue to look for ways to stem the twin epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes by seeking to limit the pernicious effects of aggressive and predatory marketing of sugary drinks and unhealthy foods," said Health Commissioner Mary T. Basset, MD, MPH, in a statement.

The CDC reports that the average soda is six times larger today than it was in the 1950s, and that Americans are on average 26 pounds heavier than they were in the ‘50s. The Rudd Center's Sugary Drink FACTS report documents that these beverages are the greatest source of added sugars in the American diet and the number one source of calories in teens' diets.  

Trends in Television Food Advertising to Young People 

TV Child

The food industry's self-regulatory program, the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), has not resulted in reductions in the total number of food-related TV ads viewed by children under 12, according to a recent Rudd Report, "Trends in Television Food Advertising to Young People." The report also highlights how the majority of foods advertised to children and adolescents continues to be for unhealthy products.  

The report measured child and adolescent exposure to food and beverage advertising on TV beginning in 2007, the first full year that CFBAI pledges were in effect. The report found that: 

• Since 2007, the year that CFBAI pledges went into effect, ads viewed by children increased by 8%, averaging 13.1 ads per day in 2013.
• Companies have stepped up advertising to adolescents, an older, but still vulnerable, group of children. In 2013, adolescents viewed on average 16.5 food ads per day on TV, an increase of 25% compared to 2007.
• Fast food restaurants remained the most advertised category, representing approximately one quarter of food ads viewed by young people.
• From 2007 to 2013 candy advertising to children doubled and candy advertising to adolescents increased by 2.7 times.
• Children and adolescents saw the fewest ads for primarily healthy categories of food, including bottled water and fruits and vegetables. Advertising for these products declined from 2011 to 2013.  

Despite their promises, the food industry has failed to make meaningful improvements in the amount and types of products advertised to young people on TV overall, assert the authors.

The report is co-authored by Cathryn R. Dembek, MBA, Rudd Center Research Associate; Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives; and Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director.  

Rudd Center Releases Sugary Drink Tax Animation 

Sugary Drink Video

Taxes on sugary drinks can improve the nation’s diet and raise much-needed revenue for health programs. However, the beverage industry opposes soda taxes and are spending millions of dollars undermining efforts to pass a tax.

Created as a tool for public health advocates, the Rudd Center’s latest animation questions why the industry puts so much effort into trying to stop a soda tax while claiming it will not work to decrease consumption.

The video was released in conjunction with the 2014 National Soda Summit at which public health advocates, researchers, and policy makers gathered to discuss reducing the harms of sugary beverage consumption.  

Report Documents Copycat Snacks in Schools 

All foods sold outside of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), such as food from vending machines and school stores, will have to meet the United States Department of Agriculture’s "Smart Snacks" nutrition criteria beginning July 1, 2014. "Smart Snacks," which is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, will limit the calories, fat, sugar, and sodium of these foods.

According to a recent report by the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), major food companies like PepsiCo are producing reformulated versions of popular junk foods like Cheetos® and Doritos® that meet the Smart Snacks criteria, but use the same brand names, logos and characters as those used to market regular junk food.

The authors assert that these copycat snacks are not widely available for purchase outside of schools and are clearly designed to co-market traditional junk food to children in school.

In a recent video and article in The New York Times, Michael Moss describes how food companies are trying to stay ahead of USDA’s rules when it comes to marketing junk food in schools. “Companies like Domino’s are making more healthful versions of their food to sell in schools, prompting concerns about the use of brands in the school lunch line,” according to Moss.

PHAI’s issue brief describes copycat snacks, how they undermine nutrition education efforts, and what can be done to stop the sale and marketing of these products in schools.  

Taxing Calories in Sugar-Sweetened Beverages May Reduce Consumption of Beverage Calories 

A .04 cent per-calorie tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce consumption by 5,800 calories per person annually and could do so at a lower cost to consumers than an ounce-based tax, according to a study published online by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

"This study adds yet more evidence that changing beverage prices is an effective way to shift calorie consumption from sugary drinks," according to Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center’s Director. "As taxes around the country are enacted - based on ounces, calories, or grams of sugar - researchers will be able to study how each works. The take home message from this study is that a variety of pricing strategies can be used to incentivize healthier choices. The worst thing we can do is leave things the way they are."

Compared with a hypothetical ounce-based tax that also achieves a 5,800 calorie reduction, the 0.04 cent tax is estimated to save consumers $736 million per year nationwide. This estimation does not take into account the possible response from the beverage and grocery retail industries that could offset potential consumer savings.

The authors assert that these findings demonstrate how a variety of pricing strategies can be used to incentivize healthier choices by consumers.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the study through its Healthy Eating Research national program.  

Students Discuss Influence of Food Marketing for Final Project 

As part of their capstone project, fifth grade students from Charter Oak Academy in West Hartford, CT discussed how influential food marketing is to young people. The project included creating a video in a gameshow format to discuss advertising to youth.  

Food marketing to children and adolescents is a major public health concern. The food industry spends approximately $2 billion per year in the U.S. on marketing targeted to young people. The overwhelming majority of ads are for unhealthy products, high in calories, sugar, fat, and/or sodium. 

Anti-Defamation League Adds Weight Bias to Curriculum 

The Anti-Defamation League recently included a lesson called What Is Weight Bias to their Current Events Classroom curriculum. Through videos, readings, and group discussions, this middle school lesson provides an opportunity for students to discuss and define weight bias, identify stereotypes about overweight and obese people, and explore what can be done about weight bias in their classroom, school, and society at large.

CDC Reports a Decrease in Soda Consumption among Youth

Soda consumption among youth decreased from 2007 to 2013, according to results from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The System monitors a number of categories of health-risk behaviors among youth and young adults, including alcohol and drug use, sexual behavior, diet, and physical activity.

An 86-question survey was administered to over 13,000 students from a variety of backgrounds (large urban public school districts, private schools, small schools, etc.) to produce a nationally representative sample.

"This is good news," said Rudd Center Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD. "It indicates that we are heading in the right direction. The fact that older kids drank less than younger kids may mean that as students get older and hear the messages about the dangers of soda, they are more likely to change their behaviors."

Schwartz also said that efforts to remove sodas from high schools may be paying off. "Connecticut has some of the lowest rates of soda consumption in the country," said Schwartz. "This could be because Connecticut passed a law in 2006 to remove all sugary beverages from schools."

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Experts and the Public Support Strategies to Fight Eating Disorders, Weight Stigma 

Despite the prevalence and health consequences of eating disorders and weight-related bullying and discrimination, policy actions to address these problems are currently limited. However, there is significant support among American adults and experts in eating disorders for a range of policy initiatives to address these issues, according to a study published by the Rudd Center.  The study is published online in BMC Public Health.

Researchers surveyed 944 adults and 1,420 members of professional organizations that specialize in eating disorders. Researchers examined support in both groups for 23 potential policy strategies that would help prevent and reduce eating disorders and weight stigma in diverse settings, including schools, healthcare, and the media. Participants also rated policy initiatives according to the impact they thought the policies would have and how feasible they would be to implement.

Among the adults, the majority of participants expressed support for 20 out of the 23 policy actions, with the most support (83%) for anti-bullying policies that protect youth from weight-based bullying. Also getting significant support were policies to implement prevention and training programs for health care providers (79%), schools (77%), and sports coaches (71%) on the early identification of eating disorders.

Among experts from the eating disorders field, more than two-thirds of participants expressed support for 21 of the 23 policy actions. This group was highly supportive of actions to address eating disorders in schools (95%), health care settings (99%), and the media (90%), as well as policy and legal measures to address weight-based bullying and discrimination (74%-94%).

Policies generating the least public support among both participant groups were those requiring schools to measure and report students’ body weight.

Policy measures to address and prevent eating disorders and weight stigma among youth in the school setting were selected by the majority of participants as having the highest potential impact and feasibility.

The authors assert that with increasing national attention to youth bullying and to improving standards for nutrition and wellness in schools, this may be a good time to incorporate such policies into school-based wellness and anti-bullying policies.

"These findings suggest that there is consensus about the socio-cultural forces in our environment that contribute to eating disorders and weight stigmatization, and the need for both health and social policy measures to address aspects of our environment that contribute to these problems," said lead author Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center.

"We were surprised at the high level of support for actions aimed at reducing eating disorders and weight stigmatization among the general public," said Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "Findings clearly indicate the need for immediate and widespread educational and policy actions aimed at reducing risk factors for both eating disorders and weight stigmatization, such as weight-related bullying."

Authors include Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center; Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD, University of Minnesota School of Public Health; and S. Bryn Austin, ScD, Harvard School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital.