May 2014 Digest Archive

Guidelines Released for Media Portrayals of Individuals Affected by Obesity 

Rudd Center Image Gallery

In collaboration with the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) and The Obesity Society (TOS), the Rudd Center recently released newly drafted guidelines to educate media representatives on how to appropriately discuss the disease of obesity in the media.

According to Rudd Center research, the media is an especially pervasive source of stigmatization of people with obesity. Photographs and videos tend to portray individuals with obesity as headless, from unflattering angles (e.g. with only their abdomens or lower bodies shown), and engaging in stereotypically negative behaviors (e.g. eating unhealthy foods or being sedentary). These images degrade and dehumanize obese individuals, spread false assumptions, and oversimplify the complex issue of obesity.

The guidelines recommend practices such as conducting balanced coverage, using people-first language to describe individuals with obesity, selecting appropriate imagery, and avoiding weight-based stereotypes.  

"Considerable evidence shows that the media often reinforces negative weight-based stereotypes, perpetuating societal bias towards children and adults affected by obesity," said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director. "These new media guidelines offer multiple strategies to promote appropriate, non-stigmatizing reporting of obesity, and call upon media representatives to give careful consideration to language and images used to report it."  

In addition to the media guidelines, the Rudd Center offers a free media gallery to aid journalists, photo editors, bloggers, advertisers and others in the creation and delivery of fair, unbiased coverage of obesity and weight-related topics on television, in print, and online.  

Legislation Introduced to End Taxpayer Subsidy of Junk Food Marketing to Children

Senators Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Tom Harkin (IA) have recently introduced legislation that would close a loophole that allows companies to claim a tax deduction for marketing unhealthy food and beverages to children.

Under the current federal tax code, companies are able to deduct marketing and advertising expenses from their income taxes, including those for marketing junk food to children.  

The Stop Subsidizing Childhood Obesity Act of 2014 would require that money generated by the elimination of the tax subsidy be directed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which serves elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods.

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

Rudd Center Staff Participates in American Heart Association’s Heart Walk  

Rudd at Heart Walk

Rudd Center staff recently participated in the American Heart Association’s Greater New Haven Heart Walk and raised nearly $1,400 to help fund the research, education, and advocacy efforts of the Association. The Heart Walk is the Association's premiere event for raising funds to decrease heart disease and stroke.

Pictured left to right: Maggie Steele, Megan LoDolce, Renee Gross, and Jennifer Harris 

Women Face Significant Weight Related Bullying and Discrimination 

Weight related bullying and discrimination are significant problems faced by women today, according to a recent opinion poll by SheByShe, a site dedicated to sharing what women think about important issues.

SheByShe conducted an online survey of over 700 women ages 25-64 years old. The sample included married and single women, working and non-working women, and women with varying income levels.

Over half of the women who participated in the survey said they have been the victims of weight-related bullying at least once in their lives. Most of the bullying was related to being overweight, although nearly 25 percent said incidents happened because they were underweight.

The survey also revealed that much of the bullying occurred while they were children or teenagers and the bullies were most commonly other children, teenagers, or family members. The women asserted that the treatment caused lifelong emotional and physical harm.

In addition, 15 percent of survey respondents suffered from weight-related discrimination or prejudice. Most of these incidents involved not receiving job offers despite being well qualified, or not receiving deserved promotions.

"These survey results are all too familiar; unfortunately women are highly vulnerable to bullying and discrimination because of their weight," said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director. "No one should suffer from this kind of treatment and, as these stories show, weight-based victimization and bullying have a lasting and damaging impact. We need to continue to shine a light on this prevalent problem and increase efforts to eliminate weight bias."

The Rudd Center offers information and resources on weight related bullying and discrimination.

Impact of Eliminating Sugar-Sweetened Beverages from SNAP Benefits 

Currently, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can use their benefits to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages. Some policy makers and public health advocates have proposed banning the use of federal SNAP dollars for purchasing these drinks.

According to a report by the Illinois Public Health Institute, if such a restriction were put in place, SNAP participants might continue to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages using their own money, rather than SNAP benefits, 

The report concludes that any efforts to ban or reduce purchase of sugar-sweetened beverages using SNAP benefits should be coupled with nutrition education and incentives to purchase healthy items such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

The report also points out that a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages in the SNAP program unfairly singles out low-income people, though sugary beverage consumption is a society-wide problem. To avoid this stigma, the authors suggest considering broader policies, such as taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, or removing them from schools.  

Kids’ Cereals Contain 40 Percent More Sugar than Adult Cereals 

Sugary Cereal

Eating a bowl of kids’ cereal every day would amount to eating 10 pounds of sugar a year, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The report covers more than 1,500 cereals, including 181 marketed to children. The report is a follow up to the group’s 2011 report, Sugar in Children’s Cereals.

On average, children’s cereals have more than 40 percent more sugar than adult cereals, according to the report. The average "serving" – an unrealistically small amount, in most cases – had nearly as much sugar as three Chips Ahoy! cookies, claim the authors.  

"When you exclude obviously sugar-heavy foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, soft and fruit drinks, breakfast cereals are the single greatest source of added sugars in the diets of children under the age of eight," said nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the organization’s new report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound. "Cereals that pack in as much sugar as junk food should not be considered part of a healthy breakfast or diet. Kids already eat two to three times the amount of sugar experts recommend."

According to the Rudd Center’s Cereal FACTS 2012 report, child-targeted cereals have 56 percent more sugar, half as much fiber, and 50 percent more sodium than those products marketed to adults. "Children get one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonsful of cereal," said Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, lead author of the report and Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives. "These products are not nutritious options that children should consume every day."

The EWG is urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to update its cereal serving size regulations to reflect current consumption data. Researchers estimate that the average person eats 30 percent more than the serving size given on the boxes of the most common cereals.

Costs and Benefits of Allowing Marketing in Schools 

Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives, recently blogged in Psychology Today about the costs and benefits of allowing marketing in schools. According to Harris, benefits exist, but mostly in the form of marketing wins for food companies.

Schools actually do not get much money from allowing food companies access to kids, asserts Harris. She cites one study showing that vending contracts brought in $2 to $4 per student per year. Another study found that two-thirds of branded fundraisers brought in no money at all.  

Harris writes that in exchange for these paltry (or nonexistent) sums, food companies get unrestricted opportunities to shape the brand and buying preferences of children. And because this marketing takes place in schools, kids perceive the implicit approval of these brands (usually junk food) by their teachers and school administration.  

Ultimately, food marketing in schools is a great deal for food companies, but not so great for kids’ lifelong health.  

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Families on Food Assistance are Purchasing more Fruits and Vegetables 

Efforts are paying off to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables among women and young children receiving food assistance, according to a study recently published by the Rudd Center in Public Health Nutrition.

Purchases of fruits and vegetables have increased among families participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) after revisions were implemented in 2009 to offer foods that better reflect dietary recommendations for Americans. 

The WIC program is designed to help meet the nutritional needs of pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and young children who are at nutritional risk. Prior to the WIC food package revisions, participants received no benefits to purchase fruit, with the exception of 100 percent fruit juice. Vegetables were limited to dried beans, peas, and, for breastfeeding women only, canned or fresh carrots. After the revisions, financial incentives were provided to families for purchasing fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables.

This is the first study to measure the success of the new WIC fruit and vegetable benefits are in incentivizing these purchases among WIC participants. 

Rudd Center researchers examined fruit and vegetable purchases made at a New England supermarket chain by households participating in WIC over a two-year period. Fruit and vegetable spending and volume purchased by these households were compared before and after the WIC revisions. 

Purchases of fresh vegetables increased by nearly 18 percent, and purchases of frozen vegetables increased by nearly 28 percent. The biggest improvements were for fresh fruit, with an increase of almost 29 percent, adding over 2 pounds of fresh fruit per household per month. 

The authors assert that similar results from food policy changes have been seen for other products. A study published in the journal Pediatrics examined juice purchases after the WIC revisions and found that participants purchased less juice. WIC participants also bought fewer full-fat dairy products after the revisions, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A study recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that purchases of 100 percent whole-grain bread and brown rice increased among WIC participants after the package revisions.

"Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in low-income women and young children was one of the key goals in revising the WIC food package," says Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, lead author and Rudd Center’s Director of Economic Initiatives. "This study shows that the revisions were successful and necessary, given the inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption in vulnerable populations."

The study was funded by a grant from the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Stigma Hinders Weight Loss and Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors 

"Obesity stigma contributes to unhealthy behaviors, interferes with weight-loss efforts, and reinforces obesity," reports Rudd Center’s Deputy Director, Rebecca Puhl, PhD, in a recent article in Medscape. According to Puhl, despite consensus that disease stigma undermines public health, this principle has primarily been ignored in efforts to address obesity. There is even a public perception that stigmatizing people with overweight or obesity might help get them to lose weight and improve their health. However, Puhl asserts that instead of motivating people, weight stigma stigma does just the opposite.

"To effectively prevent and treat obesity, the evidence points to the importance of recognizing the barriers that weight stigma creates in these efforts, and implementing strategies to reduce this harmful stigma," writes Puhl.  

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Faith Boninger, PhD
Research Associate, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado Boulder
Examining Trends in Schoolhouse Commercialism

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes.