Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
The Rudd Center Health Digest

February 2011

Food Industry Preempts Government’s Labeling Plan

The food and beverage industry soon will begin displaying nutrition information on the front label of packages, according to recent announcements by two industry trade groups, the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

The industry’s “Nutrition Keys” labeling system will use symbols to indicate calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium for a single serving of a product. To the right of these four nutrients will be the content of up to two “nutrients to encourage” in a healthy diet. They include potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. New packages from participating companies will appear on shelves within the next few months.

Some observers speculate that the industry is trying to preempt the federal government’s recommendations for front-of-package labeling. The Institute of Medicine and U.S. Food and Drug Administration are expected to release their recommendations in the near future. The industry’s system does not indicate whether a product is high or low in an unhealthy nutrient, like the United Kingdom’s “Traffic Light” system.

A past attempt by the industry to provide nutrition content failed. In the “Smart Choices” program, packages included symbols indicating that products such as Froot Loops met the industry’s nutrition criteria. The program was pulled following an investigation by the Connecticut Attorney General and the FDA. (The authority of attorneys general in food policy is analyzed in a recent paper by Rudd Center faculty.)

New Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The federal government’s recently released “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010” follow Michael Pollan’s mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” It recommends eating smaller portions and to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, resulting in a calorie-balanced and nutrient-dense diet.

Released every 5 years, the guidelines on healthy eating are set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services for Americans age 2 and up. They are used by policy makers, the food and beverage industry, and nutritionists and help to create uniformity in federal nutrition policy, education, and food assistance programs.

The report recommends a reduction in sugar-sweetened beverages. It states that soda, energy, and sports drinks are the number one source of added sugar for Americans. Sugar-sweetened beverages provide no additional nutrients and may be consumed in place of nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

A new chapter discusses changes that should be made to the food environment to create opportunities for healthy eating behaviors. Strategies include:

  • “Initiate partnerships with food producers, suppliers, and retailers to promote the development and availability of appropriate portions of affordable, nutritious food products.”
  • “Develop legislation, policies, and systems in key sectors such as public health, health care, retail, school foodservice… to prevent and reduce obesity.”
  • “Ensure that all meals and snacks sold and served in schools and childcare and early childhood settings are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.”
  • “Develop and support effective policies to limit food and beverage marketing to children.”

Consumer-friendly resources, including an update to the previous Food Pyramid, have not yet been announced.

Wal-Mart Gets Healthier

Wal-Mart, the country’s largest food seller, recently announced its plan to reformulate its food products to make them healthier. The change is aimed at improving the nation’s diet and pushing its suppliers to follow suit. During the next five years, the company promises to reduce the sodium in its store-brand packaged foods by 25%, cut added sugars by 10%, and remove trans fats entirely. Wal-Mart also plans to drop prices on produce, establish stores in low-income neighborhoods, and develop branding for healthier items.

Some observers question whether Wal-Mart’s move is a sincere effort to improve the nation’s health or an attempt to build its image. However, this initiative could benefit millions and set a new standard in the food supply industry, according to Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director.

“Food companies have systematically trained Americans to eat in perverse ways. We now expect extreme levels of sweetness, fattiness, and saltiness in our foods,” said Dr. Brownell. “Wal-Mart is a major client of this industry and therefore has great leverage. By changing its own products it creates a model for others to change theirs.”

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

February 16, 12:30 pm
Timothy Cipriano
Executive Director of Food Services, New Haven Public Schools
New Haven School Food: Thinking Outside the Lunch Box

February 23, 12:30 pm
Eric Mar
Supervisor, San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Creating Access to Healthier Meal Options

March 2, 12:30 pm
Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH
President and Chief Executive Officer, Legacy
Lessons Learned from the Tobacco Wars

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 our Spring Seminar Series is available online and for download.

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

USDA Releases New School Meal Guidelines

As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently published a proposal to update the nutrition requirements for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

Based on recommendations released by the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine in October 2009, the proposed meal requirements will raise standards for the first time in 15 years and include:

  • Establishing calorie limits.
  • Cutting salt in half over the next 10 years.
  • Banning most trans fats.
  • Adding more fruits and vegetables.
  • Serving only low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Increasing the amount of whole grains.
  • Including grains and proteins in breakfast meals.

While the proposal is a step in the right direction, only nominal limits will be placed on sugar and flavored skim milk will be allowed.

It may take several years for enforcement to occur. Comments on the new standards can be submitted through April 13.

Legislation Database Available

As the 2011 legislative session begins, stay up-to-date on food policy and obesity legislation with the Rudd Center’s Legislation Database, a resource for researchers, policymakers, and community members.

The database features a comprehensive search for legislation filed by Congress, states, and select cities and counties. You will find the full text of bills, their current status, and sponsorship information. You can search for legislation by issue, including sugar-sweetened beverage taxes and school nutrition. Bill status is monitored and the database is updated regularly. Legislation from 2009 to 2010 is available in the Legislation Database Archive.

Since the new legislative session began in January, 133 bills related to obesity and food policy have been introduced in 31 states and the U.S. House of Representatives. Eight states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia – have introduced bills to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Eric Mar

MarEric Mar will discuss how to increase access to healthier meals on February 23 as part of the Rudd Center’s Spring Seminar Series.

Elected in 2008 to represent the Richmond District in San Francisco, Supervisor Mar is a dedicated and responsive advocate for working families, youth, seniors, small businesses, and residents. He recently led the effort to enact the Healthy Meal Ordinance in San Francisco. The legislation forbids restaurants from selling toys with meals that do not meet nutritional requirements set by the city’s Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Mar served as Commissioner and President of the San Francisco Board of Education, Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party's Central Committee, and Director of the Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights.

He is a former Professor at San Francisco State University and a longtime social justice activist. As a public interest attorney, he served on the Human Rights Committee of the State Bar of California and the Civil Rights Committee of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Advancing Public Health Obesity Policy Through State Attorneys General

The obesity crisis can only be reversed with combined efforts of government officials, stakeholders, and local organizations. While attorneys general have a broad range of powers that can influence obesity and food policy, they can be more deeply involved in formulating and crafting solutions for this public health problem. Attorneys general can make significant contributions to obesity and food policy by using their vast authority to protect and educate consumers, generate and support regulation, partner with other states and the federal government, and create innovative solutions. The paper, recently published online in American Journal of Public Health, was cowritten by the Rudd Center’s Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Director of Legal Initiatives, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Director.


Move over Meat

The Meatless Monday initiative has another partner at its lunch table. International food service company Sodexo now offers meatless options to its hospital clients and has made menus, tools, and information packets available to its government and corporate clients. School and university clients will be included in this initiative in the fall. Sodexo serves 10 million people in North America each day.

Meatless Mondays was launched in 2003 by The Monday Campaigns, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. The initiative promotes plant-based meals, which are associated with lower rates of obesity and other chronic diseases.

Watch a Demonstration of the Wellness School Assessment Tool (WellSAT)

The WellSAT assesses the comprehensiveness and strength of school districts’ local wellness policies in nutrition education and promotion, physical activity/physical education, school meals, and competitive foods. It is the first instrument of its kind, providing a quantitative assessment that can be used to track progress over time.

Watch the four-part demonstration of the tool by the Rudd Center’s Deputy Director, Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Matthew L. Myers
President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Lessons from the Effort to Reduce Tobacco Use

Brian Wansink, PhD
John Dyson Endowed Chair, Applied Economics and Management Department, Cornell University; Director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine section, or can be subscribed to through an RSS Feed that automatically updates when new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.

Front Burner News

Post Cuts Sugar in Cereals


Following the lead of other food manufacturers such as Kellogg’s and General Mills, Post Foods will reduce the amount of sugar in its cereals. Read more.

New Anti-Sugary Drink Ad from NYC Health Department

In a continuing effort to educate citizens about the potentially serious health effects of consuming sugary drinks, the NYC Health Department launched the latest installment – a new TV commercial and subway posters – of its “Pouring on the Pounds” health education campaign. Read more.

U.K. Pays Residents to Get Healthy

The British government recently announced it will use financial incentives to encourage healthy behaviors. For instance, it plans to give vouchers to five million families to swap junk food for fruits and vegetables. Read more.

Genetics Don’t Determine Health

Little correlation exists between obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and genes, according to a review recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Health is the dynamic interplay of the environment interacting with our genes. Read more.

Taco Bell Sued over Meat

Fast food restaurant Taco Bell faces a class action lawsuit claiming the chain’s beef is made of “non-meat substances,” which does not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for beef. Read more.

Los Angeles Bans New Fast Food Restaurants

Los Angeles is banning new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a section of the city that has significantly higher rates of poverty and obesity than other neighborhoods. Read more.

Race a Factor in Obesity Counseling

Doctors are more likely to give more weight reduction and exercise advice to obese white patients than obese black patients, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. Read more.

Citywide Efforts to Lose Weight


Across the country, mayors have been urging their citizens to adopt healthier lifestyles by participating in citywide weight-loss programs. While some scientists feel that these challenges can work wonders, others are a little less convinced. Read more.

First Lady Applauds Military's Health Conscious Efforts

First Lady Michelle Obama recently lauded the military’s efforts to make its recruits more health-conscious. She also noted that the military’s new healthier food system could be a model for making people across the United States more focused on nutrition. Read more.


WHO Recommends Curbing Food Marketing to Children

The World Health Organization called on governments to work with the food industry to restrict advertising of unhealthy foods that targets children. Read more.

Front Labels on Food for Children Called Deceptive

The Prevention Institute has released a study indicating that many of the foods marketed to children with “better for you” health claims do not meet basic nutrition standards. Read more.

"Healthier" Food Ad Messages

Brands like McDonald’s are generating online buzz among women using messages about “healthier” food items. Read more.

Starbucks Offers Bigger Drink Size

Starbucks recently introduced a new coffee size that offers more liquid than the average human stomach can hold. Read more.

Fake Blueberries in Food Products

Blueberries found in food products such as bagels, cereals, breads, and muffins are sometimes not real blueberries, but are made from artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, and liquid sugar chemicals. Read more.


Eating at Home Can Save Your Life

Family meals are good for children in many ways, including reducing the incidence of childhood obesity. Read more.

Fight Against Misleading Health Claims

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently investigated the inability of the FDA to hold health claims on food packages to reasonable scientific standards. According to the GAO, the FDA allows food companies to make a variety of claims that often confuse consumers as to what is healthy. Read more.

Treat Junk Food Ads like Tobacco Ads


Arguments favoring the elimination of junk food ads should be more persuasive than those that led to the elimination of tobacco ads targeted at children. Unlike age restrictions for the sale of tobacco products, there is no minimum age restriction on who can purchase junk food. Read more.