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

May 2011

National Guidelines Proposed on Food Marketing to Youth

A working group directed by the Federal Trade Commission proposed voluntary guidelines on the nutritional quality of food marketed to children and adolescents, ages 2 to 17. The guidelines recommend that marketing promote vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and beans. Marketing of products high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and sodium should be limited. Participating companies would have five to ten years to adhere to the guidelines. After a 45-day public comment period, the working group will submit its final report to Congress.

The food and beverage industry’s voluntary Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative permits companies to set their own nutrition requirements on products advertised to children, which are often less strict than the FTC’s guidelines.

Products such as cereal and fast food are relentlessly marketed to children and adolescents. The least healthy breakfast cereals are marketed most frequently and aggressively directly to children on television, the internet, and through licensed characters, according to the Rudd Center’s Cereal FACTS report, released in October 2009. Last year’s Fast Food FACTS report found that targeted marketing of fast food starts as young as age 2 through websites such as McDonalds’ Marketers also reach youth through social media sites and mobile applications.

Children significantly prefer the taste of junk foods branded with licensed cartoon characters on the packaging, according to a study by the Rudd Center’s Christina Roberto, MS, suggesting a need for regulation to curtail the use of licensed characters in the marketing of low-nutrient, high-energy foods.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Has Potential to Yield Significant Results

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages a penny per ounce has the potential to reduce consumption and generate significant revenue, finds a new study by the Rudd Center published in Preventive Medicine. The study also notes that public health may be substantially impacted if the revenue is invested in obesity prevention programs, especially in populations at greater risk, such as children and low income groups where sugar-sweetened beverages consumption is high. 

By instituting a national penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, researchers estimated that the tax could generate revenue of $79 billion over a five-year period, reduce consumption by 24%, and reduce daily caloric intake from sugar-sweetened beverages from 190-200 calories to 145-150 calories. 

The paper was coauthored by the Rudd Center’s Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD; and Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, Economics Department, University of Illinois at Chicago.

The revenue calculator, developed in collaboration with Dr. Chaloupka, estimates potential federal, state, and city revenues by tax per ounce and type of beverage.

Children Exposed to Junk Food Advertising Consume More Unhealthy Foods Overall

Children exposed to advertisements for high-calorie and nutrient-poor foods consume more unhealthy foods, regardless of the specific product and brand being marketed, according to a new Rudd Center study. The researchers demonstrated a relationship between children’s exposure to food advertising on television and the consumption of unhealthy food categories, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages and fast food.

“This study provides direct evidence that food marketing to children influences much more than their preferences for one brand over another,” noted coauthor Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives. “Food marketing also contributes to greater consumption of fast food and sugary beverages, two of the least nutritious product categories commonly advertised to children.”

The paper was coauthored by Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Economic Initiatives, and Inas Rashad Kelly, PhD, Queens College, City University of New York, and published online in Economics and Human Biology.

Obesity Stigma Prevalent in Online News Coverage

Obese individuals shown in online news images are frequently portrayed in a negative and stigmatizing way, according to Rudd Center research recently published in the Journal of Health Communication.

Researchers coded and analyzed over 400 images of overweight and obese individuals that accompanied news reports about obesity from five major news websites and found that 72% of those images depicted an overweight or obese person in a negative and stigmatizing way. Overweight and obese individuals were significantly more likely to have their heads cut out of the photos, to be portrayed showing only their abdomens or lower bodies, and to be shown eating or drinking than were non-overweight individuals.

The Rudd Center’s media guidelines and free image gallery aide media professionals in fair and unbiased coverage of obesity-related topics.

The study was coauthored by the Rudd Center’s Chelsea A. Heuer, MPH, and Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD; and Kimberly J. McClure, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut.

Rudd Center Comments on USDA-Proposed School Meal Standards

The USDA recently published a proposal to update the nutrition requirements for meals served through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. The proposal is a component of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which seeks to make school food more nutritious.

The Rudd Center submitted comments on the proposal, which included the following recommendations:

  • Establish limits on the amount of added sugar in meals.
  • Limit the frequency and portion size of grain-based desserts.
  • Require school districts to quantitatively code their wellness policies to evaluate their strength and comprehensiveness, with a program such as the Rudd Center's WellSAT.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Ashley Gearhardt, MS, MPhil

GearhardtAshley Gearhardt, MS, MPhil, is focusing on food addiction as a clinical psychology doctoral student at Yale University. She received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Michigan and previously worked as a research assistant at the University of California, Berkeley.

As an undergraduate intern at Oxford University and through her clinical work at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, she became interested in addiction and the possibility that certain foods are capable of triggering an addictive process. Ms. Gearhardt collaborated with Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, and William R. Corbin, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale, to develop the Yale Food Addiction Scale. The tool applies diagnostic criteria for substance dependence to eating behavior.

Ms. Gearhardt was the lead author of a study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that examines how addictive-like eating behavior and substance dependence share similar patterns of brain activity. The study suggests that changing the food environment may be critical to successful weight loss and prevention efforts because food cues may motivate people similarly to drug cues. The study garnered significant media attention, including the Los Angeles Times and ABC World News.

Before graduating in May 2012, Ms. Gearhardt will complete a clinical internship at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since research is her passion, she said she plans to continue to research food and addiction after graduation.


Chocolate Milk in Schools: Should It Be Banned?

Reducing sugar in school meals will help children avoid consuming excess discretionary calories, and flavored milk is one place to start, according to a blog on the Huffington Post by the Rudd Center’s Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director, and Kathryn Henderson, PhD, Director of School and Community Initiatives. Chocolate milk can use two-thirds of a child’s daily discretionary calories.

Providers Can Play an Important Role in Bullying Prevention

Providers, educators, and parents cannot underestimate the prevalence of bullying toward youth, and the terrible impact it has on the quality of their lives, according to a recent article by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. There are resources available to prevent weight-based bullying.

Arizona's Medicaid Proposal: Wrong Way to Address Obesity

Imposing financial penalties on individuals with obesity and placing contingencies on meeting weight loss requirements raise a serious alarm of weight discrimination, according to a recent article by Dr. Puhl. Instead of imposing unfair financial penalties, there are alternative, more effective ways to address obesity.

The articles by Dr. Puhl are the latest in a series about weight bias on Medscape, a part of WebMD Health Professional Network (free online registration required).

Rudd Center Seminar Series

Wansink Brian Wansink, PhD, John Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University, and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, was a speaker in the Spring 2011 Seminar Series.

The Spring Seminar Series has finished for the semester. Speakers included Brian Wansink from Cornell University and formerly the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Eric Mar, Supervisor on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and chief supporter of a law that bans restaurants from including toys in kids meals that do not meet nutrition criteria; and Scott DeFife, Executive Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs at the National Restaurant Association. The Fall Seminar Series will be announced in August.

Visit the Seminar Series page to listen to speakers' podcasts and view slides and notes. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive reminders of upcoming seminars and schedule changes.

Sugary Drinks Banned in Boston City Properties

Citing high obesity rates and a food environment that promotes unhealthy choices, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino banned all sugar-sweetened beverages from city properties and functions. The ban, which city officials began discussing last year, will affect cafeterias, vending machines, cafes, concession stands, and city-run meetings, programs, and events. The executive order requires the sale of sugared drinks such as non-diet soda, presweetened iced tea, and energy and sports drinks to be phased out within six months. The sale of healthy beverages such as bottled water, flavored and unflavored seltzer water, low-fat milk, and unsweetened soymilk is encouraged.

Rudd Center Participates in Panel to Address Healthy Weight Reporting

Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives, recently participated in “Pounds and Policy: Effectively Communicating about Weight and Health,” a panel hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association and STOP Obesity Alliance to discuss ways to responsibly highlight the connection between health and weight. Participants of the panel focused on strategies to stop obesity stigmatization and encourage effective education by media, the entertainment industry, and policy makers.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Stephen P. Teret, JD, MPH
Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Law and the Public’s Health

The Law, Public Health, and Diet

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U and through an RSS Feed.

Front Burner News

Toxicity of Sugar


Excessive consumption of sugar is the primary reason obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed in the past 30 years, according to Robert Lustig, leading expert in childhood obesity at the University of California, San Francisco. Lustig calls sugar “toxic and poisonous.” Read more.

Soft Drink Industry Against Proposed Food Stamp Ban

Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban the use of food stamps to buy “sugar-sweetened beverages” in New York City. Read more.

New York City Considers Fast Food Toy Ban

Several New York City council members want to ban toy giveaways in fast-food meals for children, emulating the San Francisco city law that will be enforced later this year. Read more.

Consumers Ordering Healthier Meals

Consumers are ordering and requesting healthier meals, according to the restaurant industry. Read more.

Texas Cracks Down on Junk Food

Texas lawmakers are introducing several measures that would restrict or eliminate items such as cookies, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages from food stamp purchases. Read more.

Dieters Confused by Labels

Dieters tend to make judgments about the healthfulness of food based solely on its label, instead of its ingredients, according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Read more.

Obese Avoid Exercise if Teased

Obese individuals are more likely to avoid exercise if a loved one teases and criticizes them, according to a study in the journal Obesity. Read more.

Children Lack Access to Healthy Foods

Limited access to healthy foods in the United States makes it difficult to instill healthy eating habits in children and may be fueling the childhood obesity epidemic, according to a report by the CDC. Read more.

Food Stamps at Fast Food Restaurants

Yum! Brands, owner of the KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell chains, is lobbying to make Kentucky one of the few states to allow elderly, disabled, and homeless people to use food stamps at its restaurants. Read more.

Bus Seats May Be Getting Larger

The Federal Transit Administration wants to change its bus seat regulations to reflect the increased weight of the average rider. Read more.

Menu Labeling at Universities

Ohio universities are making it easier for students to know the nutritional value of food they order in campus cafeterias. The initiative models the new federal menu-labeling law that makes nutrition and calorie information available of all foods served. Read more.

BMI Listed on Report Cards

Malaysia recently passed a countrywide policy to include a body mass index (BMI) score on report cards alongside academic marks. Several U.S. states have adopted similar policies. Read more.

Home-Packed Lunches Prohibited in Chicago Schools

One Chicago elementary school prohibits students from bringing packed lunches from home, unless they have a medical excuse. Read more.


Economic Benefits of California Soda Tax

A bill in California has been raised for a penny-per-ounce sugary drink tax. Passing the bill would raise $1.7 billion statewide per year. The tax would return $233 per student to California classrooms, according to a report by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Read more.


McDonald’s Makes Subtle Play for Children Online

McWorld, a website for children sponsored by McDonald’s, is the latest in online marketing, where the hope is that a site’s visitor will naturally associate the brand with a pleasurable activity. It has less in common with a 30-second television spot than with a product placement in a movie. Read more.

Online Games Create Path to Young Consumers

Food companies are pitching their products to children via websites, emails, advergames, and social networks that critics say blur the line between activities and marketing. Read more.

Children Create Ads Touting Healthy Eating

As part of Baltimore City’s Get Fresh Baltimore campaign to increase access to healthy affordable food and develop good eating habits, school children will develop advertising to raise awareness about healthy eating among their peers and themselves. Read more.


Junk-Food Tax Needed to Fight Obesity

Junk-food taxes and consistent monitoring programs are some of the government regulations needed to combat obesity, according to an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Read more.

Talking About Obesity

As research emerges linking soft drinks to obesity, the American Beverage Association is eager to position themselves as helping to solve the childhood obesity problem, not cause it. From buying off city councils to donating money to a children’s hospital, beverage companies go to extremes to keep looking good. Read more.

How to Combat Food Marketing to Youth


Children today are lured by the relentless marketing campaigns put out by the food and beverage industry. Here are ten steps to win the food fight. Read more.