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

November 2011

Rudd Center Releases Unprecedented Report on Sugary Drink Nutrition and Youth-Targeted Marketing


Young people are being exposed to a massive amount of marketing for sugary drinks, such as full-calorie soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and fruit drinks, according to a new study from the Rudd Center – Sugary Drink FACTS.

The study is the most comprehensive and science-based assessment of sugary drink nutrition and marketing ever conducted. The data show that companies marketing sugary drinks target young people, especially black and Hispanic youth.

The report's authors studied marketing by 14 beverage companies and examined the nutritional quality of more than 600 products including full-calorie soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, flavored water, sports drinks, and iced teas, as well as diet energy drinks and diet children's fruit drinks.

"Beverage companies have pledged to improve child-directed advertising," said lead researcher Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center. "But we are not seeing a true decrease in marketing exposure. Instead companies have shifted from traditional media to newer forms that engage youth through rewards for purchasing sugary drinks, community events, cause-related marketing, promotions, product placements, social media, and smartphones."

The release of the report was covered by major media outlets, including CBS Early Show, Chicago Tribune, and USA Today.

The full report, report summary, and tools for consumers and researchers are available.

The report was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director; and Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director.

Report on Benefits of Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax

The Illinois Alliance to Prevent Obesity recently released a report describing the public health and economic advantages of a state tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.

 “A one cent sugar sweetened beverage tax would save more than $1.5 billion in health care spending over the next decade and reduce obesity-related health care spending in the state’s Medicaid program,” said Frank Chaloupka, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, lead author of the report. “We could expect to see the greatest declines in consumption among youth because they consume more sugar-loaded beverages.” The tax would also prevent nearly 3,500 new cases of diabetes in Illinois.

Illinois’ current 6.25 percent sales tax on some beverages has a small effect on beverage consumption, according to the authors. An excise tax would have a greater effect because it would change shelf price, which would influence purchases and reduce consumption and related health problems.

Institute of Medicine Releases Report on Front-of-Package Labeling

The Institute of Medicine, an independent group that advises the government on health policy, recently released a report recommending a new front-of-package labeling system to help consumers "instantly recognize healthier products."

The report, completed at the request of Congress and submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Agriculture, calls for a simplified label for the front of food and beverage packages. The label would show the number of calories per serving and contain zero to three stars to indicate the healthfulness of a product.

The number of stars would be based on three nutrients: added sugars, sodium, and saturated or trans fats. According to the The New York Times, the group chose to evaluate just those nutrients because they were most closely associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other major illnesses. The nutrition facts label would remain on the back of the package.

In January 2011, the food industry proposed its own front-of-package label system called Nutrition Keys, but health experts feel this system would be ineffective. "If left to its own devices, it's pretty apparent that the industry will not come up with a system that works for consumers and will help guide healthy food choices," said Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, in an interview with National Public Radio.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

November 30, 12:30 pm
Michael F. Jacobson, PhD
Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Nutrition and the Politics of Food

December 7, 12:30 pm
Kathryn Montgomery, PhD
Professor and Director, PhD Program, School of Communication, American University
Emerging Issues in Digital Food Marketing

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

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 the Fall Seminar Series is available online and for download.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Michael F. Jacobson, PhD

JacobsonMichael F. Jacobson, PhD, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), will present Nutrition and the Politics of Food on November 30 during the Rudd Center’s Fall Seminar Series.

CSPI is a nonprofit health advocacy organization that focuses on nutrition and food safety. CSPI plays a key role in the ongoing battle to prevent diet-related chronic diseases and food-borne illnesses by educating consumers and encouraging government and corporations to take steps to protect the public’s health.

Under Dr. Jacobson’s leadership, the organization publishes the Nutrition Action Healthletter, the largest-circulation health newsletter in the world. CSPI also produces numerous studies and reports, including “Salt: The Forgotten Killer” and “Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks Are Harming Americans’ Health.”

Since 1971, Dr. Jacobson and CSPI have used education, legislation, and litigation to win important reforms. CSPI led efforts in the passage of the 1990 law requiring nutrition facts labels on packaged foods, a 1990 law defining “organic foods,” and a 2003 regulation requiring trans fat to be listed on labels. CSPI’s studies on restaurant meals’ nutritional quality garnered worldwide interest and encouraged restaurant chains to add more healthful items to their menus. That work led to the 2010 law requiring calories to be listed on chain-restaurant menus.

CSPI's actions have led to the removal of numerous deceptive food labels and ads. Dr. Jacobson and CSPI have long been concerned about junk-food marketing aimed at children, the nutritional quality of school meals, microbial contamination of foods, and the safety of food additives. In 2011, Dr. Jacobson and CSPI sponsored national Food Day, a major new annual event that promotes healthy, delicious diets produced in a humane, sustainable way.

Dr. Jacobson is the author or coauthor of numerous publications and technical papers. He has received many awards and is frequently quoted in national media.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Adolescents: Weight Is Primary Cause for School Bullying

Adolescents reported that being overweight is a primary reason that students are teased at school, according to a study recently published by the Rudd Center in the Journal of School Health. The study is the first to examine adolescents’ observations of weight-based teasing at school and suggests that students view weight-based teasing to be even more common than teasing due to sexual orientation.

Researchers surveyed over 1,500 high school students about their perceptions of teasing and bullying at school. They found that 41 percent of students identified being overweight as the primary reason that students are bullied, followed by sexual orientation, intelligence and ability at school, race and ethnicity, physical disability, religion, and low socio-economic status.

The majority of the students surveyed observed overweight students being called names, getting teased in a mean way, and teased during physical activity, such as gym class. Students also observed their overweight and obese peers as being ignored, avoided, excluded from social activities, having negative rumors spread about them, and being teased in the cafeteria. The majority of students also observed verbal threats and physical harassment toward overweight and obese peers.

While most of the students reported willingness to help an overweight peer who has been teased, about half of the students surveyed remained passive bystanders in these situations.

The authors asserted that these findings are cause for concern, and underscored the need for effective school-based interventions to protect overweight students.

The paper was coauthored by the Rudd Center's Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Joerg Luedicke, PhD (ABD), Biostatistician; and Chelsea Heuer, MPH, former Research Associate.

National PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month

Each November, thousands of schools and their PTAs across the country work together to promote good nutrition and physical activity during National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month. PTAs, schools, and communities team up to implement programs and activities, such as trying new fruits and vegetables, teaching students about preventative health, walking challenges, healthy cooking classes, and physical activity pledges.

In conjunction with Healthy Lifestyles Month, National PTA has given grants of up to $1,000 to ten PTAs across the country to implement programs that focus on research-based strategies, including limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, focusing on fruits and vegetables, moderating portion sizes, increasing physical activity, and reducing screen time. Grantees are expected to impact 11,000 students through the their programs that will take place from November 2011 through April 2012.

PTA also has downloadable tools, including a Parent’s Guide, posters with nutrition information, and toolkits.

Efforts Needed to Address Weight-Based Bullying in Youth

Groups across the country are voicing significant and justified concern about the prevalence and sometimes fatal consequences of bullying, according to a recent blog by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. However, she said, these efforts have largely ignored some children who are highly vulnerable to bullying, in particular overweight or obese youth.

There remains a common public perception that some stigma is necessary to provide sufficient motivation or incentive for overweight persons to lose weight. Research challenges this notion, indicating that overweight youth often cope with bullying and stigmatization in ways that are harmful to their physical health and can actually hinder weight loss.

“Time is overdue to support and protect the millions of overweight and obese youth who are vulnerable to torment, bullying, and victimization,” said Dr. Puhl. “We must give a voice to these children, whose stigma is so visible but remains unseen by those who can legitimize their suffering and take action to stop it.”

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

Rudd ‘Roots Parents

The Rudd SPARK website has changed its name to Rudd ‘Roots Parents. The website continues to support the grassroots efforts of parent advocates to improve school food. It is a forum for parent advocates to gather information, ask questions, share experiences, and stay informed about the latest research. Visit the website and Facebook (and Like the page).

Food for Thought: McDonald’s Launches its Own TV Channel

McDonald’s launched a new, in-restaurant TV channel that features local school sports, movie previews, and captivating human interest stories. The McDonald's Channel targets dine-in customers and is customized to specific communities who visit each restaurant.

In a recent article on The Huffington Post, Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director, and Barbara Fiese, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discussed the problems associated with this initiative.

Drs. Schwartz and Fiese said TV is not meant for viewing during family meals at home or in a restaurant. The encroachment of TV into public dining spaces disrupts the positive benefits of eating together, the authors said. The authors also stated that in-house TV networks such as McDonald's will not have any restrictions on food advertisements to children. This means that McDonald's efforts to limit children's exposure to advertisements for its less-healthy products may be undone inside the restaurant. The authors noted that since McDonald's is an industry leader, this initiative will likely start a trend among other restaurants, making it hard for parents to say no to TV while dining.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Lainie Rutkow, JD, PhD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, PhD
Professor of Epidemiology and Director, Office of Community Health, Yale School of Public Health

Brenda N. Major, PhD
Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California Santa Barbara

Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD
Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy & Management, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

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

Front Burner News

Fatty Foods as Addictive as Cocaine

Recent evidence suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks are not only unhealthy, but are addictive. Processed foods can hijack the brain in ways similar to cocaine, nicotine, and other drugs. These findings could have legal implications on the way junk food is made and marketed. Read more.

Dairy’s Benefits Overstated

The nonprofit milk board, funded by dairy farmers, spends about $950,000 a year to promote dairy’s health benefits to school children, but some experts believe these benefits are overstated. Read more.

School Lunch Proposals Create a Dispute


The government is proposing changes to the federally financed school lunch program to make meals more nutritious, but food companies are lobbying against the plan, claiming the changes would raise the cost of meals. Read more.

Definition of “Natural” Needed

According to a FoodNavigator poll, a formal definition of “natural” is needed to ensure that the term is used more consistently in food labeling and marketing. The poll also revealed that people believe that the FDA should be the one to provide the definition. Read more.

Many Believe Weight Does Not Pose a Health Risk

Many overweight and obese patients seen in hospital emergency departments do not believe their weight poses a risk to their health, and many say doctors have never told them otherwise, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Read more.

Obesity Has Greater Impact on Teen Girls

Obesity may affect blood pressure more among girls than among boys, according to a study presented by researchers from the University of California at an American Physiological Society conference. Read more.

California Child Obesity Rates Leveling Off

More than one in three California children are overweight, but the rate has finally stopped increasing, according to a study released by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Read more.

Infant Growth Can Predict Obesity Risk

Babies who pass two key milestones on doctors' growth charts by age 2 face double the risk of being obese by age 5, compared with their peers who grow slower, found researchers from the Harvard Medical School. Read more.

Connecticut Schools Recognized for Healthfulness

Forty Connecticut schools have won special recognition for promoting healthy eating and physical activity, putting them among only 1 percent of schools nationwide receiving the honors, according to federal officials. Read more.


Meet Big Soda — as Bad as Big Tobacco

Adding a penny-per-ounce tax on any beverage with added sugar could help reduce obesity and its accompanying high health-care costs and generate much-needed revenue. Nearly 20 U.S. states or cities have considered or are considering a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Read more.

NYC Health Department Launches New Anti-Soda Campaign

The New York City Health Department launched a campaign that warns consumers about the sugar content in soda. The health department said drinking one soda a day equals 50 pounds of sugar a year. Read more.

France Taxes Sugary Drinks

France will tax sugary drinks in an effort to combat soaring obesity rates. The tax is expected to raise more than $1.6 million a year which will be used to help farm workers, the government said. Read more.

Lawmakers Investigate Soda Ads Targeted at Minorities

Blacks and Hispanic children are bombarded with soda ads at a higher rate than white children, according to the Rudd Center’s Sugary Drink FACTS report. State lawmakers representing minorities have vowed to investigate how the marketing can be regulated. Read more.

Kraft Foods Enters Energy Drink Market

Kraft Foods will enter the energy drink market and will launch trial caffeinated versions of its popular MiO drink beginning in 2012. Read more.


Former Big Food Executive Confesses

Bruce Bradley, who spent more than 15 years working as a food marketer at companies such as General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco, recently created a blog that identifies the food industry’s harmful and deceptive practices. Read more.

Marketing Fast Food to Teens


According to a teen blogger for The Huffington Post, one of the most dangerous marketing ploys is targeting fast-food marketing to teens. Read more.

Food Day Puts Pressure on McDonald’s

During national Food Day, Corporate Accountability International, a consumer advocacy organization, asked consumers to put pressure on McDonald’s to end its harmful marketing of junk food to children. Read more.

Healthier Foods Equal Healthier Profits for Companies

Packaged food and beverage companies that sell a higher percentage of “better-for-you” products enjoy greater increases in sales, operating profits, investor returns, and reputation scores, according to a study by the Hudson Institute. Read more.

Lessons in Healthy Eating

It is important to teach children and their families what nutritious foods look and taste like, how to use them properly, and how to make the best food choices using limited resources. Read more.


Food Industry Lobbying Hard to Defend Marketing

The world’s biggest food companies, such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Kraft, have successfully pressured U.S. regulators to acknowledge that they may weaken the proposed guidelines that would ban junk food advertisements aimed at children and young teens. Read more.

Pepsi Accused of Deceptive Marketing

Four consumer advocacy and privacy groups have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that PepsiCo and Frito-Lay are engaging in deceptive digital marketing practices aimed at adolescents. Read more.

General Mills Sued Over Fruit Roll-Up Claims

Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a class-action lawsuit against General Mills for the company’s misleading packaging and claims for its Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Gushers products. Read more.