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

January 2012

Georgia's Controversial Campaign to Address Childhood Obesity

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta launched a public health campaign last spring to raise awareness about the seriousness of childhood obesity in Georgia. The campaign involves a series of billboards, television spots, and a website with images and testimonials of obese youth providing "warning" messages such as "Big Bones Didn't Make Me This Way, Big Meals Did" and "Fat Kids Become Fat Adults." This caused a considerable amount of debate and criticism among parents, health professionals, and citizens who were concerned about how obese youth were being portrayed.

Recently there has been a resurgence of controversy and criticism surrounding the campaign in national news and multiple websites across the country.

The campaign's approach is misguided and has the potential to harm those most in need of help, according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives in a recent blog on Medscape. The messages are not constructive, unlikely to be effective, and offer no support or solutions for families struggling with obesity.

"If Georgia wants to effectively address childhood obesity, more careful consideration should be given to the kinds of public health messages that are disseminated, so that children and families who are struggling with obesity can be supported in their efforts to become healthier, rather than shamed and stigmatized," said Dr. Puhl.

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

Healthy Beverage Campaign Slides

Communities across North America are launching creative campaigns and policy changes to reduce sugary drink consumption and promote healthy alternatives, especially for children. The Rudd Center created slides to review these diverse and inspiring efforts, which include media campaigns, art and video contests, pledges, and local policy changes.

New York City Targets Sugary Drinks and Fast Food

The New York City health department recently launched a series of posters demonstrating the growth of portions of sugary drinks and fast food. The ads, which appear on subways in English and Spanish, also demonstrate the health effects of increased portions, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.

YMCA Teams Up with Michelle Obama


The YMCA recently announced it will address childhood obesity in collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America. The organization plans to designate fruits and vegetables as snack options and water as the primary beverage. The YMCA will roll out the initiative in its local branches through 2015.

New Horizon Academy and The Links also made commitments with Partnership for a Healthier America to address childhood obesity.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

January 18, 12:30 pm
Edward M. Cooney, JD
Executive Director, Congressional Hunger Center
What Are the Top 2012 Policy Priorities for the National Anti-Hunger Advocates?

January 25, 12:30 pm
Mark Bomford
Director, Yale Sustainable Food Project
Can an Urban Campus Re-Invent the Food System? Looking Ahead for the Yale Sustainable Food Project

February 8, 12:30 pm
Thomas C. O'Guinn, PhD
Professor, University of Wisconsin School of Business
Branded Reality: The Construction of Commercial Social Reality

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 Spring Seminar Series is available online and for download.

Employment Opportunities at the Rudd Center

If you would like to work toward improving the world’s diet and preventing obesity, read about the open positions at the Rudd Center: Director of Advocacy Resources and Research Associate (Part-Time).

Rudd Center Spotlight: Edward M. Cooney, JD

CooneyEdward M. Cooney, JD, Executive Director of the Congressional Hunger Center (CHC), will discuss the top 2012 policy priorities for national anti-hunger advocates on January 18 during the Rudd Center’s Spring Seminar Series.

CHC is a leader in the movement to ensure access to food as a basic human right for all people by developing the commitment, skill, and political will to end hunger.

Before joining CHC, Mr. Cooney served as an anti-hunger advocate at the Food Research and Action Center and Connecticut Legal Services, held two senior positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition programs, and was a member of the USDA’s Senior Executive Service, the government’s top management team. He has worked on every major child nutrition and Food Stamp bill since 1977.

Congressional staff, government officials, and leading scientific and educational institutions seek Mr. Cooney’s expertise about nutrition programs and policy issues. He was elected to the Board of Overseers of the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University and received the Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition from the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and School Nutrition Association.

Best and Worst Marketing Practices

Cuties Campaign Makes
Fruit Fun

Cuties brand California clementines and mandarins are now available nationwide. A new marketing campaign includes television and print ads and the website, where parents can enter their own “cutie” in a video contest for a chance to win a $150,000 scholarship for one lucky child. Read more.

Honeycomb Encourages Children to Advertise in School

Post Honeycomb cereal has launched a website that gives instructions for making school-related craft projects from Honeycomb boxes, despite Post Foods’ pledge not to advertise their products in elementary schools. Read more.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Food Company Computer Games Increase Junk Food Consumption

Despite food company pledges to reduce marketing of unhealthy products to children, children are disproportionately targeted by food company websites using branded computer games, known as advergames, according to a study just published by the Rudd Center in the Journal of Children and Media. The study also showed that playing these games increases children's consumption of junk food.

Several companies in the United States have pledged to shift their child-targeted advertising to “better-for-you” foods through the voluntary Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, according to the researchers. However, not one advergame in the analysis met the council’s criteria for child-directed advertising.

“While research has shown a decline in television food advertisements targeted to children, companies are introducing new and sophisticated forms of marketing such as advergames that allow children to engage in advertising content for unlimited amounts of time,” said lead author Jennifer Harris, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives.

The researchers asserted that this study showing the reach and impact of advergames on children's eating behaviors demonstrates the need for substantial reductions in the use of advergames to promote unhealthy food to children.

The paper was coauthored by the Rudd Center's Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director; Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director; and Sarah Speers, former Research Assistant.

Food for Thought: Schools and Vending Machine Profits

Several years ago, officials in Seattle schools banned unhealthful food from school vending machines, creating limits on fat and sugar content and portion size. Junk foods, including candy bars, chips, and soda, were replaced with more healthful options such as water, juice, and baked chips. But the new vending machine options bring in less revenue for student groups. Consequently, Seattle school officials are considering relaxing the snack food policy for the next school year.

Rudd ‘Roots Parents offers ideas for healthy fundraising alternatives, a worksheet to develop strategies for change, and steps to track progress.

Front Burner News

Inconsistent Food Labeling


The Supervalu grocery chain recently added color-coded nutrition labels on its products to highlight foods rich in healthful ingredients and low in unhealthful ingredients. “The best way to get people eating healthy is to make the labels uniform from brand to brand and store to store,” said the Rudd Center's Kelly Brownell, PhD. Read more.

Weight Bias and the 2012 Election

Weight bias influences everything from cultural attitudes to workplace outcomes. It may even influence voting during the 2012 election. Read more.

Too Much Sugar in Cereal

Children’s’ breakfast cereals are cookies in disguise, typically 40 percent to 50 percent sugar by weight, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group. Read more.

Calorie Counts on Menus Coming Soon

Starting next year, chain restaurants with more than 20 locations will need to list the number of calories in their food on their menus. Federal regulators hope the information will help people make healthier choices. However, restaurant owners claim the requirements present a logistical challenge that could affect business. Read more.

Children, Dieting, and Bullying

Children between ages 7 and 18 worry about their weight and will often diet to keep off weight and prevent bullying, according to a survey conducted by Onepoll and Youngpoll. Read more.


Sugary Drink Tax Would Prevent Heart Attacks, Strokes, Diabetes

A nationwide, penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would prevent thousands of heart attacks, strokes, cases of diabetes, and premature deaths, helping avoid billions of dollars in medical costs over 10 years, according to a study published in Health Affairs. Read more.

France Implements Soda Tax

France implemented its new soda tax on January 1 to fight obesity and curb the budget deficit. Read more.

Beverage Association Continues to Lobby


The American Beverage Association spent $220,000 lobbying federal officials from July through September 2011 on issues such as U.S. sugar subsidies, children's nutrition, and school beverage guidelines, according to a document filed with the House clerk's office. Read more.

Pediatricians Advocate for Sugary Drink Tax

A group of pediatricians recently gathered at the Massachusetts State House to urge legislators to tax sugary drinks. Read more.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Most Significant Cause of Childhood Obesity

The most consistent dietary factor associated with the increase of obesity in school-aged children are sugar-sweetened beverages, found a recent Tufts University review of studies published between 1990 and 2007. Read more.


Government Needs to Pay Attention to Childhood Obesity

If lawmakers paid attention to the research and scientific evidence surrounding efforts to reduce childhood obesity, they would tax unhealthy food and beverages and require traffic-light front-of-pack product labels. Read more.

Reasons Behind Rising Obesity Rates

Why do obesity rates continue to rise when the basic principle of weight loss, eat less and move more, is so simplistic? "The reason obesity has been rising — and why it's so difficult to reverse — is that our environment and biology are working against us,” said the Rudd Center’s Marlene Schwartz, PhD. Read more.


PepsiCo Fights Proposed Marketing Guidelines

PepsiCo spent millions of dollars in 2011 to fight the Interagency Working Group’s proposed standards that would regulate how products are marketed to children. Read more.

Food Marketing Guidelines Delayed

Four federal agencies have made an effort to limit marketing of junk food to children, which has created a fight between the food industry and public health groups as intense as the cigarette wars of the 1980s. Read more.

Cost-Benefit Analysis for Voluntary Marketing Guidelines

As part of a congressional spending bill, lawmakers have asked for a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children. Read more.