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

September 2012

NYC Board of Health Approves Limit on Sugary Drink Portion Size

The New York City Board of Health approved Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the portion size of sugary drinks sold in restaurants, food carts, delis, theaters, and arenas. The regulation will take effect on March 12, 2013 and will prohibit retailers from selling sugary drinks in cups or containers larger than 16 ounces. The products affected include energy drinks, presweetened teas, and non-diet soda.

The aim of the measure, which was unanimously passed, is to combat obesity and encourage residents to lead a healthier lifestyle. It is the first limit of its kind in the country.

Many health experts are lauding the passage as a major step forward in making New York City residents healthier and believe the measure will be replicated in other cities in the nation.

“This is a policy based on solid science,” said Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. “I salute Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Health Department for their courage in standing up to pressure from the soda industry and acting in the interest of the public's well-being.”

Parents Tell Cereal Companies to Stop Marketing Unhealthy Cereals to Children

In many of the cereals marketed to children, there's a spoonful of sugar for every three spoonsful of cereal, according to the Rudd Center’s Cereal FACTS 2012 report. Parents can take action by encouraging companies like General Mills, Kellogg, and Post to promote healthier options to kids – such as regular Cheerios, Unfrosted Mini-Wheats, or Shredded Wheat – instead of Trix, Frosted Flakes, Pebbles, or other products loaded with sugar. Join the 16,000 parents who have told cereal companies to help make breakfast a healthier meal for children.

New Tools for Parent Advocates to Improve School Food

Rudd_Roots_ParentsRudd ‘Roots Parents supports the grassroots efforts of parent advocates to make school food healthier by offering information and resources they can use to take action.

A new message board allows parents to gather information, ask questions, share experiences, and stay informed. The Meatless Monday section describes the benefits of meat-free meals and ways to encourage a school or district to join the movement. Media Resources offers multimedia tools to help parents, including two new videos, which describe how to use Rudd ‘Roots Parents – Change School Food – and how to Use Your Voice as a parent.

Popular Children’s Websites Accused of Unfair and Deceptive Marketing

The Rudd Center was part of a coalition of nearly 20 children’s health, privacy, and consumer advocacy organizations, led by the Center for Digital Democracy, that filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), claiming that online marketing to children by well-known companies violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Under COPPA, website operators are required to obtain verifiable consent from parents before collecting personal information about children under age 13. According to the complaints, six popular children’s websites have violated COPPA by engaging in a form of digital peer-to-peer viral marketing known as “tell-a-friend” or “refer-a-friend” campaigns. Through these campaigns, children who participate in brand-related activities are encouraged to share email addresses of friends, who then receive emails encouraging them to try the same activity.

The websites include McDonald’s, General Mills’ and, Doctor’s Associates’, Viacom’s, and Turner Broadcasting’s

New Spanish-Language Video on Sugary Children's Cereals

The Rudd Center released the video How Sweet It Is! along with the Cereal FACTS 2012 report in June. Now available is the Spanish-language version of the video, ¡Que Dulzura!. The video shows the truth about how much sugar may be in cereals marketed to children. Visit the new webpage for all Rudd Center Spanish-language materials.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

Wednesday, October 3, 12:30 pm
Curt Ellis
Co-Founder and Executive Director, FoodCorps
Growing Forward: A New Vision for Food and Farming in America
*Location – Peabody Museum, 170 Whitney Avenue, 3rd Floor Auditorium*

Wednesday, October 10, 12:30 pm
James Krieger, MD, MPH
Chief, Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention Section, Public Health – Seattle and King County; Clinical Professor, Medicine and Health Services, University of Washington
Using Policy and Systems Changes to Create Healthy Environments at the Local Level

Wednesday, October 17, 12:30 pm
Ellen Wartella, PhD
Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Director of the Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University
Media Characters: The Unhidden Persuaders in Food Marketing to Children

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: Curt Ellis

EllisCurt Ellis, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the national service organization, FoodCorps, will present Growing Forward: A New Vision for Food and Farming in America on October 3 during the Rudd Center’s Fall Seminar Series. The seminar will be held at the Yale Peabody Museum.

Through his work at FoodCorps, Ellis places emerging leaders in limited-resource communities to connect children to real food. FoodCorps service members deliver hands-on nutrition education, help children grow and taste new foods in school gardens, and work with farmers, chefs, and food service staff to improve school meals.

After growing up in Oregon and finding his passion for food and agriculture at The Mountain School and Yale, Ellis moved to Iowa to investigate the role of subsidized commodities in the American obesity epidemic. While there, he co-created the documentary King Corn, which was released in theaters nationally and broadcast on PBS, helped drive policy discussion on the Farm Bill, and earned a George Foster Peabody Award.

With a Food and Community Fellowship from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Ellis helped launch Truck Farm, a mobile garden project, and directed Big River, a sequel to King Corn, for Discovery's Planet Green.

Ellis is a Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneur, a recipient of the Heinz Award, and has been featured on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS’s Sunday Morning, and NPR's All Things Considered.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Federal Food Program Pays Billions for Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) pays at least $2 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in grocery stores alone, according to a study recently published by the Rudd Center in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study provided a conservative estimate on spending because it did not include sugar-sweetened beverage SNAP purchases from other retail channels such as convenience stores or Walmart.

Researchers found that 58 percent of all refreshment beverages purchased by SNAP participants were for sugar-sweetened beverages such as regular soda, fruit drinks, and sports drinks. According to the researchers, SNAP benefits paid for 72 percent of these purchases.

“SNAP benefits are critically important in helping low-income families put food on the table, and in this economy, many American families could not feed their children without the federal food assistance provided by SNAP,” said Tatiana Andreyeva, PhD, lead author and Director of Economic Initiatives at the Rudd Center.  

“At the same time, the annual use of billions of dollars in SNAP benefits to purchase products at the core of public health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses is misaligned with the goal of helping economically vulnerable families live active, healthy lives,” Andreyeva added. “Anti-hunger and public health advocates should work together to ensure that all government food assistance programs are implemented in a way that is consistent with helping Americans meet government dietary recommendations.”

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Joerg Luedicke, MS, Statistical Consultant; Kathryn Henderson, PhD, Director of Community and School Initiatives; and Amanda Tripp, MPH, doctoral student in public health.

Beverage Industry Uses Front Group to Avoid Government Regulation

Much like the tobacco industry, the beverage industry has created an industry-based front group to avoid government regulation, according to a commentary by the Rudd Center in Public Health Nutrition. The authors asserted that the industry group, Americans Against Food Taxes (AAFT), is attempting to create a grassroots image and generate conflicts of interest by funding community groups which then support food and beverage industry goals.

AAFT is described as “a coalition of concerned citizens – responsible individuals, financially strapped families, small and large businesses in communities across the country – opposed to the government tax hikes on food and beverages.” However, the authors found that most of AAFT’s coalition members are groups associated with the production, distribution, or promotion of food and beverage products.

According to the authors, many community organizations that stand against food taxes, some of which represent populations most vulnerable to obesity and diabetes, have received support from the food and/or beverage industry. The authors urged policy makers and the public to be aware of the ways in which the food and beverage industry attempts to hinder or circumvent government regulation.

The commentary was co-authored by Swati Yanamadala, medical student at Stanford University; and the Rudd Center’s Marie Bragg, MS, MPhil, Yale University doctoral student in clinical psychology; Christina Roberto, PhD, Researcher; and Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director.

Anti-Obesity Campaigns: Are We Fighting Obesity or Obese People?

The public responds more favorably to obesity-related health campaigns that emphasize specific health behaviors and personal empowerment for health, rather than messages that imply personal blame and stigmatize those who are obese, according to a new study published by the Rudd Center. The study, which appears in the International Journal of Obesity, was the first to systematically assess public perceptions of anti-obesity public health campaigns.

Campaigns rated most favorable and motivating contained messages that promoted specific health behaviors, such as increased fruit and vegetable consumption in the national 5-A-Day campaign; more general health messages such as the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign; and campaigns that attempted to instill confidence and personal empowerment regarding one’s health. Campaign messages rated most positively and motivating made no mention of obesity.

In contrast, anti-obesity campaigns that have been publicly criticized for promoting shame, blame, and stigmatization toward individuals struggling with obesity were rated most negatively and least motivating for behavior change. Participants expressed less of an intention to act upon the messages’ content. The worst rated was the Children’s Health Care of Atlanta Campaign to address childhood obesity, which featured billboards portraying obese youth with captions such as “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” and “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents.”

The authors asserted that messages intended to motivate individuals to lose weight may be more effective if framed in ways that promote specific health behaviors and the confidence to engage in those behaviors, rather than messages that imply personal blame.

The study was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, former Research Associate; and Joerg Luedicke, MS, Statistical Consultant. A blog about the study by Dr. Puhl appears on Medscape.

Sports Figures Market Unhealthy Products to Children

Food and beverage companies use sports figures to market unhealthy products to children, according to a study published in Public Health Nutrition by the Rudd Center. The study showed that food companies actively target children through the use of sports images on packaging, including portrayals of cartoon characters engaging in physical activity.

Researchers examined the marketing and nutrition of nearly 100 products that featured sports references and found that 42 percent of the products were endorsed by at least one professional athlete, sports organization, or sports team. Seventy-five percent of the products assessed featured at least one type of sports equipment, and 72 percent featured a person or character exercising.

The authors asserted that while the industry’s emphasis on physical activity messages could be helpful, the effects may be negative if the companies associate health messages with unhealthy products. Policy makers should consider prohibiting sports references on unhealthy products that are child-targeted and sports organizations should avoid partnering with companies that market unhealthy products.

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Marie Bragg, MS, MPhil, Yale University doctoral student in clinical psychology; Christina Roberto, PhD, Researcher; Vishnu Sarda, MBBS, MPH, Biostatistician; Jennifer Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives; Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director; and Duke University’s Peggy Liu, doctoral student in business.

Weight and Gender Influence Physical Educators’ Expectations of Youth

Physical educators’ expectations, attributions, and attitudes regarding students are negatively influenced by youth’s body weight, and differ by student gender, according to a study by the Rudd Center in the Journal of School Health.

Researchers found that participants expected overweight students to have inferior physical abilities compared to non-overweight students. Furthermore, participants expected overweight females to exhibit inferior physical performance, reasoning, cooperation, and social skills, compared to non-overweight females.

The authors asserted that increasing awareness of weight bias and its consequences on the part of physical educators and coaches could result in educational, physical, and social benefits for overweight youth.

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, former Research Associate; Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; and Joerg Luedicke, MS, Statistical Consultant.

Denying Treatment to Obese Patients: A Growing Trend?

Health care settings are among the places where weight bias most consistently occurs, according to a recent blog on Medscape by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. This may lead to patients being denied medical care due to their weight, as illustrated by the recent case of a Massachusetts woman turned away by her doctor.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Jason Riis, PhD
Assistant Professor, Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Changing Food Practices in Retail Settings

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

Front Burner News

McDonald's to Post Calorie Counts

McDonald's announced that starting in September, calories for all items will be posted on menu boards and drive-thru menus in U.S. restaurants. Read more.

School Junk Food Laws Curb Obesity


Children are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight if they live in a state with strong laws that regulate the sale of junk food and sugary drinks in schools, as opposed to their peers who live in states with weak laws, according to a study published in Pediatrics. Read more.

Tobacco Lawyers Take on Big Food

The lawyers who sued the tobacco industry are now focusing on the food industry, claiming that food makers are misleading consumers and violating federal regulations by wrongly labeling products and ingredients. Read more.

School Breakfast Debate

The New York City Council recently demanded that Mayor Bloomberg's administration provide breakfast in the classroom to all students attending New York City public schools. However, the administration fears this policy could increase childhood obesity. Read more.

FDA Warns Hershey’s for Misleading Labeling

The FDA sent a letter to Hershey’s stating that the front-of-package labeling about vitamin and mineral fortification on some of its chocolate syrup products is misleading, and failure to take action could result in regulation by the FDA. Read more.

Caloric Calculator for Policy Makers

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have created the Caloric Calculator aimed at helping policy makers and school district officials assess the potential impact of health policy choices on childhood obesity. Read more.

School Food Environment Improvements

Between 2006 and 2010, U.S. schools have taken small steps toward encouraging students to make healthier food choices, but there is still room for improvement, according to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read more.

Regulating Junk Food like Alcohol

Policies similar to those meant to curb alcohol consumption could be implemented to reduce the consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods, according to research from the Rand Corporation. Read more.

Weighing Children at School

Researchers from Deakin University, Australia, are urging the federal government to introduce a population-wide program to monitor childhood obesity that includes regularly weighing and measuring children at school. Read more.

The Cost of Obesity

Obesity has an impact on medical, personal, and infrastructure costs. Forbes breaks down the expenses in this infographic. Read more.

Millions Spent on Anti-GMO-Labeling Campaign

Major food companies and manufacturers, including Campbell Soup, General Mills, and Coca-Cola, have spent almost $10 million on a campaign to defeat an initiative that would require genetically engineered foods to be labeled. Read more.


Italy Considers a Soda Tax

Italy's health minister, Renato Balduzzi, is considering taxing drinks that are deemed unhealthy. Read more.

Soda Tax Wars in California

Two California cities, Richmond and El Monte, have become the latest battlegrounds in the soda industry's fight to defeat proposed taxes on sugary drinks. Read more.

Ad Warns against Sugary Drinks

Santa Clara County, California, recently launched an ad campaign that warns of the dangers of consuming sugary drinks. Read more.

Baylor Hospital Removes Sugary Drinks

The Baylor Health Care System—more than a dozen facilities—is eliminating sugar-sweetened sodas from cafés and vending machines. The only options now are diet drinks, fruit juice, or water. Read more.


Misleading Spanish-Language Cereal Campaign

General Mills recently launched a Spanish-language campaign to promote the consumption of Honey Nut Cheerios as a way to lead a heart-healthy life, but the campaign is just another example of a misleading marketing tactic for an unhealthy food product. Read more.

Junk Food Ads Contradict Olympic Message

By sponsoring the Olympics, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola placed a selective emphasis on the importance of physical activity as a means to address the obesity epidemic without addressing healthy eating. Read more.

Sneaky Sugar


The "sugars" listed on a food label are not synonymous with "added sugars." A more effective way to understand the sugar in a product is to look for the various names of added sweeteners, such as barley malt, evaporated cane juice, and brown rice syrup, in the ingredients list. Read more.

Regulation Changes Eating Behavior

Regulations make it easier for people to eat healthfully without having to think about it. They also make the default choice the healthy choice, and most people tend to choose the default. Read more.

“Natural” Labels Cause Confusion

The term “natural” used in food labeling and marketing has a variety of vague definitions that can cause confusion among consumers. Read more.

Risky Business in Soda Industry Funding

Accepting funding from the soda industry can put organizations such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists on a slippery slope, with potential risk to their values and integrity, and the public's trust. Read more.

Role of Primary Care Physicians in Obesity

Primary care physicians can be the first line of defense against the obesity epidemic, but they face challenges when it comes to convincing their patients to make permanent lifestyle changes. Read more.


Promoting Healthy Foods with Cartoon Characters

Branding healthy foods with a cartoon character can make those foods more appealing to children, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Read more.

Banning Junk Food Advertising Before 9 pm

Advertisements for junk food before 9 pm should be banned, according to the president of the British Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health. Read more.

Worst Marketing Practice

Burger King’s “Family Food” Game

Burger King’s latest “Family Food” sweepstakes, based on the popular Family Feud game show, is offering daily monetary giveaways and chances to win prizes, such as free or discounted food, cars, family vacations, and airline tickets. The campaign focuses on family bonding and allows youth as young as 13 to enter. Game pieces are available on medium and large drinks and combo meals, which do not meet the Institute of Medicine’s nutrition standards for healthy meals for children. Read more.

Best Marketing Practice

Online Game Promotes “Fun Instead of Candy” for Halloween

The creators of the online game “Zombies and Plants” have partnered with the American Dental Association for a Halloween promotion. The campaign aims to “Stop Zombie Mouth” by “redefining what a Halloween ‘treat’ can be... by giving FUN instead of candy.” A promotional website allows parents to download coupons and zombie trading cards to distribute on Halloween instead of candy and sweets. Read more.