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

December 2012

Food Marketing to Youth: The Best and the Worst of 2012


Only $11.4 million was spent on marketing fruits and vegetables to youth in 2006, representing less than 1 percent of the $2 billion spent on all food marketing to youth, according to the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance and the Federal Trade Commission. Food and beverage companies use traditional forms of marketing, such as television advertising and promotions on product packages, but companies are increasingly using more unique and invasive techniques. The Rudd Center compiled a collection of the best and worst examples of food marketing practices in 2012, including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Summer Olympic Games (worst) and Disney's restriction of junk food advertising to children (best).

Horizon Foundation Launches Howard County Unsweetened

Howard County Unsweetened, a multi-faceted, community-wide campaign to reduce childhood obesity by helping children and parents choose healthy beverages, was launched by The Horizon Foundation, an independent philanthropy dedicated to improving the health and wellness of residents in Howard County, Maryland.

Howard County Unsweetened will be the most-evaluated sugary drink campaign in the country. The Rudd Center will help in this evaluation.

The campaign’s main feature is the Better Beverage Finder, an online tool that enables parents and children to identify and locate healthy beverages. The campaign also includes the Better Choices Coalition of Howard County, a broad-based group of organizations that will work to ensure that the county's public spaces offer better drink choices. As part of the campaign, County Executive Ken Ulman announced an Executive Order to provide only healthy beverage options in county government facilities.

"Our goal is as simple as it is positive: to make it easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices," according to The Horizon Foundation President and CEO Nicole Highsmith Vernick. "We are working to change community norms to make it easier on moms and dads."

The campaign kicked off at a local middle school with an event called “Dump That Sugar!” where 9.6 tons of white sand was dumped in the school's parking lot. The sand represented the amount of sugar the school's students would consume each year if every student drank one 12-ounce soda a day.

Health Groups Urge Nickelodeon to Stop Marketing Unhealthy Food to Children

The Rudd Center, along with more than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists, sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to implement nutrition standards for foods marketed to children, especially those foods that license Nickelodeon characters.

The letter was coordinated by the Food Marketing Workgroup, a coalition led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Berkeley Media Studies Group, which includes organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and Environmental Working Group.

The letter kicked off a campaign that encourages Nickelodeon to change its marketing practices and includes a campaign for parents, social media outreach, and print ads.

Nickelodeon has taken small steps toward limiting food marketing to children, including a policy restricting the licensing of Nick characters to healthier food products, according to CSPI. However, the company is still using SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer to promote unhealthy foods such as imitation fruit snacks, Popsicles, PEZ candy, Cheese Nips crackers, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

“We appreciate Nickelodeon's efforts to promote healthy lifestyles to children,” stated the letter addressed to the Presidents of Viacom and Nickelodeon. “However, such efforts are insufficient given the magnitude of the problem. Your public service announcements, philanthropic activities and partnerships with children's groups do not counterbalance the effect of Nickelodeon's core business and children's exposure to food marketing."

The group encouraged Viacom to join the Council for Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative or implement the food marketing guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcast

Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA
Director of Marketing Initiatives, Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Children's Food Marketing

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

CSPI Advocates a Sugary Drink Tax

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently sent letters to policymakers recommending that Congress support a penny per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. Such a tax could raise $1.6 billion nationally each year, lead to a decline in consumption of sugary drinks, and reduce healthcare costs associated with obesity, according to the Center.

The Rudd Center’s revenue calculator for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes can be used to estimate revenue for the nation, states, and cities.

Health and Advocacy Groups Support Proposed Updates to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act

The Rudd Center was part of a coalition of more than 50 children’s health, privacy, and consumer advocacy organizations, led by the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Sense Media, which sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expressing strong support for proposed updates to 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. However, COPPA rules were established in 2000 and since then there have been many changes in the online and mobile world. According to the Center for Digital Democracy, sophisticated new data collection and marketing practices have undermined parents’ ability to make meaningful decisions to protect their children’s privacy and safety.

The proposed updates would require parental consent for websites to collect a broader range of information about children under age 13, including location. They also would require parental permission for a website to use tracking software, known as cookies, to build profiles about children and monitor their online activities for purposes such as targeting them for advertising.

The Center for Digital Democracy has created a petition that allows parents and consumers to show support for the FTC’s efforts to update COPPA.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Ellen Wartella, PhD


Ellen Wartella, PhD, Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University, presented Media Characters: The Unhidden Persuaders in Food Marketing to Children on October 17 during the Rudd Center’s Fall Seminar Series.

Dr. Wartella is a leading scholar on the effects of media on children and adolescents, and the impact of food marketing on childhood obesity. She was co-principal investigator on a five-year multi-site research project funded by the National Research Foundation which examined the effect of digital media on very young children. She was also co-principal investigator on the National TV Violence Study (1995-1998) and the Children's Digital Media Center project funded by the National Science Foundation (2001-2006).

Dr. Wartella sits on a a variety of national advisory boards providing direction on the influence of media on children’s health and has authored and edited many books, book chapters, technical reports, and research papers. Dr. Wartella is the recipient of several awards including the Steven H. Chaffee Career Productivity Award from the International Communication Association, the Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Communication Association, and the Krieghbaum Under 40 Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The slides from Dr. Wartella’s seminar are available as well as podcasts featuring discussions with her on the current state of food marketing and front-of-package nutrition labeling.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Legal Strategies for Weight-Control Drugs

Legal interventions exist to protect youth from abusing widely-available over-the-counter drugs and supplements such as laxatives and diet pills for weight control, according to a paper recently published by Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Rudd Center Director of Legal Initiatives.

Many such products are not medically recommended for healthy weight control or are especially susceptible to abuse, and their misuse can result in serious health consequences. The authors analyzed the government’s role in regulating these products to protect public health, examining federal and state regulatory authority. Several legal interventions are indicated to protect youth, including increased warnings, and restrictions on access through behind-the-counter placement or age verification.

The paper was published in the American Journal of Public Health and was coauthored by Lisa M. Taylor, JD, and S. Bryn A ustin, ScD.

Iceland Considers Proposal to Prohibit Weight Discrimination in New Constitution

Iceland’s Senate will vote soon on whether to adopt a new constitution that includes language on weight discrimination (link text in Icelandic).

Icelanders have called for the new language, which includes body weight among the provisions listed for protected classes from discrimination, and would make it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their weight.

Iceland has previously paved paths for human rights on gender equality and gay rights for its citizens.

"If Iceland accepts this proposal into their new constitution, they will be the first country in the world to prohibit weight discrimination," according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. "This groundbreaking legislation could reduce inequities and improve the quality of life for many Icelanders who are vulnerable to unfair treatment because of their weight."

"Our research shows that weight discrimination has increased by 66% in the past decade in the U.S., and is comparable to rates of racial discrimination," Puhl continued. "Legislation to prohibit weight discrimination has been discussed here in the United States, as well as in countries such as Canada and Italy, but unfortunately, little has been done to increase protections for persons subjected to this form of discrimination. These laws are badly needed. Iceland could be the leader in these efforts."

The Biggest Loser: Researchers are Paying Attention

Recent studies demonstrated that the popular television show The Biggest Loser may negatively affect the attitudes and behaviors of its viewers, according to a recent blog by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. The program may reinforce weight-based stereotypes toward obese individuals and not encourage exercise behaviors.

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).

Front Burner News

Obesity Surpasses Hunger

Obesity is a larger health crisis than hunger, and is the leading cause of disabilities around the world, according to a report published in the The Lancet. Read more.

Childhood Obesity Rates Decline in Some Cities

For the first time in decades, the childhood obesity rate has fallen in several American cities, including New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller cities like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Nebraska. Read more.

Obesity Crisis in Mexico

Mexicans are more obese than anywhere else in the world except the United States, due to changes in lifestyle, according to public health experts. Read more.

Food-Pricing Strategies Reduce Dietary Inequalities


Food-pricing strategies, such as taxing soft drinks and foods high in saturated fats and providing subsidies for fruits and vegetables, can reduce dietary inequalities, according to a study in the journal PLoS Medicine. Read more.

Few Alternatives to Milk in Federal Lunch Program

There are few alternatives to dairy milk for students participating in the federal lunch program, despite high rates of lactose intolerance among minorities. Read more.

Fast Food Options Still High in Calories

Despite more “healthy” options on fast food menus, calorie counts of menu items have barely changed, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive MedicineRead more.

More Meats and Grains in School Lunches

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responding to criticism over the new school lunch standards by removing daily and weekly limits on grains and meats in students’ meals. Read more.

Caffeinated Cracker Jacks

Frito Lay introduced Cracker Jack’D Power Bites, a new version of the popcorn candy with as much caffeine in every serving as a cup of coffee. Read more.

Industry’s Role in Public Health Policy and Obesity

Kelly Brownell, Rudd Center Director, and Derek Yach, formerly with PepsiCo, and currently with The Vitality Group, debated whether there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the food and beverage industry's interests and public health. Read more.

Federal Funding Brings Good Food to Schools

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $4.5 million grant to support farm-to-school projects. Read more.


Beyoncé & PepsiCo: The $50 Million Deal

In Beyoncé’s new deal with PepsiCo, her image will be featured on limited edition Pepsi cans, and she will undertake her own "creative projects." One year ago, a video of Beyoncé dancing in a high school cafeteria on behalf of the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign indicated what seemed to be her commitment to fighting childhood obesity. Read more.

No Need for Kids’ Food


If adults eat healthfully, kids should be eating the same foods, and there is no need for commercial baby food or kids’ food products. Read more.

Food Industry’s Conflict of Interest

Many food companies today are conflicted. They continue to push unhealthy products while touting plans to improve nutrition. Read more.

Importance of School Nutrition Standards

The consumption of school food has a profound impact on children’s health. Setting strong nutrition standards for snacks and drinks in schools will support parents’ decisions to serve healthy food at home. Read more.

The Happy Meal Talk

Parents often wonder how to respond to their children when they ask for junk food or fast food. Parents can teach their children about food marketing and explain why the healthiest foods tend not to be adorned with pictures of cartoon characters. Read more.


Coca-Cola Launches Physical Activity Tool

Coca-Cola launched a tool on their U.K. website that calculates how much time must be spent walking, washing windows, or performing other physical activities in order to burn off the calories from a 12-ounce can of Coke. Critics say the company is promoting physical activity to mask soda’s contribution to obesity. Read more.


Food Ads Fuel Childhood Obesity

Obese children may be more susceptible to food advertising than healthy-weight children, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics. Read more.

Social Media’s Role in Obesity Fight

Social media may become an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity, according to a statement published in Circulation by the American Heart Association. Read more.

Lawmaker Urges FTC to Investigate Energy Drink Ads


Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) has urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate advertising claims made by energy drink producers. Read more.

Regulating Advergames

Regulation is needed to protect children from advergames that promote unhealthy food, according to health experts. Read more.