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

August 2013

Obesity Rates Decline among Low-Income Preschoolers  

Obesity rates among low-income preschoolers have declined in 19 states and U.S. territories between 2008 and 2011, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the first major government report that has shown a consistent pattern of decline for low-income children after decades of rising rates. 

Researchers suggest that an increase in breast-feeding, a drop in calories from sugary drinks, and changes in the food offered in federal nutrition programs for women and children may have contributed to the decline. 

“One hypothesis is that the 2009 changes in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program may have played a role in the progress,” said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director. Rudd Center research shows that efforts to encourage healthy food and beverage choices by those participating in WIC are working. “The program was altered to encourage purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables instead of juice, as well as whole-grain products and lower-fat dairy foods,” said Schwartz. 

Researchers also attribute the decline to policies aimed at reducing obesity. “While it’s not possible to isolate the cause of the decline, we know from other research that strong policies supportive of healthy weight are associated with improved weight outcomes in children," said Kathryn Henderson, PhD, Rudd Center Director of School and Community Initiatives. “The decline in obesity in this particular group is welcome news, as preventing obesity in our youngest children is key to long-term health. Additionally, low-income families experience the greatest health disparities, so an improvement for these children especially is reason for celebration,” said Henderson. 

Adult Obesity Rates Hold Steady 

After rising for decades, obesity rates have remained steady for the first time in 30 years, according the latest “F as in Fat” report, released annually by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Only one state, Arkansas, showed an increase in obesity rates while other states managed to keep their rates stable compared with the previous year. The rates, however, remain very high, putting Americans at risk for a range of health problems and adding to national healthcare costs.

Thirteen states currently have an adult obesity rate above 30 percent, 41 states have rates of at least 25 percent, and every state has a rate above 20 percent, according to the report.  

“While stable rates of adult obesity may signal prevention efforts are starting to yield some results, the rates remain extremely high,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, in a press release. “Even if the nation holds steady at the current rates, Baby Boomers—who are aging into obesity-related illnesses—and the rapidly rising numbers of extremely obese Americans are already translating into a cost crisis for the healthcare system and Medicare.” Levi added, “In order to decrease obesity and related costs, we must ensure that policies at every level support healthy choices, and we must focus investments on prevention.”

The report includes a growing set of strategies that have improved health—but stresses that they have not yet been implemented or funded at a high enough level to significantly reduce obesity trends. Key recommendations include: 

• All food in schools must be healthy.
• Kids and adults should have access to more opportunities for regular physical activity.
• Restaurants should post calorie information on menus.
• Food and beverage companies should market only their healthiest products to children.
• The country should invest more in preventing disease to save money on treating it.
• Transportation should be planned to encourage walking and biking.
• Everyone should be able to purchase healthy, affordable foods close to home.

Rudd Center Participates in Senate Hearing on Energy Drink Marketing to Teens 


The Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives, Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, recently testified for the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in a hearing on “Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth.” The hearing was called to examine the health risks associated with energy drinks, and the marketing practices energy companies use to target young people.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that “energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents” due to their “stimulant content.” Public health experts have raised concerns about the dangers of energy drink consumption. The Senate hearing aimed to discover whether or not energy drink companies take these concerns into account when marketing to adolescents.

According to Rudd Center research, most energy drinks contain unhealthy levels of sugar, sodium, and caffeine, and are heavily marketed to young people through social media, extreme sporting events, and the sponsorship of teen athletes. 

A video of the hearing is available here.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers 

Wednesday, September 18, 12:30 pm
Joyal Mulheron, MS
Former Chief Strategy Officer, Partnership for a Healthier America Reflections on Policy, Politics, and the Private Sector

Wednesday, September 25, 12:30 pm
Katie S. Martin, PhD
Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Allied Health Sciences, Connecticut Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, University of Connecticut
The Role of Food Pantries in the Fight against Obesity

Thursday, September 26, 12:30 pm
Paul B. Thompson, PhD
Professor and W. K. Kellogg Chair; Agricultural, Food, and Community Ethics; Michigan State University
Food Nanotechnology as Emerging Technology: Framing the Ethical Issues
*Co-sponsored by the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics

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.

New York City Vows to Continue Push for Portion Size Limits on Sugary Drinks 

A state appeals court ruled that the New York City Board of Health exceeded its legal authority when it voted last year to limit the portion size of sugary drinks served in restaurants and other venues.  

A four-judge panel of the state Supreme Court Appellate Division said that while the board has the power to ban "inherently harmful" foodstuffs from being served to the public, sweetened beverages don't fall into that category. Soda consumption is not necessarily harmful when consumed in moderation, the court wrote, and therefore "cannot be classified as a health hazard per se."

The city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the court’s decision.  

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Food Marketing Expenditures Aimed at Youth 

A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by Bridging the Gap and the Rudd Center documents troubling food marketing trends, despite the findings of a report released in 2012 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showing that food and beverage companies spent less on marketing to children in 2009 than in 2006. The new study confirms that when marketing to children and teens, the food and beverage industry still spends the bulk of its money to promote unhealthy products. The FTC report had found an inflation-adjusted 19.5% reduction in marketing expenditures targeted to youth from $2.1 billion in 2006, to $1.8 billion in 2009.

The study, “Food Marketing Expenditures Aimed at Youth–Putting the Numbers in Context,” closely examines the FTC expenditures report in the context of other related research. Key findings include:

• The vast majority of youth-directed ads promote unhealthy food and drink, such as fast-food products, carbonated beverages, cereals, candies, and other items that are high in sugar and/or fat. Compared with the foods and beverages marketed to adults, those marketed to children continue to be much less healthy overall.
• The single largest decrease in marketing expenses was due to a drop in the cost and distribution of toys that fast-food restaurants offered with kids’ meals.
• Fast-food companies dramatically increased their spending on TV ads targeting children—and while some companies slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed TV ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled.
• There were major increases in spending on newer marketing platforms, such as online games, ads, mobile apps, text messaging, and social networks.

The authors assert that the current analysis highlights the lack of progress in existing industry-initiated actions and demonstrates that stronger self-regulatory efforts are needed to noticeably reduce youth exposure to unhealthy food marketing. Continued monitoring of expenditures, exposure, and nutritional content is needed, and policy actions by federal, state, and local governments and regulatory agencies may be required.

The analysis was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Bridging the Gap program and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity; the Rudd Foundation; and the NIH National Cancer Institute.

The paper was co-authored by Lisa Powell, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago; the Rudd Center’s Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives; and Tracy Fox, MPH, RD, President of Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants.  

Despite Promises, Cereal Companies Play on Children’s Imaginations to Promote Unhealthy Products 

Sugary CerealDespite industry promises to avoid deceptive and inappropriate advertising to children, cereal companies promote unhealthy products to children using messages and images that exploit their imaginations and mislead them about the characteristics of a product, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The study is published online in the Journal of Health Communication.

Through the industry’s Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU), companies voluntarily pledge to not advertise to children in a deceptive, unfair, or inappropriate manner. CARU standards take into account the special vulnerabilities of children, like their susceptibility to being misled or influenced, and their lack of cognitive skills needed to evaluate the credibility of advertising. In addition, CARU promises not to exploit children’s imaginations or mislead them about the benefits of using a product.

Researchers viewed 158 cereal advertisements that appeared on U.S. television between 2008 and 2009. They identified the types of messages, creative techniques and eating behaviors presented in each of the ads. Using data obtained from Nielsen, a media research company, the researchers examined how often children viewed the specific products and messages in these advertisements.

The study found that despite pledges to not exploit children’s imaginations, 91% of the ads for sugary cereal viewed by children associated cereals with adventures or emotional appeals, depicting the product as a plaything providing entertainment and fun, rather than a source of nutrition and sustenance.

In addition, despite promises not to mislead children about the benefits of using a product, researchers found that 59% of the ads did just that by, for example, associating the product with having fun or being cool and popular.

“These findings raise ethical as well as public health concerns, given children’s limited ability to critically process the messages raised in cereal advertising," said lead author Megan LoDolce, MA, Research Associate at the Rudd Center. “Food companies must adhere to their promises and limit messages in child-directed advertising that confuse and mislead children about nutrition and healthy eating.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, children are especially vulnerable to the influence of advertising. Younger children in particular are unable to differentiate between media meant to promote a product and media meant to entertain. The researchers argued that because children are more susceptible to advertising, the current commercial environment makes it likely that children will normalize the consumption of sugary cereals.

The study was funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Foundation. The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Megan LoDolce, MA, Research Associate; Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives; and Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Director.

Weight Discrimination Increases Risk of Obesity 

A study recently published in PLoS One by Sutin and Terraccinao at Florida State University College of Medicine, is one of the first longitudinal studies to demonstrate that weight discrimination is associated with becoming obese. The study, which followed 6,157 adults over four years, found that adults who reported experiencing weight discrimination were 2.5 times more likely to be obese four years later than those who did not report discrimination.

Previous research has demonstrated that experiencing weight stigmatization is associated with negative health consequences, including behaviors that may impair weight loss or contribute to weight gain, such as binge-eating, unhealthy weight control behaviors, increased food consumption, and avoidance of physical activity. However, the findings of this study go one step further, documenting the effects of weight discrimination over time, and isolating weight discrimination specifically as a potential contributor to obesity, according to a recent blog on Medscape by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director.

These new findings indicate that weight discrimination may pose considerable challenges and barriers in efforts to effectively prevent weight gain or lose excess weight, Puhl wrote. While weight discrimination is often discussed in terms of being a social injustice, this study underscores the importance of recognizing also it as a public health issue which should be prioritized in efforts to prevent and treat obesity.

Dr. Puhl’s blog is the latest in a series on weight bias, and is published on Medscape, a part of WebMD Health Professional Network. (Free online registration required).

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Marlene Schwartz , PhD
Director, Rudd Center
Feeding Your Family

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes.

Front Burner News

Obesity Risk Factors Vary for Girls and Boys


While some behaviors increase the risk of obesity for both girls and boys, new research in the journal Pediatrics shows there are gender differences. Read more.

Obesity’s Death Toll Higher than Believed 

The death toll from the nation's obesity epidemic may be close to four times higher than has been widely believed, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Read more.

Multiple Contributors to Obesity 

Multiple contributors fuel the obesity epidemic and each requires tailored treatment, according to Nikhil Dhurandhar, Researcher and Vice President of The Obesity Society. Read more.

Officials Creating Healthier School Lunches

State and federal health officials are working to ensure that children receive nourishing food during the school day. Read more.

Messenger between Gut and Brain Linked to Eating Behavior 

Researchers from Yale University may have found a key molecular messenger that links the stomach-to-brain reward circuits and can impact eating behavior. Read more.

Disparities in Obesity Rates between Racial Groups 

Racial disparities persist in the obesity epidemic, even as the prevalence of obesity among low-income preschoolers in the U.S. has dropped in 19 states and territories over a three year span. Read more

Increased Consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup Mirrors Obesity Epidemic 

According to new data released by the USDA, consumption of high fructose corn syrup has increased,  mirroring the obesity epidemic, while consumption of sugar has dropped significantly in the last 40 years. Read more.

Differing Views on the Future of Food Stamps   

Congressional Republicans and Democrats have clashing visions of the future of Food Stamps. How the conflict is resolved could have a serious impact on the future of the feeding program. Read more.

Report says U.S. Obesity Prevention Efforts Fall Short   

The U.S. is lagging behind other countries in evaluating and selecting the best programs and policies to curb the obesity epidemic, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. Read more.

Mother's Pregnancy Weight and Child's Lifelong Health

Pregnant Woman

Middle-aged adults whose mothers were obese or overweight during pregnancy have increased risks for developing serious cardiovascular problems and dying young, according to a study published in the British medical journal BMJ. Read more.

Complicated Link between Obesity, Diabetes, and Death   

The link between body weight and death risk is stronger among adults without diabetes than among those with the disease, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Read more.

Racial and Ethnic Communities Prioritize Health Differently  

Racial and ethnic communities in the U.S. prioritize health concerns differently, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. Hispanics and whites worry about childhood obesity, while blacks worry about smoking. Read more.

Britain Proposes Measures to Reduce Childhood Obesity 

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Britain’s leading doctors’ group, recently proposed measures to reduce childhood obesity, such as a 20 percent tax on soft drinks, a ban on television ads for junk food, and limits on the number of fast-food restaurants allowed near schools. Read more.


Soda’s Social Responsibility Campaigns: Helpful or Harmful? 

Nutrition experts are divided over whether the beverage industry’s social responsibility campaigns help people, or whether they whitewash the bigger harms that consuming the products generate. Read more.

Food Giants Profit from Diet Industry  

The food giants accused of contributing to obesity also profit by buying into the diet industry, according to journalist Jacques Peretti. Read more.


Sugary Drinks Linked to Obesity among Preschoolers 

Preschool children are at a heightened risk of becoming obese if they regularly drink sugary beverages such as sodas, juices, and sports drinks, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Read more.

Colorado Town Adds a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax to Ballot 

The Telluride, Colorado, Town Council has voted to put a sugar-sweetened beverage tax on this November’s ballot. Read more

Mexico’s Soda Lobby Rejects Blame for Rising Obesity  

Mexico's soda lobby is fighting back against those who blame soda for the country's rising obesity rate, which is now higher than in the U.S., pointing to fried foods and a lack of physical activity as the cause. Read more

Demographics of Regular Soda Drinkers 

Young adults, people of color, and low-income individuals drink more regular soda in the United States compared with other Americans, according to a Gallup Poll. Read more.

Soda Contributes to Behavior Problems among Children


Along with contributing to obesity, sodas have been connected to behavioral problems among children, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Read more.


Latino Children are a Top Target of Junk Food Ads 

Spanish-language television and outdoor billboards disproportionately expose Latino children to unhealthy food messages, according to a study by Salud America! The study outlines the effects of food marketing on U.S. Latino children, as well as policy implications that should follow. Read more.

Bill to End Subsidy for Marketing Unhealthy Food to Children 

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has introduced legislation that would close a loophole allowing companies to claim a tax deduction for marketing unhealthy foods to children. Read more.