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

October 2013

Rudd Center Named #4 Non-Profit Dedicated to Child Nutrition

Rudd_FlagThe Rudd Center was recently ranked by the non-profit ranking site Philanthropedia, as the #4 highest-performing childhood nutrition and health non-profit organization in the country. 

The rankings are based on interviews with experts in the field of childhood nutrition and health, including non-profit senior staff and executive directors, researchers, journalists and policy makers.  

“We are honored to be listed among the leading organizations in the country addressing childhood obesity," said Rudd Center Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD. "When we created the Rudd Center eight years ago, we envisioned a new model for a university–based research center. Traditional researchers publish their findings and move on to the next study. We publish our findings and then get our research into the hands of advocates and policymakers. This connection between research and advocacy is what fuels the passion and drive of the Rudd Center faculty and staff.”  

The reviewers recognized the Rudd Center for its focus on a wide range of issues, its strong leadership, the quality and volume of its academic output, and the resources the Center provides to researchers, policy makers and individuals, for improving health in multiple sectors.

Horizon Foundation Launches Ad Campaign Parodying Coca-Cola

The Horizon Foundation, a non-profit organization which promotes and enhances the health and wellness of Howard County, Maryland, recently launched a television advertising campaign parodying Coca-Cola. The ad calls on the beverage company to find a “better way” to help fight childhood obesity.  

The 30-and 90-second spots, which will air on broadcast and cable networks throughout the Baltimore area, will promote the campaign’s Better Beverage Finder, a web tool designed to help consumers find a healthy beverage that fits their lifestyle and taste. The ad campaign has generated significant media coverage including an editorial in The Baltimore Sun which praises the initiative.

Adult Obesity Rates Level Off but Still an Epidemic

The U.S. adult obesity rate dropped from 35.7% in 2010 to 34.9% in 2012, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. However, health experts warn that the decline is statistically insignificant and that obesity continues to be a troubling public health issue.

Despite rates leveling off, more than one-third of adults were obese in 2011-2012. “The numbers are still at epidemic levels, and we need to continue to create smart strategies to address this health problem,” said Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, Director of the STOP Obesity Alliance at George Washington University.

Other key findings include:

• In 2011–2012, the prevalence of obesity was higher among middle-aged adults (39.5%) than among younger (30.3%) or older (35.4%) adults. 

• The overall prevalence of obesity did not differ between men and women in 2011–2012. Among non-Hispanic black adults, however, 56.6% of women were obese compared with 37.1% of men.

• In 2011–2012, the prevalence of obesity was higher among non-Hispanic black (47.8%), Hispanic (42.5%), and non-Hispanic white (32.6%) adults than among non-Hispanic Asian adults (10.8%).

Mexico Plans to Tax Junk Food and Sugary Drinks 

Taxes on high-calorie junk food and sugary drinks were recently approved by Mexico’s lower house of Congress as part of a broader reform plan proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto.  

The government will levy an 8 cent per-liter tax on sugary drinks and a 5 percent tax on packaged foods that contain 275 calories or more per 100 grams if the proposal passes the Senate.

Health experts are applauding the taxes since Mexico has one of the world’s highest rates of obesity and largest per capita consumption of Coca-Cola beverages. However, the taxes have been met with resistance from businesses that claim that reduced sales will lead to diminished profits and lost jobs.

Senators Urge Energy Drink Companies to Stop Marketing to Children

Energy_DrinksFour senators recently sent letters to major energy drink companies asking them to voluntarily commit to actions that would protect children and teens from the potential harmful effects of consuming energy drinks.
Senators Ed Markey, Jay Rockefeller, Dick Durbin and Richard Blumenthal are urging the companies to pledge not to promote excessive consumption of energy drinks, not to advertise the drinks to children under 18, and to clearly declare on the label how much caffeine each drink contains.

They also asked the companies to agree not to promote mixing the drinks with alcohol or other drugs, to put restrictions on social media sites to prevent children from accessing them, and to make sure that energy drinks are not sold in school vending machines or at school events.  

The requests came after a July Senate Commerce hearing in which representatives and health experts, including Rudd Center’s Director of Marketing Initiatives, Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, discussed the health risks associated with energy drinks as well as the marketing practices companies use to target young people.

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

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young people under age 18 never consume energy drinks,” said Jennifer Harris. “Yet energy drink companies market their products aggressively to teens and even younger children. The senators have proposed a number of common-sense actions that the companies could take to protect youth from harm due to consumption of these potentially addictive substances. We hope that the companies choose to do the right thing for the health of our children.”

Letters were sent to 5-Hour Energy, AMP Energy, Arizona Energy, Celsius, Clif Shots, Crunk Energy, Full Throttle, Jamba Energy, Monster Energy, NOS Energy, Red Bull, Rockstar Energy, Sambazon Energy, Street King Energy, Target/Archer Farms Energy Drinks, Venom Energy, and Xenergy.  

McDonald’s Plans to Promote only Healthy Happy Meal Beverages

McDonald’s recently announced that it will phase out listing soda on the kids’ meal section of its menu boards. Soda will still be available with the meals but parents would have to request it. The chain also promised to place nutritional messages on Happy Meal packaging and advertising.

In partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a group founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, McDonald’s also announced that it will start offering vegetables, fruit, and side salads as substitutes for French fries in its value meals.

“The move to only promote healthy beverage options for Happy Meals is a step in the right direction,” said Rudd Center Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD. “Research shows that sugary drinks are a major contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic. By only promoting water, milk, and juice in Happy Meals, McDonald’s is making the healthy choice the easy choice.” 

“In the past year, McDonald’s has made substantial improvements to the nutritional quality of its Happy Meals by reducing the portion size of fries and automatically including apples, and now promoting only healthier beverage options,” said Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives. “We encourage the company to make the same healthy changes to its Mighty Kids’ Meals. Our research shows that over 40% of 6- to 11-year-olds get a Mighty Kids’ Meal at McDonald’s instead of a Happy Meal, and all kids’ meal choices at McDonald’s should promote healthier options.” 

McDonald's plans to make the changes to its menu in 20 of the company’s largest markets by 2020.  

Legislators Propose Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013

Three members of Congress recently proposed legislation which would require that food labels provide clear and consistent nutrition information to consumers. The Food Labeling Modernization Act, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal, and Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Frank Pallone, Jr., seeks to create a single, standard front-of-package label, require greater disclosure of sugar and caffeine content, and define how common claims such as "natural" and "healthy" can be used.

Research by the Rudd Center published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that a front-of-package label can play an important role in health and nutrition and can improve the accuracy of judgments about the nutritional quality of foods and beverages.

Major food labeling requirements have not been updated since 1990 and in some cases have not been changed since 1938. The bill's sponsors assert that the current labels do not provide the information that today’s consumers need to evaluate and compare products in order to make healthy choices.

“The Food Labeling Modernization Act will give food labeling requirements in America a major, common-sense, and long-overdue overhaul by making sure food labels are a clear, accurate, and fair representation of the product,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.  

In 2009, Congress asked the Institute of Medicine and the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a study on labeling and make recommendations for a standard label. However, in January 2011, the food industry announced its own nutrition labeling approach called Facts Up Front. Some health experts believe that the industry’s food labeling approach was introduced to preempt the imposition of an alternative system that would be based on available and relevant science.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which is the voice of more than 300 leading food, beverage, and consumer product companies, has expressed concerns over the bill.

More information on the Food Labeling Modernization Act of 2013 can be found here.

Facebook Changes Privacy Rules for Teens, Creating Opportunities for Marketers

Social_MediaFacebook recently announced that it is relaxing its privacy rules for teenagers. Teens now have the option to publicly share photos, videos, and updates on Facebook which means that companies collecting data for advertising and marketing purposes will be able to see their posts.

"While only a small fraction of teens using Facebook might choose to post publicly, this update now gives them the choice to share more broadly, just like on other social media services," Facebook said. But according to Jeffrey Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Facebook is sacrificing the safety and privacy of teens in order to further its business.

The company is competing with other social network sites like Twitter to attract consumer advertisers for products such as junk food and sugary drinks.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers 

November 13, 2013, 12:30 pm
Victor C. Strasburger, MD
Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine; Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics; Professor of Family & Community Medicine; University of New Mexico School of Medicine
Children, Adolescents, & the Media – Why Won't They Believe Us, and What Do We Need to Do to Convince Them

December 4, 2013 12:30 pm
Amy Dawson Taggart
National Director, Mission: Readiness
Childhood Obesity: A National Security Issue?

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.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Unhealthy Food Marketed to Youth through Athlete Endorsements

Professional athletes are often paid large amounts of money to endorse commercial products. But the majority of the food and beverage brands endorsed by professional athletes are for unhealthy products such as sports beverages, soft drinks, and fast food, according to a new study by the Rudd Center. The study appears in the November issue of Pediatrics.

Analyzing data collected in 2010 from Nielson and AdScope, an advertisement database, the study reveals that adolescents aged 12 to 17 viewed the most television ads for food endorsed by athletes.

Previous research by public health advocates has criticized the use of athlete endorsements in food marketing campaigns for promoting unhealthy food and sending mixed messages to youth about health, but this is the first study to examine the extent and reach of such marketing.

Researchers selected 100 professional athletes to study based on Businessweek’s 2010 Power 100 report, which ranked athletes according to their endorsement value and prominence in their sport. Information about each athlete’s endorsements was gathered from the Power 100 list and AdScope. Researchers then sorted the endorsements into categories: food/beverages; automotive; consumer goods; service providers; entertainment; finance; communications/office; sporting goods/apparel; retail; airline; and other. The nutritional quality of the foods featured in athlete-endorsement advertising was assessed, along with the marketing data.

Of the 512 brands associated with these athletes, food and beverage brands were the second largest category of endorsements behind sporting goods. “We found that LeBron James (NBA), Peyton Manning (NFL), and Serena Williams (tennis) had more food and beverage endorsements than any of the other athletes examined. Most of the athletes who endorsed food and beverages were from the NBA, followed by the NFL, and MLB,” said Marie Bragg, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at Yale.

Sports beverages were the largest individual category of athlete endorsements, followed by soft drinks, and fast food. All of the calories in in the majority (93%) of the 46 endorsed beverages came from added sugars.

Food and beverage advertisements associated with professional athletes had far-reaching exposure, with ads appearing nationally on television, the Internet, the radio, in newspapers, and magazines.

“The promotion of energy-dense, nutrient-poor products by some of the world’s most physically fit and well-known athletes is an ironic combination that sends mixed messages about diet and health,” said Bragg. 

Bragg and co-authors assert that professional athletes should be aware of the health value of the products they are endorsing, and should use their status and celebrity to promote healthy messages and products to youth. 

Bragg’s co-authors include Swati Yanamadala, Christina Roberto, and Jennifer L. Harris of the Rudd Center at Yale, and Kelly Brownell of Duke University. 

The study was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Katie S. Martin, PhD
Assistant Professor, Director of Public Health Program Department of Nutrition & Public Health University of Saint Joseph
The Role of Food Pantries in the Fight Against Obesity

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

Front Burner News

National School Lunch Dropout Rate is Small
The USDA reports that of 100,000 participating schools, only 524 schools have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year. Read more.

Lessening the Burden of Weight Stigma in Schools

Research suggests that schools and educators are becoming increasingly aware that weight-based bullying and teasing is a problem in the school setting. Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director, speaks with Psychology Today about what educators and parents can do to lessen the burden of weight stigma. Read more.

Strong School Policies Reduce Overexposure to Sugary Treats

Schools with a district policy or state law discouraging sugary foods and beverages were 2.5 times more likely to restrict those foods at parties than were schools with no such policy or law, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. Read more.

Healthy Food Environments Benefit Eating Disorders and Obesity Communities

The eating disorders and obesity communities have often been at odds, but a healthy food environment would benefit both communities, according to a recent article in the The New York Times by Abby Ellin. Read more.

Sugary Treats Activate Brain’s Pleasure Center

Eating sugary treats like Oreos activates more neurons in the brain’s “pleasure center” than drugs such as cocaine, according to researchers at Connecticut College. Read more.

Massachusetts’ Child Obesity Rates Drop  

The percentage of Massachusetts’ public school students who are overweight or obese has significantly dropped over the past five years, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health. Read more.

Food Day Celebrates Healthy Food 

Food Day, a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies, was held on October 24, 2013. Read more.

Color-Coded Food Labels Encourage Healthier Food Choices in Hospitals

A program designed to encourage more healthful food choices through simple color-coded labels and the positioning of items in display cases was successful among employees at a large hospital cafeteria, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Read more.

Nutritional Content of Chain Restaurant’s Main Dishes are Still Poor Despite Changes

Although a number of chain restaurants have announced healthy menu changes over the years, the overall calorie and sodium levels in main dishes offered by top U.S. chain restaurants have remained the same, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Read more.

Weight-Stigma Briefing on Capitol Hill 

The Eating Disorders Coalition held a briefing on Capitol Hill on the negative health outcomes that can result from weight-based stigma and discrimination.  Read more. 


The Truth about School Lunch

News articles, campaigns, out-of-date statistics, and images that disparage school lunch fail to expose the real truth about school lunch today – that kids willingly eating it, according to Dayle Hayes, a child nutrition expert. Read more.

Health Activists Should Support “Drink Up” Campaign

Health activists should not criticize Michelle Obama’s newest obesity reduction campaign, “Drink Up,” according to Hank Cardello, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “Complex societal problems like childhood obesity demand practical, multifaceted solutions, involving both the public and private sectors, and we can’t afford to kick Big Business and its marketing resources out of the tent,” asserts Cardello. Read more.

Erroneous Media Coverage of Food Policies Misleads the Public

Erroneous reports about the progress of food policies like healthier school lunches and calorie labeling have been appearing in the media in alarming numbers, according to Nancy Huehnergarth, food policy consultant. Huehnergarth urges reporters to make sure that the facts about these policies don't go unreported due to sensationalism. Read more.


California Children are Drinking Less Soda

U.S. teens may be drinking more sugary drinks than ever before, but younger kids in California are drinking less, according to a report from the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Read more.

Telluride Soda Tax Campaigns Heat Up

The ballot measure to tax sugary drinks in Telluride Colorado is quickly becoming controversial. Kick the Can Telluride is backing the measure, while the No on 2A Campaign is fighting it. Read more

ChangeLab Solutions Launches Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Playbook  

ChangeLab Solutions, a non-profit organization which provides community-based solutions to preventable diseases, recently published the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Playbook, a resource to help communities and states reduce sugary drink consumption. Read more

Seattle Mayor Proposes Sugary Drink Tax  

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has proposed a penny-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks with revenue going toward parks and community centers. Read more.  

San Francisco Supervisor Requests Sugary Drink Study

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar has requested a study from the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office on the impact sugary drinks have on residents’ health and health care costs, and what other cities are doing to reduce consumption. Read more.


Foods are Marketed to be Irresistible
Companies spend billions to market their products and conduct studies to determine how to engineer their foods to keep consumers eating more, according to an article in the Huffington Post. Read more.

Ad Criticizes Nickelodeon’s Marketing Practices to Children  

In an effort to get Nickelodeon to stop junk food marketing to children, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and five other children’s advocacy groups released an ad that likens Dora the Explorer’s pushing junk food to kids to drug dealing. Read more.

Food Mythbusters Film Released
Author Anna Lappé just released Food Mythbusters, a film which addresses the myth that personal responsibility is the only thing stopping Americans from eating healthier. The film also focuses on how the fast food industry uses manipulative marketing to target kids. Read more