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The Rudd Center Health Digest

December 2009

General Mills’ Decreases Sugar in Children’s Cereals

Sugared_Cereal

On the heels of the release of Rudd Center research on the nutrition and marketing of cereals, an investigation of food industry labeling practices by Connecticut’s Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, and FDA scrutiny of labeling practices, General Mills announced that it will reduce the sugar content to single-digit grams per serving of ten of its cereals marketed to children under 12. Most cereals currently have ten to 12 grams of sugar per serving. The new, reformulated products will begin to appear on shelves within the next year.

General Mills markets to children more than any other cereal company, according to Rudd Center research. The company makes six of the ten least healthy cereals advertised to children, including the one with the worst nutrition — Reese’s Puffs, which consists of 41 percent sugar. Cereals marketed directly to children by all companies have 85 percent more sugar than cereals marketed to adults.

The Rudd Center completed another study on childrens' consumption of low- vs. high-sugar cereals. The study found that when low-sugar cereals are served, children eat the recommended serving size; the table sugar that children add to low-sugar cereals is not nearly as much as the industry adds to high-sugar cereals; and overall breakfast nutrition is better when children eat low-sugar cereals due to lower sugar consumption and higher fruit and juice consumption.

"We are encouraged by General Mills’ plans to decrease the amount of sugar in cereals marketed to children and support any industry progress that shows a clear and measurable shift toward making and marketing healthier products," said Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. "As we work to create an environment that encourages a healthier lifestyle, improving the nutrient profile of foods targeted at children is absolutely critical. There is progress to be made but this is an important step." Dr. Brownell recorded a podcast on the annoucement.

Cereal Labeling Schemes Pulled Amidst Public Scrutiny

The Smart Choices symbol and Kellogg immunity claims will no longer grace the front of cereal boxes in the United States. In response to the FDA crackdown on misleading nutrition claims, the Smart Choices Program announced it would “voluntarily postpone active operations.” This move came shortly after Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal announced he was investigating the program. In a press release, he said he had serious concerns about “the research and reasoning behind a program that promotes fat-saturated mayonnaise and sugar-studded cereals as nutritional smart choices.” Rudd Center Director Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, supported his position, and added “it is very important that consumers have truthful and non-deceptive nutrition information if they are to make informed choices."

The Kellogg Company also reacted to public pressure on misleading labels by discontinuing the immunity health claims on Rice Krispies cereal boxes. The Kellogg press release states that, “[w]hile science shows that these antioxidants help support the immune system, given the public attention on H1N1, the Company decided to make this change.”

Cereal marketing tactics have been the subject of recent Rudd Center research. The Cereal FACTS report and report summary show that the least healthy cereals are the ones most aggressively marketed to children. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), however, paints a different picture of the marketing landscape. Several companies, including the Kellogg Company, pledged to advertise only healthier products to children or to avoid child-directed advertising completely as part of the CFBAI, an adjunct of the Better Business Bureau. The CFBAI annual report suggests there have been significant improvements in both advertising practices and nutritional quality of products directed at children in the last year. Elaine Kolish, JD, Vice President and Director of the CFBAI, presented these findings, with her colleague Linda Nagel, MSSA, President and CEO of Advertising Standards Canada, during the Rudd Center Fall Seminar Series in October.

California Legislators Hear Expert Opinion on Soft Drinks and Obesity

The California Senate Joint Hearing on Obesity and Diabetes presented an opportunity for health and obesity experts, community leaders, and beverage industry representatives to share their ideas with state policy makers, including Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Chairman of the Select Committee on Obesity and Diabetes, and Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose), Chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee.

Rudd Center Director, Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, provided powerful testimony on the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and health. After outlining the science behind a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and predicting the industry arguments, he urged government leaders to take bold action to stem the tide of sugared beverage consumption.

The American Beverage Association and Coca-Cola also testified at the hearing, arguing that the focus on soda was misguided and “unlikely” to solve obesity. Sen. Padilla and Sen. Alquist disagreed, saying that soda consumption needs to be addressed.

Dr. Brownell drew a parallel between the tobacco and soft drink industries. He suggested that the soft drink tax would help lower obesity rates much like cigarette taxes helped spur a decline in smoking rates. Brownell impressed upon the Senators that soda makes for “a compelling case for taking public health action.”

Improvements in School Nutrition Have Positive Influence on Youth Eating Behaviors

When schools serve healthier, more nutritious food, students do not compensate by eating more unhealthy food at home, finds a new study led by Rudd Center Deputy Director, Marlene Schwartz, PhD. In addition, the study shows that this type of school-based obesity prevention does not lead to weight concerns or body dissatisfaction among students. These findings, which appear in the December issue of Health Education & Behavior, refute arguments against the proliferation of programs to improve school nutrition, said the researchers.

The study involved six middle schools in Connecticut. Three schools replaced snacks and beverages that did not meet the state’s Healthy Food Certification guidelines, which impose limits on sugar, fat, calories, and portion sizes for all foods sold a la carte, in vending machines, at fundraisers, and in school stores.  The three other schools made no systematic changes.

The study found that students in schools that removed unhealthy foods and beverages did not increase their consumption of those foods at home when compared to students in the schools with no changes. 

“Some may think that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ but our data tell us that when it comes to sweetened beverages and unhealthy snack foods, a more apt phrase is ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” said Dr. Schwartz.

What’s Cooking on the Rudd Center Web Site

Learning about food marketing just got easier with two new features on the Rudd Center Web site. Food Marketing in the News condenses news stories into an easy-to-read format. Food Marketing Practices provides current examples of the best and worst advertisements, packaging, and promotions used to market food and beverages. Both features offer summaries and links to additional information.

Check back regularly to see new food marketing news and practices, as indicated by the yellow “New” symbol next to each item. This symbol can be seen throughout our Web site. To see a list of all new items, visit the What’s New page.

Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty Spotlight: Jeannette R. Ickovics, PhD

IckovicsJeannette R. Ickovics is Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and Psychology at Yale University. She is Director of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the School of Public Health, and Deputy Director of the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS. Dr. Ickovics is also Deputy Director for Community Outreach and Director of CARE: Community Alliance for Research and Engagement, established in 2007 as part of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation.

CARE has chosen to target the three major risk factors for chronic disease: poor diet, lack of physical activity, and tobacco use, all of which are tied to a multitude of social determinants that impact health. New Haven is the first U.S. city to join an international collaborative to prevent chronic diseases: Community Interventions for Health (CIH). Beyond typical public health interventions that rely on individual behavior change, CIH also focuses on structural, policy, and community-level interventions — in sync with the Rudd Center approach. 

CARE collaborates with various partners in the New Haven community to improve health in New Haven, including the Rudd Center. Collaborative projects include a pilot study on the pre-school food environment funded by the Connecticut Public Health Foundation, and work on food insecurity and obesity funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. As part of Community Interventions for Health, Rudd Center faculty and staff consulted on measures to be included in city-wide surveys of more than 2,000 youth and adults, as well as key policy priorities to be the focus of future interventions.

Dr. Ickovics earned her PhD from George Washington University. She is widely published and her important contributions to public health have been recognized through various awards and honors.   

Chocolate Milk Controversy

The dairy industry’s national marketing group, the Milk Processor Education Program, is launching a new $1 million initiative to promote chocolate milk, especially in schools. The initiative has the potential to create a large increase in sales because “more than half of all flavored milk is sold in schools,” and “the importance of flavored milk goes beyond the school market because it is a key growth area for milk processors,” according to a presentation on www.milkpep.org.

Chocolate milk is not the nutritional equivalent of non-flavored milk. It is significantly higher in calories, sugar (often high-fructose corn syrup), and sodium. It usually contains artificial colors and flavors. 

The Web site www.mypyramid.gov shows the daily discretionary calorie allowance for children. After eating “essential” calories, which are the minimum required per day to meet nutrient needs, “discretionary” calories are the extra calories allowed from added sugar and fat. The number depends on age, sex, and level of physical activity. The majority of American children have a limited number of discretionary calories each day. Girls between ages nine and 13 who get fewer than 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity have only 130 discretionary calories a day, half of which would come from one serving of chocolate milk for lunch.

Rudd Center research has found that children will eat low-sugar cereals and drink non-flavored milk when served. Most children will also eat a piece of fruit if it is offered. These findings undermine industry arguments that sugar must be added to cereal or children will not eat breakfast and that children will have too little milk if it does not have sugar and flavor added.

Kelly Brownell Headlines Economist Debate on Food Policy

“This house believes that governments should play a stronger role in guiding food and nutrition choices.”

Rudd Center Director Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, is defending this motion as part of a ten-day debate on food policy hosted by The Economist. Director General of the Food and Drink Federation, Melanie Leech, represents the side against the motion.

Economist Debates are based on the Oxford style of debating, where a position on an issue is defended by the proposer and attacked by the opposition. Opening remarks for the Food Policy debate were given this Tuesday, December 8. The rebuttal period continues into next week and will feature expert commentary from Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Susan K. Neely, President and Chief Executive Officer, American Beverage Association.

The public is invited to join the debate. You may share your views by posting a comment online and may also vote online. Closing statements will be given Wednesday, December 16 and the final decision will be announced Friday, December 18. Preliminary voting results indicate that 54 percent of voters agree with the motion and 46 percent disagree.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Joel Gittelsohn, PhD
Associate Professor, Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Changing the Food Environment by Working with Food Stores

Boyd Swinburn, MD
Chair in Population Health; Director, WHO Collaborating Center for Obesity Prevention; Deakin University, Australia

Kelly D. Brownell, PhD
Director, Rudd Center
General Mills’ Sugar Announcement

Our collection of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine – Nutrition & Obesity section, or you may subscribe to an RSS Feed that will automatically update whenever new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.

Front Burner News

Calorie Counts Could Come to Menus Across the Country

Included in the House Democrats’ health care reform bill are provisions that would require chain restaurants and other food purveyors with 20 or more locations to list calorie counts beside each standard item on their menus, including those at drive-through restaurants. Read more.

Half of U.S. Kids Will Get Food Stamps

Nearly half of all U.S. children and 90 percent of black youth will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, according to researchers at Washington University. Read more.

Chicago Public Schools Breakfasts Are Big on Doughnuts, Sugary Cereals

This year for the first time, the Chicago Public Schools are offering free universal breakfast to nearly every student. But some nutrition experts warn that the sugary processed foods that city schools feed children are setting them up for unhealthy habits and other problems. Read more.

Fruit Juices Raise Concerns in Health Field

Juice

To many people, it is a health food. To others, it is simply soda in disguise. That virtuous glass of juice is feeling the squeeze as doctors, scientists, and public health authorities step up their efforts to reduce the nation's girth. Read more.

Nutrition Expert Offers No-Cost Alternative to Funding from Coca-Cola

Leading Harvard School of Public Health nutrition and health researcher Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, has written a letter to the President-Elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians offering an alternative to the organization’s decision to accept a six-figure grant from the Coca-Cola Company to develop web content on beverages and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Read more.

USDA Backs Rewarding Schools Serving Healthy Food

Schools that serve more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to pupils should see higher federal support rates than those serving less healthy meals loaded with high fats and sugar, according to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read more.

Rising Obesity Will Cost U.S. Health Care $344 Billion a Year

If Americans continue to pack on pounds, obesity will cost the United States about $344 billion a year in medical-related expenses by 2018 — or about 21 percent of health-care spending, according to researchers at Emory University. It is the first analysis to estimate the future medical costs of excess weight. Read more.

President Tackling Kids' Obesity on White House Lawn

President Obama is exercising executive privilege to get youngsters active, and to urge all Americans to volunteer for community service. Read more.

College Requires Heavy Students to Take Fitness Class to Graduate

Lincoln University now requires that overweight undergraduates take a fitness course to receive their degrees. Read more.

The Flu Fighters — in Your Food

Scientists in the growing field of nutritional immunology are unveiling new evidence of the complex role that nutrition plays in fighting off infectious diseases like influenza. Read more.

FTC Announces Forum Agenda on Food Marketing to Kids

The Federal Trade Commission has announced its agenda for a meeting to discuss food marketing to children. The public forum will see the presentation of new research and discuss the “statutory and constitutional issues surrounding governmental regulation of food marketing.” Read more.

Most Food Ads on Nickelodeon Still for Junk Food

Nearly 80 percent of food ads on the popular children's network Nickelodeon are for foods of poor nutritional quality, according to an analysis conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Read more.

Is Binge Eating a Psychiatric Disorder?

As many as one in 30 Americans — roughly 7.3 million adults — are at the center of a psychiatric debate over whether and how to recognize binge eating as a mental disorder. A decision on the matter is expected in early 2010, as the American Psychiatric Assocation updates the diagnostic manual that guides the mental health profession. Read more.

Sugary Colas Tied to Gestational Diabetes

Women who drink
five or more servings of sugar-sweetened cola per week before they conceive increase their risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, a study published in Diabetes Care indicates. Read more.

Food Label Makeovers Proposed

Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods have helped guide Americans' food choices for 15 years. The Center for Science in the Public Interest — the group that campaigned for the 1990 law requiring nutrition labeling — exposed some of the tricks that occur on the front of the label, and unveiled makeovers of the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient lists to last for the next 15 years. Read more.

Overweight Children May Develop Back Pain and Spinal Abnormalities

Being overweight as a child could lead to early degeneration in the spine, according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. This could signal a significant public health problem given the health costs of back pain in the U.S. Read more.

Kids Prefer Healthy Food in School Lunches

School_Lunch

An experimental program in Boston, the Chefs in Schools Initiative, has been wildly successful, and the preliminary results have shown undeniably that kids like eating healthy food, if it's prepared right. Read more.