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

June 2011

MyPlate: USDA Reveals New Food Icon


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

A new graphic called MyPlate, designed to replace the food pyramid, was recently revealed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The food pyramid, created in 1992, has long been criticized as confusing and difficult to follow. MyPlate was developed as a clearer illustration of eating a balanced diet, and recommends filling half of the plate with fruits and vegetables.

Based on the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines, the new icon consists of a round plate divided into four sections of different sizes – fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein – next to a small circle for dairy. MyPlate also recommends limiting solid fats, added sugars, and salt. It was released with seven simple eating tips like “drink water instead of sugary drinks.”

Group Calls for End to McDonald’s Marketing to Children

Corporate Accountability International, a watchdog organization, recently sponsored an open letter to McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner that implored the company to stop marketing fast food to children. The letter was endorsed by over 1,000 health professionals in the United States. The call to action, which was released just before the McDonald's shareholders meeting, explicitly asked the company to retire their 48-year-old mascot, Ronald McDonald.

According to the Rudd Center's Fast Food FACTS report, although McDonald's pledged to improve food marketing to children, from 2007 to 2009 preschoolers saw 21% more TV ads for McDonald’s and children saw 9% more. The report also found that even though McDonald's only showed their "better-for-you" foods in child-targeted marketing, their ads did not encourage consumption of these healthier choices. Instead, child-targeted ads focused on toy giveaways and building brand loyalty. The Rudd Center recommends that McDonald’s stops marketing directly to preschoolers.

At the McDonald's shareholders meeting the proposal to retire Ronald was defeated. Skinner said Ronald does not advertise unhealthy food to children and that he is “an ambassador for good.”

Massachusetts Poll Finds Soda Tax Support

A statewide Massachusetts poll found that 69% of voters would support a sales tax on soda if the revenue funded local schools or anti-obesity programs that target children. The poll also found that voters would be split (49% supporting the tax; 49% opposing it) without specific designations on how the revenue would be spent.

The Boston Foundation, which is advocating for a bill in Massachusetts to tax soda, hopes that public backing will help the bill pass. The American Beverage Association and food companies have been aggressively fighting to keep taxes on any sugar-sweetened beverages non-existent or at a minimum. The poll was commissioned by the Boston Foundation and NEHI, a national health policy research organization. If the bill passes, Massachusetts would join 35 other states that have a soda sales tax. No current sales tax is high enough to affect soda purchases, according to Roberta Friedman, ScM, Rudd Center Director of Public Policy. A 20% tax is needed to significantly reduce soda consumption, she noted.


In an effort to track the eating habits of students, health researchers recently revealed a $2 million project to analyze the exact amount of food children eat from their school lunch trays. Five San Antonio, Texas, schools will have cameras installed in their cafeterias and photos will be taken of lunch trays before and after children eat.

Researchers will compare the before and after photos to calculate calories consumed and the nutrient value of each meal. Parents will have full access to specific information about what their child is eating. Those involved with the study, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hope that a deeper understanding about what children eat at school will also help parents improve eating habits at home.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

More Consistent Standards Needed to Limit Children’s Exposure to Unhealthy Food Ad

In just five years, the food industry launched 13 voluntary, self-regulatory pledges to limit food and beverage marketing to children around the world; 52 companies signed at least one. But in spite of this effort, while the pledges address some types of advertising for the very worst products, they will likely result in few substantive reductions in children’s exposure to all unhealthy food marketing, found a Rudd Center study published in Public Health Nutrition.

“The development of pledges on food marketing to children in such a short time span is impressive, however, limitations in pledge coverage and inconsistencies between different pledges and individual company commitments leave the impression – true or not – that companies are less than fully committed to reducing children’s exposure to food marketing,” according to coauthor Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives.

The Rudd Center offers a database with updated information on all pledges and commitments. It provides the specific criteria each pledge or company uses to define their restrictions on marketing communications to children, including the definition of children, the definition of marketing directed at children, the communications channels and marketing techniques covered, and the foods which are exempt from the restrictions.

The paper was coauthored by Corinna Hawkes, PhD, Consultant in Food and Nutrition Policy and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Food Policy of City University London.

Addressing Obesity Policy Through State and Local Health Departments

Health agencies can play a valuable role in addressing obesity by collaborating with other government agencies, private organizations, and nonprofits in developing policies. They also can enact rules to address obesity-related health concerns, according to a paper published online in the American Journal of Public Health by the Rudd Center's Jennifer Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Director of Legal Initiatives. The paper examines two cases to explain the benefits, rule-making procedures, and legal and practical limitations of health agencies.

Perception of Food Influences “Hunger Hormone”
People's state of mind may influence their physical satisfaction after a meal and how likely they are to still feel hungry and consume additional food, according to a recent study in the journal Health Psychology.

Researchers focused on levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite and feelings of hunger. Participants were offered milkshakes with the same calorie content, labeled either “indulgent” or “sensible.” Those who drank the shake labeled "indulgent” had a steeper decline in ghrelin after consumption, while those who drank the shake labeled "sensible" had a flat ghrelin response. The ghrelin response to perceived calorie counts was consistent with what would be observed if the counts matched the label.

"This study shows that mindset can affect feelings of physical satiety,” according to lead author Alia J. Crum, graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Yale. "The brain was tricked into either feeling full or feeling unsatisfied. That feeling depended on what people believed they were consuming, rather than what they actually were consuming."

Coauthors included Peter J. Salovey, PhD, Provost and Professor of Psychology at Yale; Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director; and William R. Corbin, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Christina Roberto, MS, MPhil, MPhil

RobertoChristina Roberto, MS, MPhil, MPhil, is a doctoral student at Yale University pursuing a joint degree in Clinical Psychology and Epidemiology. Prior to starting her graduate studies, she earned a BA in psychology from Princeton University and then worked as a research assistant at the Columbia University Center for Eating Disorders.

Mrs. Roberto’s research focuses on public health policies aimed at improving the food environment and reducing obesity. Currently, she is conducting research on menu labeling, front-of-package food labeling, and food marketing. Mrs. Roberto also conducts research on eating disorders.

Mrs. Roberto was the lead author of a study published last year in Pediatrics that found that children preferred the taste of foods with licensed characters on the packaging. The study suggests the importance of curtailing the use of licensed characters in the marketing of low-nutrient, high-energy foods to children.

Her research has also played an integral role in getting the section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires all restaurants in the country to have nutritional facts available at the point-of-purchase signed into law last year.

Before graduating in May 2012, Mrs. Roberto will complete a clinical internship at Yale’s Program for Obesity, Weight and Eating Research in the Department of Psychiatry. After graduation, she hopes to continue conducting research in an academic setting.

Some Florida OB-GYNs Refuse to Treat Obese Patients

Fifteen obstetrician-gynecologists in south Florida are refusing to treat obese patients, according to an article from the Florida Sun Sentinel. The doctors who are turning away obese patients cite a lack of adequately sized medical equipment and fear of lawsuits due to complications.

Weight bias issues in the medical field are concerning because there are no laws that prohibit doctors from turning down obese patients, according to a recent blog by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. Dr. Puhl wrote that it seems “unethical and against the very mission of medical care” to refuse service to obese patients, especially when two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese. These patients are already more likely to avoid or delay medical care due to weight stigma they’ve experienced at the doctor’s office.

The article is the latest in a series by Dr. Puhl about weight bias on Medscape, a part of WebMD Health Professional Network (free online registration required).

Legislation Database Updates

The Rudd Center’s Legislation Database is a resource for researchers, policymakers, and community members interested in legislation on food and obesity. Users can now generate reports on bills selected from the search results.

The database features a comprehensive search for legislation filed by Congress, states, and select cities and counties. Full text of bills, their current status, and sponsorship information are available. Searching can be done by issue, including sugar-sweetened beverage taxes and menu- and package-labeling. Bill status is monitored and the database is updated regularly.

Legislation from 2010 is available in the Legislation Database Archive.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Samantha Thomas, PhD
Senior Research Fellow and Public Health academic, Department of Marketing, Monash University

Ian Brissette, PhD
Unit Director, Chronic Disease and Risk Factor Surveillance Unit, New York State Department of Health

Mary Story, PhD, RD
Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health; Associate Dean for Student Life, School of Public Health; University of Minnesota

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

Front Burner News

Anti-Obesity Campaign Harmful to Children

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta recently launched a campaign against childhood obesity, but critics claim the campaign portrays children in a negative light. Watch video.

“Cheeseburger” Bill Rejected in Minnesota

Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton, rejected a bill that would prevent consumers from suing the fast-food industry for weight gain, obesity, and other health problems caused by consumption of fatty foods and sugary drinks. Read more.

Illinois Bill to Ban Trans Fats

Lawmakers in Illinois are pushing a bill that would ban artificial trans fat from restaurants, bakeries, and school vending machines. Read more.

Secrets of the Fast-Food Industry

The Wall Street Journal exposes ten secrets fast-food companies never want customers to know. Read more.

Energy, Sports Drinks: Hazardous to Children’s Health


In a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians are urging that children stay away from energy drinks, and to only consume sports drinks when playing sports. Read more.

Schools Moving Toward Healthier Options

Even though adopting the new federal rules that call for healthier school meals may be challenging, many schools are excited about them and are already starting to implement them. Read more.

Canada Gives $50 for Healthy Goals

Canadians will be eligible for a $50 subsidy for a gym membership, recreation, or nutrition program under a new comprehensive health program. Read more.

Taxing Obese Children’s Parents

In an effort to solve the childhood obesity epidemic, one Illinois lawmaker thinks parents of obese children should lose their $2,000 standard federal tax deduction. Read more.

Weight Issues Remain in Arkansas

An initiative to target childhood obesity in Arkansas was signed into law in 2003. Schools have made healthy changes since then, but the behaviors of students and their families have remained the same. Read more.

Potato Food Fight

The potato industry, school cafeteria directors, and legislators from potato-growing regions are fighting to keep potatoes in schools after the USDA recently proposed to eliminate the “white potato” from federally subsidized school breakfast and limit them at lunch. Read more.

Industry Group Launches Family Health Campaign

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, an organization comprised of food retailers and producers committed to reducing obesity, has launched a national campaign called “Together Counts” that promotes good health by encouraging families to eat and exercise together. Read more.


Taxing Soda: PepsiCo’s Point of View

In a speech delivered to Boston’s business and political leaders, PepsiCo’s CEO stated that taxing soda is the wrong way to address childhood obesity. Read more.

Soda Tax in Illinois

The Illinois legislature is proposing a sugar-sweetened beverage tax to help raise money for programs to fight obesity.
Read more.

Equating Soda with Cigarettes

Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages could generate revenue to create public health messages targeting sugar-sweetened beverages as obesity builders and villains, similar to how public health advertising attacked cigarettes.
Read more.


Fast-Food Industry Fights Children’s Meal Requirements

The restaurant industry is quietly and successfully fighting against restrictions on providing toys with children's meals that do not meet nutritional guidelines. Read more.

School Bus Advertising

Under a law recently proposed in Ohio, school districts would be able to sell advertising on the outside of school buses. Advertisements for junk food and violent media would be allowed. Read more.

Food Industry Fights Proposed Guidelines

The food industry is fighting back against the national guidelines proposed on food marketing to children by saying the voluntary guidelines will not stop the childhood obesity problem, but will hurt their businesses and infringe on their right to free speech. Read more.

What Parents Can Do

While the Federal Trade Commission recently published guidelines on food marketing to children, parents can protect their children even more by making TV time non-commercial, removing televisions from bedrooms, and monitoring food marketing in schools and the community. Read more.


The Evolution of Weight Stigma

Instead of questioning obese people, question our current environment, which has evolved into a place with little physical activity and an abundance of high-calorie foods. Read more.

“Functional Foods” Receive Little Regulation

The only reason for “functional foods,” those foods with added nutrients, is to market them to consumers as “healthy.” Read more.

WIC Targeted for Budget Cut

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) improves health and saves money. It is unclear why the program is being targeted for a $500 million cut. Read more.

Labeling Debate over Genetically Modified Foods


Genetically modified foods have become so common that even organic retailers cannot avoid stocking some products that contain them, much to the dismay of many consumers. Read more.