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

December 2008

Nutrition Labeling Program Created by Top Food and Beverage Companies


In the recently unveiled “Smart Choices Program," a number of major food and beverage companies have agreed upon a common set of nutritional standards positioned as a means to help “guide more nutritious food and beverage choices.” Among the companies planning to participate are Kraft Foods, Coca Cola, Wal-Mart and PepsiCo. The companies will use a Smart Choices symbol to designate foods they define as having healthy levels of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium, and promote nutrients, vitamins and food groups such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy.

Products that meet the standards may use a special logo designed with a checkmark, calorie information and servings per container. The new logo is expected to start appearing in stores early in 2009.

According to Rudd Center Director Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, “The Smart Choices program looks like it will help in some ways but may hurt in others. On the positive side, packages will have the number of servings and calories per serving displayed on the front of the container. This should help consumers understand serving sizes and know (if they attend to the numbers) what they are getting if they eat a whole bag or box or drink a whole bottle. This is an important advance.”

Concern is raised by a rapid analysis done by Rudd Center staff on how the Smart Choices criteria apply to at least one category of food – breakfast cereals. Consumer Reports recently did a report on the 27 leading breakfast cereals and found:

a) Only four of the 27 rated the top score of “Very Good” for nutrition.
b) 11 cereals had as much sugar as a glazed doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts.
c) 11 cereals were at least 40% sugar.
d) 2 cereals were more than 50% sugar.
e) Some cereals have zero fiber and/or are high in salt.
f) In a study of 91 children ages 6 - 16, the children poured themselves 50-65% more than the recommended serving for three of the four cereals tested.

The Rudd Center performed an analysis of these 27 cereals and found:

1) Only 7 meet nutrition criteria established by the Institute of Medicine for foods appropriate to sell to children in schools.
2) In several cases involving standards for fiber and whole grain content, Keystone guidelines are much less strict than companies’ own criteria, suggesting the standards were established with a low rather than progressive common denominator.
3) Fully 21 of the 27 cereals qualify as "Smart Choices" and only six do not.

Some time will be needed for an analysis of how this program affects nutrition. The hope is that the industry has not set lax standards such that foods are wrongfully labeled as healthy.

Rudd Center Receives Grant for Food Marketing to Youth Study

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded a $6.4 million grant to the Rudd Center to provide scientific support for understanding and reducing the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Director, and Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director, will lead the three-year program, which will address key gaps in the public health community's knowledge of the extent and effects of food marketing to youth and of recent industry commitments to curb unhealthy food marketing targeted to children and teens.

According to Brownell, "We are excited that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has funded such an extensive analysis of the scope and impact of food marketing practices targeted to youth. We look forward to working with the public health community and the food industry to identify changes in marketing practices to protect the health of youth and curb childhood obesity."

As part of this new initiative, the Rudd Center will:

•    Conduct research to document the exposure of children and youth to key forms of food marketing, including television, the Internet and product placements on demographic groups most at risk for childhood obesity.
•    Conduct a range of studies to measure the impact of potential changes in food marketing policies and practices.
•    Evaluate the efficacy of food company pledges to reduce unhealthy marketing to children, including company pledges introduced outside of the United States.
•    Assess public, media and legislator opinions on issues of food marketing to youth and provide resources to the public, legislators and public health researchers and advocates to increase knowledge about food marketing practices and their impact on youth health and nutrition.

The ultimate goal of the project is to increase market and consumer demand, as well as industry leadership and incentives, for marketing practices that will improve children’s health.

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Susan T. Mayne, PhD, FACE


Susan Mayne, Professor at the Yale School of Public Health’s Division of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, has teamed up with the Rudd Center for its study about food marketing to children to develop scientifically rigorous approaches to evaluate the healthfulness of foods being marketed to children.

Mayne’s other research focuses on the role of nutrition in chronic diseases, particularly cancer prevention and survivorship. Her current research includes a project funded by the National Cancer Institute to assess nutritional status noninvasively using resonance Raman spectroscopy. She also is involved in an NCI project to understand the epidemiology and genetics of skin cancers in young people.

Mayne, who received her PhD from Cornell University, is the Associate Director for Population Sciences and Co-Program Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program in the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. She teaches courses on nutrition and chronic disease, and measurement issues in chronic disease epidemiology. Mayne has published research in numerous peer-reviewed journals, including Journal of the National Cancer Institute, American Journal of Epidemiology and Journal of Nutrition. She is a current member of the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. She is also on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers:

December 17, 12:30 pm: Shirley S. Wang, PhD
Staff Reporter for the Wall Street Journal
Science and Health: What Makes Them News?

Our seminars are held at the Rudd Center, located at 309 Edwards Street in New Haven, Connecticut. They are free and open to the public. The full schedule for our Fall Seminar Series is available online.

To receive a weekly email from the Rudd Center detailing upcoming seminars and schedule changes, please click here.

Rudd Center Contributes to Report on Mealtime and Child Health

Children’s health and well-being are influenced by family mealtime and policies affecting family food selection, according to a recent policy brief from the Society for Research in Child Development written by Barbara H. Fiese, PhD, Professor and Director of the Family Resiliency Center in the Department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Marlene Schwartz, PhD, the Rudd Center’s Deputy Director. The report, “Reclaiming the Family Table: Mealtimes and Child Health and Wellbeing," summarizes research on the importance of family meals, a health promoting home atmosphere, adequate food accessibility and the role of parents as the gatekeepers of in-home food and meal behaviors.

The authors proposed a number of policy solutions to improve mealtimes for children, including:
•    Change zoning laws and food labeling to support healthy food choices.
•    Provide opportunities for the public to learn about creating and improving family mealtimes.
•    Help families with mealtime activity and communication strategies.
•    Create public service announcements about the advantages of shared mealtimes.
•    Improve food security and incorporate a healthy family mealtimes initiative in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

"In order to improve children's nutrition, policy change is needed at every level, including the dining room table," said Schwartz. “In this brief, we summarize the research on the importance of family meals and recommend that parents serve as strong gatekeepers to the home by turning off the TV and protecting their children from food marketing."

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Tim Lobstein, PhD
Director of the Childhood Obesity Programme at the International Obesity TaskForce (IOTF)
Obesonomics: Describing the Obesogenic Economy

Eric A. Finkelstein, MHA, PhD, MA
Health Economist and the Director of the Public Health Economics Program at the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International
The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It

Jennifer McTiernan; Melina Shannon-DiPietro
Executive Director, CitySeed; Director, Yale Sustainable Food Project
Sustainability and Healthy Food Access in the Community

Brian Wansink, PhD
Executive Director, USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion; John S. Dyson Endowed Chair, Applied Economics and Management Department, Cornell University; Director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab
Turning Mindless Eating into Healthy Eating

Inas Rashad, PhD
Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University
Fast Food Restaurant Advertising on Television and Its Influence on Childhood Obesity

James Gustave Speth, JD
Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy at Yale University
The Coming Transformation: America, Capitalism and the Environment

Stephen Teret, JD, MPH
Associate Dean, Professor of Health, Policy and Management, Director of the Center for Law and the Public’s Health, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health
How the Law Can Improve Nutrition and Health

Elizabeth Goodman, MD
Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health & Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and Director of the Child and Adolescent Obesity Program at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center
Obesity and the Biology of Social Justice

Rogan Kersh, PhD
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service
The Politics of Food and National Nutrition Policy

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 a 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

Banning Fast Food Ads Will Decrease Childhood Obesity Rates

A new study in The Journal of Law and Economics has shown a causal relationship between children’s time spent watching fast food advertisements and obesity. Prohibiting such advertisements would lead to an 18% drop in childhood obesity and a 14% drop in teen obesity, according to researchers. Click here for the full article.

Menu Labeling Ordinance Passed in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s City Council approved an ordinance, which will take effect January 2010, requiring chain restaurants to put on menus nutritional information such as calories, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium. Restaurants utilizing menu boards must post only calories. Click here for the full article.


Canadian Airlines Cannot Charge Obese for Extra Seats

The Canadian Supreme Court ruled that airlines cannot charge for additional seats on domestic flights needed for medical reasons, including obesity and physical disabilities. The decision was made after a six-year legal battle. Read the full article.

Obese Children Show Heart Disease Signs

A new study presented at a recent American Heart Association conference found that children with high cholesterol or who are obese have thick artery walls, which may be an indication of heart disease as adults. Other studies presented at the conference also examined the relationship between obesity and heart disease in children. For the full article, click here.

USDA Unveils New Toddler Food Pyramid

The USDA has created a website with an individualized food pyramid for children age 2 to 5. The website also contains tips on meal preparation. Read the full article.

Fast Food Becomes Healthier in U.K.

Fast food restaurants in the U.K., including McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway, have announced a plan to reduce the fat and salt content in their products. Nutritional information will also be available to customers. Click here for the full article.

Malnutrition Blamed for Obesity in Poor Children

Researchers at the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio reported that obesity in poor children is linked to a lack of key nutrients, especially magnesium, which stimulates metabolism. Almost half of the children in the study, one third of whom were obese, consumed less than the recommended daily calories. For the full article, click here.

Menu Labeling Law Passed in Westchester County, New York

Legislation was passed in Westchester County, New York requiring calorie content to be listed on menus and menu boards in restaurants. The law applies to restaurants with at least fifteen locations worldwide. Read the full article.

Fen/Phen Still Linked to Heart Problems

According to a recent study published in BMC Medicine, the adverse effects of one of the “fen/phen" weight loss drugs have continued up to seven years after use. Reported damaged heart valves can lead to congestive heart failure and, in some cases, surgery. For the full article, click here.

Heavy Babies Caused by Extra Pregnancy Weight

Researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research have found that a newborn has twice the chance of weighing 9 pounds or more at birth if the mother gains more than 40 pounds during her pregnancy. Heavy babies are at an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese as children and adults. Read the full article.

Nationwide Long-Term Children's Health Study Begins

Recruitment for a national study of individuals from birth to age 21, investigating childhood obesity and other health issues, will begin in January. The National Children’s Study is led by various federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education. Read the full article.

Mexican Program Fighting Obesity May Encourage It

The Mexican government instituted a program called Opportunidades that provides cash to poor families to promote healthy eating habits. Results of a new study by the University of California at Berkeley and the World Bank suggest that those receiving higher amounts of money are at an increased risk of overweight or obesity. Click here for the full article.

Obesity Blood Test on the Horizon

Obesity caused by diet may be identifiable based on changes in blood triglyceride levels after a meal high in fat, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity. If a blood test for obesity were available, obesity prevention strategies could target people at the highest risk, including children. Read the full article.

Obesity Risk Predetermined by Mother's Diet

A mother's high-fat diet during pregnancy can lead to a lifetime of overeating and obesity for her child, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Early onset puberty may also be an effect of a high-fat gestational diet. For the full article, click here.

Australian State Bans Candy in Schools

In an effort to enhance student health, chocolate, lollipops and other foods with little or no nutritional value were banned from schools in the Australian state of Victoria. The foods will be substituted with salads, sandwich wraps and fruit. Click here for the full article.

National Menu Labeling Bill to be Introduced

Local and state level menu labeling legislation has occurred throughout the country. A national bill will be reintroduced in the next Congressional session by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Tom Harkin. Read the full article.