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

December 2011

Congress Halts School Lunch Improvements


Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed improvements to the school lunch program that included limitations on potatoes, a reduction in French fries served, and a wider use of whole grains. Another change would have boosted the amount of tomato paste on a standard pizza slice to half a cup from two tablespoons. That would have counted as an increase in the pizza lunch's vegetable serving in the federally subsidized school meals program.

However, Congress recently released a spending bill that goes against each of the USDA’s proposals. The bill includes no limits on the use of potatoes. It also does not increase whole grain usage or the amount of tomato paste on pizza.

Advocates for improving the school meals program point to industry lobbying as affecting Congress’ decisions.

The House and the Senate will vote on the bill before it is sent to the President.

McDonald’s and Burger King Avoid Kids’ Meal Toy Rule

McDonald's and Burger King found a way to comply with San Francisco's new ordinance that prohibits fast food restaurants from giving away toys with kids' meals that do not meet nutritional standards. Both chains charge for the toy. McDonald’s said the toy sales will benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charity.

“As McDonald’s long has, it is again using a charity that helps children get well to defend a practice that contributes to a range of diet-related conditions like diabetes,” said Corporate Accountability International in the Los Angeles Times.

The ordinance took effect on December 1.

Public Discourse About Childhood Obesity and State Intervention: How Are Parents Affected?

A recent case of alleged medical neglect in Ohio involving an obese 8-year-old boy who was removed from his mother because of his obesity lead to significant media attention. What do parents of obese children think about this issue? How is it affecting them?

“We need to think carefully about how the public discourse about this issue affects families who are struggling with obesity, and may actually lead some parents to avoid seeking care for their children because of fears their child will be taken from them,” according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives, in a Medscape blog.

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

Spring Seminar Series

The Rudd Center has hosted over 100 distinguished experts in academics, advocacy, and public policy to discuss their work and its implications for the study of obesity, food policy, and weight bias. The Spring 2012 Seminar Series will include Jean Kilbourne, Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, and Edward M. Cooney, JD, Executive Director of the Congressional Hunger Center. The series will begin on January 18 and is held at the Rudd Center. The seminars are free and open to the public. Seating is limited.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Kathryn Montgomery, PhD

MontgomeryKathryn Montgomery, PhD, is a Professor in the School of Communication at American University. She is also the Director of a new PhD program at American University focused on the intersections of media, technology, and democracy. Her research focuses on current policy debates over issues such as privacy, intellectual property, and marketing. She also studies youth and how they are using new digital media.

During the 1990s, as President and Co-Founder of the nonprofit Center for Media Education, Dr. Montgomery spearheaded the campaign that led to passage of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law passed in 1998 that limits the amount of children's personal information that can be collected by online marketers. She is currently co-principal investigator on a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation studying digital marketing practices and youth.

Dr. Montgomery is the author of numerous articles and reports and has written two books: Target: Prime Time - Advocacy Groups and the Struggle over Entertainment Television and Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.

During the Rudd Center’s Fall Seminar Series, Dr. Montgomery spoke about emerging issues in digital food marketing.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Least Nutritious Cereals Served Most Often in Ethnic Minority Homes with Children

Ethnic minority families with children are most likely to buy the least nutritious cereals that are advertised directly to children, according to a study by the Rudd Center published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

Using data from the Nielsen Company, researchers looked at cereal purchases by households with and without children and analyzed the families’ race, ethnicity, and income. Each cereal was given a score for its nutritional quality, whether it was advertised on TV, and who the advertising targeted.

Although cereal purchases were lowest in African-American households, the African-American homes were more likely to buy cereals that were advertised to children, which were among the least nutritious cereals. The authors also found that cereals advertised directly to children were purchased thirteen times more frequently than non-advertised products by all households.

“These findings may help to explain why some cereal companies have opposed stronger nutrition standards for foods marketed to children,” said coauthor Jennifer Harris, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives. “Advertising to children appears to be extraordinarily effective at increasing product sales as compared with advertising to adults. We were stunned to find that cereals marketed to children were purchased thirteen times more often than non-advertised products. Unfortunately, since the cereals advertised to children are the least nutritious products in companies’ portfolios, households with children also purchase these poor quality products more often.”
The paper was coauthored by Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director, and Katia Castetbon, PhD, Nutritional Epidemiology and Surveillance, French National Institute for Health Surveillance.

Food for Thought: Bittman and Beverage Taxes

Mark Bittman included the Rudd Center on a list of things for which he is thankful. Bittman, author and columnist for The New York Times, cited the Rudd Center’s research and recommendations on sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Michael F. Jacobson, PhD
Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest

Kathryn Montgomery, PhD
Professor and Director, PhD Program, School of Communication, American University

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

Front Burner News

Middle Class Largest Fast Food Consumer

The middle class is the biggest consumer of fast food, despite the assumption that fast food is predominantly consumed by families of lower socio-economic status, according to a study published in the Journal for Population Health Management. Read more.

Calorie Counts on Menus in Australia

Legislation is being drafted in Queensland, Australia, to require fast food restaurants to display the calorie content of each menu item. Read more.

Children’s Cereals Fail to Meet Nutrition Standards

Over 75 percent of children’s breakfast cereals fail to meet proposed nutrition standards, according to a report released by the Environmental Working Group. Read more.

Cut Screen Time


The amount of time children spend in front of a screen every day has doubled since 1999 to more than seven hours a day. This change encourages children to eat more unhealthy food they see advertised on screen, according to the Rudd Center’s Jennifer Harris, PhD. Read more.

Weight Bias on the Rise at Work

There has been a 66 percent increase in weight bias in the last decade, according to an article in the journal Obesity. Weight bias in the workplace results in inequitable hiring practices, prejudice from employers, lower wages, discriminatory action, and wrongful termination. Read more.


Energy Drinks Bad for Young Athletes

Caffeinated energy drinks have gained presence in many sporting activities, but doctors and other experts are increasingly concerned about the misunderstandings over energy drinks’ contents, lenient labeling requirement, and the risks of high amounts of caffeine, particularly for young athletes. Read more.

Soda Tax for Manufacturers

Manufacturers should be affected by a soda tax rather than the consumers, according to research from Iowa State University. Researchers asserted that manufacturers can handle the tax more flexibly than consumers. Read more.


Case for Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

It is time to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, which would promote healthful behavior, reduce medical care costs, and raise revenue. Read more.

Allure of Fast Food Restaurants in Food Deserts


Fast food restaurants are starting to offer something rare in food desert communities – a convenient and clean place to hang out. Read more.

School Lunches and the Food Industry

Thirty two million U.S. children participate in the federally funded National School Lunch Program everyday, which is being mismanaged and exploited. Much of the school nutrition program has been privatized and outsourced to food service management companies that work in tandem with food manufacturers who profit when unhealthy food is served. Read more.

Banning Soda Commercials on TV

Tobacco companies are no longer allowed to advertise cigarettes on TV due to the potential impact on children. When it came to hard liquor, the government did not impose a ban, but the companies stopped TV advertising voluntarily. It is now time to institute a TV advertising ban on soda. Read more.


Evolution of the Kids' Meal

McDonald’s sold its first Happy Meal in the United States in 1979. Since then, the Happy Meal has evolved and fast food restaurants have been competing to capitalize on the children’s market. Read more.

Fight Over Nutrition Guidelines

Four federal agencies have made an effort to limit marketing of junk food to children, which has created a fight between the food industry and public health groups as intense as the cigarette wars of the 1980s. Read more.