Rudd Center Launches Update on Cereal FACTS
Cereal companies have improved the nutritional quality of most of their products marketed directly to children, but have increased advertising to children of many of their least nutritious cereals, according to a three-year update of the Rudd Center’s Cereal FACTS Report.
Cereal FACTS was originally launched in 2009. The report found that the least healthy breakfast cereals were those most frequently and aggressively marketed directly to children as young as age two. Major companies such as General Mills, Kellogg, and Post belong to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), sponsored by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and have improved their standards for child-directed advertising. The CFBAI reports that participating companies have also promised to improve the nutritional quality of their children’s cereals.
Using the same methods as the original Cereal FACTS, researchers found that the children’s cereal “landscape” has not improved since then. While companies improved the nutritional quality of most cereals marketed to children, the authors reported that total media spending to promote child-targeted cereals has increased by 34 percent from 2008 to 2011.
According to the report, cereal companies continue to push their least nutritious products directly to children, and children continue to see more advertising for cereals than for any other category of packaged food or beverage.
“Children still get one spoonful of sugar in every three spoonsful of cereal. These products are not nutritious options that children should consume every day,” said lead researcher Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center.
The authors asserted that this analysis points out several shortcomings of the CFBAI.
“It is obvious that industry regulating itself is a failure. If there is to be any hope of protecting children from predatory marketing, either public outcry or government action will be necessary to force the companies to change,” added co-author Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director of the Rudd Center.
The report was co-authored by Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director.
American Medical Association Adopts Sugary Drink Policy
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced the adoption of a new policy addressing beverages with added sweeteners. Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, called the move “historic.”
The AMA noted that sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) comprise nearly half of all Americans’ added sugar intake. The new policy supports the implementation of taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The AMA recognized that while various factors contribute to the obesity epidemic, an SSB tax could reduce caloric intake from added sugars, and the revenue generated could be put toward obesity prevention and education programs.
“Improved consumer education on the adverse effects of excessive consumption of beverages containing added sweeteners should be a key part of any multifaceted campaign to combat obesity,” said AMA board member Alexander Ding, MD.
The AMA also supports legislation that would require obesity prevention and education programs for first through twelfth graders, according to CBS News.
Just Published by the Rudd Center
Science Journal Examines Role of Food Industry in Health
“The obesity crisis is made worse by the way industry formulates and markets its products and so must be regulated to prevent excesses and to protect the public good,” according to Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, in a commentary on the food and beverage industry for PLoS Medicine.
PLoS Medicine’s three-week series on “Big Food” examined the activities of the food and beverage industry regarding global health issues. The series adopted a multidisciplinary approach to exploring the role in health of “Big Food,” which the journal defined as the multinational food and beverage industry with huge and concentrated market power.
The food and beverage industry has a large and growing influence on the obesity crisis, but "Big Food" is not met with the same skepticism as other industries that influence public health, according to the journal editors.
Brownell argued in his commentary that, left to regulate itself, the food industry has the opportunity, if not the mandate from shareholders, to sell more products irrespective of their impact on consumers, and therefore, government, foundations, and other powerful institutions should be working for regulation, not collaboration.
“Respectful dialogue with industry is desirable, and to the extent industry will make voluntary changes that inch us forward, the public good will be served,” said Brownell. However, he cautioned, “There must be recognition that this will bring small victories only and that to take the obesity problem seriously will require courage, leaders who will not back down in the face of harsh industry tactics, and regulation with purpose.”
Health Providers Should Choose Words Wisely when Discussing Weight
The language that health care providers use when discussing their patients’ body weight can reinforce stigma, reduce motivation for weight loss, and potentially lead to avoidance of future medical appointments, according to a study published by the Rudd Center in the International Journal of Obesity.
The study, which examined adults’ perceptions of and reactions to common terms used to describe excess body weight by doctors, shows that patients prefer doctors use neutral language such as “unhealthy weight” rather than words that can be perceived as stigmatizing and blaming, such as “fat” or “morbidly obese.”
High percentages of both normal weight and overweight and obese participants reported that they would feel badly about themselves, embarrassed, and upset if stigmatized about their weight by a doctor. Additionally, about one in five adults reported they would avoid future medical appointments; one in five also said they would seek a new health care provider if they felt their doctor had stigmatized them about their weight.
These findings suggest that the terminology doctors use to describe excess body weight may have important implications for a patient’s emotional and physical health.
The authors asserted that using weight-based terminology that patients feel comfortable with may help facilitate a positive, productive discussion that communicates support and respect for patients in their efforts to become healthier, rather than instill stigma and blame.
The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, Research Associate; and Joerg Luedicke, MA, Biostatistician.
Rudd Center Spotlight: Rebecca Pearl, MS
Rebecca Pearl is a doctoral student at Yale University pursuing a degree in clinical psychology. Prior to starting her graduate studies, she earned a BA in psychology from Duke University, where she researched weight bias in interpersonal relationships among college students.
Ms. Pearl’s interest in weight bias led her to the Rudd Center, where she is researching the consequences of weight stigma and potential strategies to reduce bias. She is currently working on a series of studies examining how weight stigma, particularly in the media, affects obese individuals' exercise motivation and behavior. She was the lead author of a study published earlier this year demonstrating that presenting obese individuals in a positive, non-stereotypical manner in the media could help reduce weight-biased attitudes held by the public.
Ms. Pearl will complete a one-year clinical internship before graduating in May 2015 and then will pursue a postdoctoral position at a university to conduct research that will have an impact on reducing weight bias and stigma.
Rudd Center Voices
Mayor Bloomberg’s Big Soda Ban and Corporate Interests
New York City Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on large soft drinks will work to reduce calories consumed in liquid form, reported Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, in The Atlantic. Children and adults eat more when they are served more and bodies do not recognize calories as well when they are delivered in beverages.
In response to the proposed ban, Dr. Brownell expects big soda companies to file lawsuits and conduct studies that will show, contrary to a large body of existing research, that portion size does not have an effect on eating or weight.
Employment Opportunity at the Rudd Center
Help guide the Rudd Center's rapidly-expanding work on food marketing to young people. Coordinate and lead the Rudd Center's work to educate and inform community organizations about issues related to food marketing, and develop resources to help identify and implement appropriate strategies for intervention.
To apply for this position, visit Yale's job posting website. Search the position by the requisition number: 17643BR.
Standards for Snacks: A Win-Win for Schools and Students
Healthy nutrition standards for snacks and beverages sold in schools would improve children’s health without a loss of revenue for the schools, as reported by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project and the Health Impact Project, in one of the most comprehensive scientific reviews conducted on competitive foods.
The researchers concluded that updating the nutritional standards for snacks and beverages (also known as competitive foods) would decrease the consumption of unhealthy foods and drive more students to purchase school cafeteria meals, which are subject to USDA nutritional guidelines. The increase in school meal sales would offset any loss of revenue from a decrease in sales of competitive foods.
“The evidence is clear and compelling,” said Jessica Donze Black, Director of the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project. “Implementing strong national nutrition standards to make the snacks and beverages our children consume healthier is something that schools and districts can afford. The USDA should do all it can to finalize and help implement strong standards.”
A reduction of 110 to 165 calories from competitive foods would have a meaningful impact on children’s weight because many children consume roughly half of their daily calories at school.
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William H. Dietz, MD, PhD
Director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention