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

November 2012

Parents Support Policies Limiting Unhealthy Food Marketing to Children

Parents are concerned about food marketing and the way it impacts their children’s eating habits and would support policies to limit the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, according to a recent study by the Rudd Center. The study is the first of its kind to assess parents’ attitudes about policies to promote healthy eating, such as nutrition standards for foods sold in schools, as well as policies limiting marketing to children.

Researchers conducted an online survey of more than 2,000 parents of children and teens ages 2 to 17 in 2009, 2010, and 2011. They surveyed parents who participate in decisions about food and beverage choices in their households. They found that parents are just as concerned about advertisements promoting unhealthy foods to children as they are about alcohol and tobacco use in the media.

The majority of parents surveyed, regardless of gender or political orientation, supported nearly all proposed actions. These included improving the school food environment; reducing advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages on television; restricting other types of advertising, such as cartoon characters on packages, toys, social media, mobile devices, viral marketing, and in schools; and promoting healthy eating in children’s media. Support was highest for nutrition standards for foods sold in schools and policies to promote healthy eating in children’s media.

From the time the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), an industry-led self-regulatory program, was fully implemented in 2009 to 2011, parents have become increasingly concerned about food and beverage marketing to their children. In 2011, 65 percent of parents surveyed rated the food industry as a negative influence on their children’s eating habits, up from 59 percent in 2009. These findings suggest that parents are not satisfied with industry self-regulation.

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives; Frances Fleming Milici, PhD, Research Associate; Vishnu Sarda, MBBS, MPH, Biostatistician; and Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director.

Sugary Drink Taxes Defeated in El Monte and Richmond


Voters in two California cities rejected ballot measures that would have imposed a penny per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks. Seventy-seven percent of voters in El Monte voted against the initiative, while 67 percent of voters in Richmond opposed the measure.

The idea of taxing soda and other sugary drinks has become popular in cities and states seeking to fight obesity and increase municipal revenue. Had El Monte and Richmond passed a sugary drink tax, the cities would have been the first in the nation to do so.

The negative response among voters may be due to the American Beverage Association’s aggressive lobbying campaigns against the taxes. The two cities were bombarded with anti-tax campaign ads and visited by paid canvassers throughout the fall. The American Beverage Association spent $2.5 million in Richmond and $1.3 million in El Monte to fight the taxes.

Many health experts believe that a sugar-sweetened beverage tax would be one of the most effective ways to discourage consumption, prevent obesity-related diseases, and offset the economic costs of obesity. The Rudd Center offers a revenue calculator for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes that estimates potential federal, state, and city revenues.

APHA Endorses Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Taxes

The American Public Health Association (APHA), the country’s oldest and largest public health organization, has endorsed federal, state, and local taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. Recognizing taxation as a means of reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages that contribute to obesity, APHA approved the resolution during its annual meeting in San Francisco.

In the resolution, APHA stated that reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages would decrease healthcare spending on obesity and overweight-related issues. The organization also asserted that these taxes would raise funds for obesity prevention and that a tax of a penny per-ounce would nationally raise over $13 billion annually.

McDonald’s Removes Social Networking Features from its Child-Targeted Websites

McDonald’s has removed social networking features that target children on two of its websites. Games on and no longer feature the “tell-a-friend” option where children share names and email addresses of their friends with the company. Children can also no longer send e-cards to one another through the “RonaldGram” function on

The changes come after a coalition of nearly 20 children’s health, privacy, and consumer advocacy organizations, led by the Center for Digital Democracy, filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, claiming that online marketing to children by well-known companies violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

“Using young children to market products to their friends behind parents' backs is outrageous,” said Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives. “We applaud McDonald's for discontinuing this practice, and encourage others, including General Mills and Nickelodeon, to do the same.”

UK Introduces Standardized Food Labeling System

new voluntary food labeling system to help consumers check the healthfulness of products is set to be introduced across all supermarkets in the United Kingdom next year. The labeling system will provide a consistent approach to front-of-pack nutritional labeling in an effort to reduce consumer confusion.

"The UK already has the largest number of products with front of pack labels in Europe but research has shown that consumers get confused by the wide variety of labels used,” said Health Minister Anna Soubry. "By having a consistent system we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake.”

The design of the new label has yet to be decided, but it will include information on guideline daily amounts, be color-coded with a traffic light system, and use the words "high," "medium," or "low," to show consumers how much fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar, and calories are in products.

Rudd Center Participates in TEDMED’s Great Challenges Programs

Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives, will participate in TEDMED’s Great Challenges Program. The program brings attention and understanding to persistent problems that have medical and non-medical causes, impact millions of lives, and affect the well-being of all Americans.

Dr. Puhl will serve on a team of leading experts in obesity research to discuss Coming to Terms with the Obesity Crisis. As a member of the Challenge Team over the next year, Dr. Puhl will participate in discussions about obesity and provide thought-provoking ways to consider the complex factors that contribute to obesity.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Ellen Wartella, PhD
Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Director of the Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University

Ronette Briefel, DrPH, RD
Senior Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research

Amy B. Jordan , PhD
Director, Media & the Developing Child, Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania

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

Rudd Center Spotlight: Ronette Briefel, DrPH, RD


Ronette Briefel, DrPH, RD, Senior Policy Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, DC, presented National Data to Inform Childhood Obesity Prevention Strategies: Beverage, Dietary, and Activity Practices at Home and School on November 7 during the Rudd Center's Fall Seminar Series.

Dr. Briefel is an expert in childhood obesity, food insecurity, dietary and nutrition assessment, population-based strategies to prevent disease and promote health, and evaluations of nutrition programs for low-income and high-risk populations.

She has led national studies on food consumption patterns and nutrient intakes of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; evaluations of the school food environment, school meals, and children’s diet and obesity; and evidence-based reviews of children’s dietary guidance. She is currently a Principal Investigator for the evaluation of the USDA’s Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children Demonstration that provides food assistance to low-income children in the summer months.

Dr. Briefel is a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee on Evaluating Progress of Obesity Prevention Efforts and the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research External Scientific Panel. She previously served on the IOM Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States, the IOM Committee on Dietary Risk Assessment in the WIC Program, and the Committee on the National Statistics Project on Enhancing the Data Infrastructure in Support of Food and Nutrition Programs, Research, and Decision Making.

She is a recipient of the American Dietetic Association Foundation’s Elaine R. Monsen Award for Outstanding Research Literature in 2011.

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Youth’s Preferred Interventions in Response to Weight-Based Victimization

Adolescents who are bullied because of their weight look for different types of support from parents, classmates, and school staff, according to a recent study by the Rudd Center. The study, which appears in the advance online publication of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, is the first of its kind to examine youth’s preferences for interventions in response to weight-based teasing and bullying.

Researchers conducted an online survey of adolescents enrolled in national weight-loss camps. They found that when adolescents are bullied about their weight, they most often seek emotional support from their friends and peers, such as encouragement and inclusion in social activities. From parents and teachers, adolescents prefer bully-focused interventions, such as verbal warnings or punishment of bullies. Overall, adolescents who experienced more weight-based victimization expressed more desire for all forms of support interventions.

The authors asserted that intervention strategies from classmates and parents may be more useful if they are tailored to help adolescents cope with weight-based victimization, while school staff interventions may be more useful if they provide strategies to prevent future victimization.

The paper was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Joerg Luedicke, MA, Biostatistician; and Jamie Lee Peterson, MA, former Research Associate.

Provocative PSA Encourages Adults to Protect Youth from Bullying

A new PSA sends the message that bullying would never be tolerated in the workplace, but it is often unchallenged and overlooked at school when it happens to youth, according to a recent blog on Medscape by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives.

Front Burner News

Restaurant Meals Linked to Higher Calorie Consumption


Children and teens eat more calories, fat, and sugar on days when they eat a meal from a fast food or sit-down restaurant, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Read more.

Unhealthy Foods Still in Schools

The majority of snack foods and beverages still sold in schools are high in calories, fat, and sugar, according to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more.

Denmark Eliminates Tax on High-Fat Foods

Denmark’s tax on foods that are high in saturated fat is being abolished because the tax inflated food prices and put Danish jobs at risk, according to authorities. Read more.

Meatless Mondays in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles city council passed a resolution that declares every Monday a “Meatless Monday,” becoming the largest city to endorse the movement to curb meat consumption. The resolution cited the American Dietetic Association’s recognition that eating less meat can decrease the risk of health problems, including obesity. Read more.

"Eco-Labels" Confusing

Health experts claim that the rapid proliferation of, and lack of oversight and clear standards on, eco-labels – food labels that claim to certify a wide array of sustainable practices – have confused both consumers and producers. Read more.

France Considers Tax on Fatty Foods

France is considering implementing a “Nutella tax” that would impact products made with palm and some other vegetable oils, in an effort to curb obesity. Read more.

UK Wants Legal Limits on Fat, Salt, and Sugar

The United Kingdom’s Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has asked that food companies be subject to legal limits on how much fat, salt, and sugar they can put in their products. Read more.


Big Food's Lobby Against GMO Labeling Bill


Big Food companies like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Con Agra, Nestle, and Kraft spent more than $45 million on the campaign to defeat the GMO labeling bill in California. Read more.

Everyone is Responsible for Children's Health

Everyone, including the food and entertainment industries, government, media, schools, and local communities, must support parents' efforts to create healthy environments for their children. Read more.

Restrictions Help Curb Obesity

Education on sugary drinksmust be accompanied by restrictions that curb unhealthy habits and by environmental changes that foster healthier ones, including New York City’s portion size limit on sugary drinks. Read more.


Hospital Bans Sale of Sugary Drinks

The Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri will ban the sale of sugary drinks from its cafeteria, gift shop, and vending machines, in an effort to fight childhood obesity. Read more.

Chicago Considers Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy

Chicago Public Schools are looking to ban Gatorade, vitamin drinks, and whole milk during school hours under a new “Healthy Snack and Beverage” policy. Read more.

Sugary Drink Tax Discussed in Ireland

Ireland is considering a tax on sugary drinks to fight obesity and raise revenue. Read more.

Age Limit on Sugary Drinks Proposed in Australia

Parents in Australia should not allow their children to have soft drinks and fruit juice until high school, according to Queensland’s Chief Health Officer. Read more.

Pepsi Introduces Fat-Blocking Soda

Pepsi-Cola in Japan has introduced a new fiber-infused drink. Pepsi Special is infused with dextrin, a fiber that distributor Suntory claims helps reduce fat levels in the body. Read more.

Soda Tax Could Improve Health of Blacks and Latinos

A soda tax would boost the health of blacks and Latinos, who face the highest risks of diabetes and heart disease, according to a report released at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting. Read more.


Disney Asked to Remove Characters from Junk Food

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has asked the Walt Disney Company to stop using Disney characters on treats such as Halloween candy and birthday cakes. Read more.

Australian Voluntary Guidelines Restrict TV Junk Food Ads to Children

The Australian Food and Grocery Council is revising its voluntary food marketing restrictions and will not allow sugary and fatty foods to be promoted during television shows whose audience is at least 35 percent children. Read more.

Worst Marketing Practice

Denny’s Restaurant Targets Families with Hobbit-Themed Promotion

Denny’s has teamed up with the Warner Bros. film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” The partnership is being promoted through TV ads, the Denny’s company website, and at Denny’s locations through signage, placemats with Quick Response (QR) codes to access additional movie content, and a special Hobbit-themed menu. The promotional foods contain up to 1420 calories and 2940 milligrams of sodium. The promotional milkshake contains 1100 calories and 102 grams of sugar, which is an 8-year-old’s added sugar allowance for an entire week. Read more.