Food Marketing to Youth: The Best and the Worst of 2012
Only $11.4 million was spent on marketing fruits and vegetables to youth in 2006, representing less than 1 percent of the $2 billion spent on all food marketing to youth, according to the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance and the Federal Trade Commission. Food and beverage companies use traditional forms of marketing, such as television advertising and promotions on product packages, but companies are increasingly using more unique and invasive techniques. The Rudd Center compiled a collection of the best and worst examples of food marketing practices in 2012, including McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Summer Olympic Games (worst) and Disney's restriction of junk food advertising to children (best).
Horizon Foundation Launches Howard County Unsweetened
Howard County Unsweetened, a multi-faceted, community-wide campaign to reduce childhood obesity by helping children and parents choose healthy beverages, was launched by The Horizon Foundation, an independent philanthropy dedicated to improving the health and wellness of residents in Howard County, Maryland.
Howard County Unsweetened will be the most-evaluated sugary drink campaign in the country. The Rudd Center will help in this evaluation.
The campaign’s main feature is the Better Beverage Finder, an online tool that enables parents and children to identify and locate healthy beverages. The campaign also includes the Better Choices Coalition of Howard County, a broad-based group of organizations that will work to ensure that the county's public spaces offer better drink choices. As part of the campaign, County Executive Ken Ulman announced an Executive Order to provide only healthy beverage options in county government facilities.
"Our goal is as simple as it is positive: to make it easier for parents and kids to make better beverage choices," according to The Horizon Foundation President and CEO Nicole Highsmith Vernick. "We are working to change community norms to make it easier on moms and dads."
The campaign kicked off at a local middle school with an event called “Dump That Sugar!” where 9.6 tons of white sand was dumped in the school's parking lot. The sand represented the amount of sugar the school's students would consume each year if every student drank one 12-ounce soda a day.
Health Groups Urge Nickelodeon to Stop Marketing Unhealthy Food to Children
The Rudd Center, along with more than 80 health groups, doctors, and nutritionists, sent a letter urging Nickelodeon and its parent company, Viacom, to implement nutrition standards for foods marketed to children, especially those foods that license Nickelodeon characters.
The letter was coordinated by the Food Marketing Workgroup, a coalition led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Berkeley Media Studies Group, which includes organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and Environmental Working Group.
The letter kicked off a campaign that encourages Nickelodeon to change its marketing practices and includes a campaign for parents, social media outreach, and print ads.
Nickelodeon has taken small steps toward limiting food marketing to children, including a policy restricting the licensing of Nick characters to healthier food products, according to CSPI. However, the company is still using SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer to promote unhealthy foods such as imitation fruit snacks, Popsicles, PEZ candy, Cheese Nips crackers, and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
“We appreciate Nickelodeon's efforts to promote healthy lifestyles to children,” stated the letter addressed to the Presidents of Viacom and Nickelodeon. “However, such efforts are insufficient given the magnitude of the problem. Your public service announcements, philanthropic activities and partnerships with children's groups do not counterbalance the effect of Nickelodeon's core business and children's exposure to food marketing."
The group encouraged Viacom to join the Council for Better Business Bureaus' Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative or implement the food marketing guidelines proposed by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children.
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CSPI Advocates a Sugary Drink Tax
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently sent letters to policymakers recommending that Congress support a penny per-ounce tax on sugary drinks. Such a tax could raise $1.6 billion nationally each year, lead to a decline in consumption of sugary drinks, and reduce healthcare costs associated with obesity, according to the Center.
The Rudd Center’s revenue calculator for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes can be used to estimate revenue for the nation, states, and cities.
Health and Advocacy Groups Support Proposed Updates to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act
The Rudd Center was part of a coalition of more than 50 children’s health, privacy, and consumer advocacy organizations, led by the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Sense Media, which sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) expressing strong support for proposed updates to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Under COPPA, website operators are required to obtain verifiable consent from parents before collecting personal information about children under age 13. However, COPPA rules were established in 2000 and since then there have been many changes in the online and mobile world. According to the Center for Digital Democracy, sophisticated new data collection and marketing practices have undermined parents’ ability to make meaningful decisions to protect their children’s privacy and safety.
The proposed updates would require parental consent for websites to collect a broader range of information about children under age 13, including location. They also would require parental permission for a website to use tracking software, known as cookies, to build profiles about children and monitor their online activities for purposes such as targeting them for advertising.
The Center for Digital Democracy has created a petition that allows parents and consumers to show support for the FTC’s efforts to update COPPA.
Rudd Center Spotlight: Ellen Wartella, PhD
Ellen Wartella, PhD, Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Professor of Psychology, and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University, presented Media Characters: The Unhidden Persuaders in Food Marketing to Children on October 17 during the Rudd Center’s Fall Seminar Series.
Dr. Wartella is a leading scholar on the effects of media on children and adolescents, and the impact of food marketing on childhood obesity. She was co-principal investigator on a five-year multi-site research project funded by the National Research Foundation which examined the effect of digital media on very young children. She was also co-principal investigator on the National TV Violence Study (1995-1998) and the Children's Digital Media Center project funded by the National Science Foundation (2001-2006).
Dr. Wartella sits on a a variety of national advisory boards providing direction on the influence of media on children’s health and has authored and edited many books, book chapters, technical reports, and research papers. Dr. Wartella is the recipient of several awards including the Steven H. Chaffee Career Productivity Award from the International Communication Association, the Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Communication Association, and the Krieghbaum Under 40 Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
Just Published by the Rudd Center
Legal Strategies for Weight-Control Drugs
Legal interventions exist to protect youth from abusing widely-available over-the-counter drugs and supplements such as laxatives and diet pills for weight control, according to a paper recently published by Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Rudd Center Director of Legal Initiatives.
Many such products are not medically recommended for healthy weight control or are especially susceptible to abuse, and their misuse can result in serious health consequences. The authors analyzed the government’s role in regulating these products to protect public health, examining federal and state regulatory authority. Several legal interventions are indicated to protect youth, including increased warnings, and restrictions on access through behind-the-counter placement or age verification.
The paper was published in the American Journal of Public Health and was coauthored by Lisa M. Taylor, JD, and S. Bryn A ustin, ScD.
Iceland Considers Proposal to Prohibit Weight Discrimination in New Constitution
Iceland’s Senate will vote soon on whether to adopt a new constitution that includes language on weight discrimination (link text in Icelandic).
Icelanders have called for the new language, which includes body weight among the provisions listed for protected classes from discrimination, and would make it illegal to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their weight.
Iceland has previously paved paths for human rights on gender equality and gay rights for its citizens.
"If Iceland accepts this proposal into their new constitution, they will be the first country in the world to prohibit weight discrimination," according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. "This groundbreaking legislation could reduce inequities and improve the quality of life for many Icelanders who are vulnerable to unfair treatment because of their weight."
"Our research shows that weight discrimination has increased by 66% in the past decade in the U.S., and is comparable to rates of racial discrimination," Puhl continued. "Legislation to prohibit weight discrimination has been discussed here in the United States, as well as in countries such as Canada and Italy, but unfortunately, little has been done to increase protections for persons subjected to this form of discrimination. These laws are badly needed. Iceland could be the leader in these efforts."
The Biggest Loser: Researchers are Paying Attention
Recent studies demonstrated that the popular television show The Biggest Loser may negatively affect the attitudes and behaviors of its viewers, according to a recent blog by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. The program may reinforce weight-based stereotypes toward obese individuals and not encourage exercise behaviors.
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).