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Rudd Center Releases Sugary Drink FACTS 2014

November 19, 2014

Beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks in 2013, and children and teens remained key target audiences for that advertising, according to a new report released today by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The report, Sugary Drink FACTS 2014, highlights some progress regarding beverage marketing to young people, but also shows that companies still have a long way to go to improve their marketing practices and the nutritional quality of their products to support young people’s health.

While the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) regulates advertising placed in TV and other media where 35% or more of the audience is made up of children aged 11 and under, this report measures total exposure to TV advertising for sugary drinks by preschoolers (2-5), children (6-11) and teenagers (12-17), as well other forms of marketing they encounter.

"Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, our report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens,” said Jennifer Harris, PhD, Yale Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives and lead author of the report. “They have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor.”

Sugary Drink FACTS 2014, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, updates a 2011 report on the same topic.  Using the same methods as the last report, researchers examined changes in the nutritional content of sugar-sweetened drinks including sodas, fruit drinks, flavored waters, sports drinks, iced teas, as well as zero-calorie energy drinks and shots. They also analyzed marketing tactics for 23 companies that advertised these products, including amount spent to advertise in all media; child and teen exposure to advertising and brand appearances on TV and visits to beverage company websites, including differences for black and Hispanic youth; advertising on websites popular with children and teens; and marketing in newer media like mobile apps and social media. Researchers also examined changes in advertising of diet beverages, 100% juice, and water.

Dr. Harris presented the findings on Nov. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in New Orleans.

Berkeley Passes Soda Tax

November 5, 2014

Berkeley has become the nation's first city to pass a soda tax. With majority required for passage, more than three-quarters of the votes were in favor of Measure D. The measure will place a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in an effort to reduce consumption and combat diet-related diseases like diabetes and obesity. The tax will go into effect on January 1, 2015.

“The passing of Measure D shows how committed the City and citizens of Berkeley are to health and nutrition,” said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Director. “Research shows that soda and other sugary drinks are the number one single source of sugar in the American diet, and contribute to diet-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. By passing Measure D, the Berkeley community is raising awareness about the link between sugary drinks and diet-related diseases, raising revenue for community programs, and reducing consumption of these harmful drinks. This is an important development that will pave the way for similar policies across the country.”

Weight Bias Hinders Obesity Solutions

October 6, 2014

The neglected problem of societal bias, stigma, and discrimination toward individuals with obesity impedes progress toward evidence-based solutions, according to a commentary by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director and Theodore Kyle, RPh, MBA, member of the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions and Advocacy Advisor of The Obesity Society.

“We must separate the disease of obesity from the people who are affected and implement solutions for obesity while maintaining respect and dignity for children and adults with this disease,” assert the authors in an Institute of Medicine Perspectives piece.

Combating weight bias requires efforts to increase public awareness of weight stigma and its health impacts, challenge societal stereotypes and attributions of blame for body weight, combat harmful messages in the media that promote obesity stigma, disseminate interventions that support and empower rather than stigmatize or shame persons with obesity, and implement stigma reduction efforts in settings where weight bias is prevalent, such as in schools, the workplace, and in health care, say the authors.

Strategic Science and Communications can Improve Food Marketing Practices

October 6, 2014

Prominent organizations like the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization have warned that food and beverage advertising contributes to childhood obesity. To address these concerns, food companies have pledged to advertise only ‘healthier dietary choices’ in ‘child-directed media’.  However, many public health advocates question whether the food industry’s pledges will improve their child-targeted marketing practices in a meaningful way.

In a paper recently published in the journal Critical Public Health, Rudd Center researchers evaluate the progress made by manufacturers of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in promoting nutritious choices to children through their pledges.  Researchers also evaluate the potential role of scientific research to influence corporate behavior.

The analysis is the first of its kind to provide a case study of the potential for success, as well as the limitations, of a public health strategy to incentivize food companies to voluntarily improve child-targeted marketing practices through strategic research and communications.

Researchers conducted a series of studies beginning in 2008 to evaluate child-targeted marketing by cereal companies using a variety of research methods. One report, called Cereal FACTS, aimed to understand the extent and impact of cereal marketing to children; disseminate these findings to parents, the media, the public health community, policy-makers, and industry representatives; and encourage cereal companies to shift child-targeted marketing toward the more nutritious products in their portfolios. Additional studies examined the impact of that marketing on children’s eating behaviors.

In 2012, a follow-up analysis of Cereal FACTS demonstrated some improvements in the nutritional quality and marketing of child-targeted cereals, although child-targeted cereals remained the least healthy products in company portfolios.

According to the researchers, cereal companies have implemented more improvements than most other food and beverage categories most likely due to scrutiny from researchers, advocacy groups, and government initiatives.

Rudd Center Joins the University of Connecticut

September 12, 2014

The Rudd Center, its faculty, and staff will to move to the University of Connecticut (UConn) in January 2015. It is one of the first major initiatives of UConn’s Academic Vision, which prioritizes health, wellness, and obesity prevention research as an integral part of the University’s mission.

The collaboration was announced today during a ceremony at Goodwin Elementary School in East Hartford, Connecticut that emphasized the importance of research in preventing obesity and improving the health of young people.

“The Rudd Center has developed an outstanding national and international reputation for sound science and strategic policy advocacy,” said Mun Choi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut. “We are thrilled to have the Rudd Center join UConn as we build a growing record of excellence at our institution.”

Recently ranked as one of the nation’s most effective nonprofits working on nutrition policy, the Rudd Center is  a leader in conducting cutting edge research to inform pressing public policy issues and its work is  widely used by policy makers and health advocates.

“We are excited to join UConn and the community of world-class researchers whose work is relevant to childhood obesity and weight stigma,” said Schwartz. “By joining UConn during this monumental time of growth, the Rudd Center will remain a leader in addressing how home environments, school landscapes, neighborhoods, and the media shape the eating attitudes and behaviors of children.”

The move will allow Rudd Center researchers to expand their work and build new collaborations with UConn experts on nutrition, public policy, psychology, agriculture, economics, and obesity – many located within the University’s Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), where the Rudd Center will be situated.

CHIP, which is led by Jeffrey Fisher, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology, has received more than $100 million in external funding to support its health-related research, and has a proven track record of fostering interdisciplinary collaborations between many of these research areas. Its Obesity Research Group boasts 130 members from more than 20 UConn departments and multiple campuses.

Importantly, the Rudd Center’s relocation to Hartford’s Constitution Plaza positions its resources near policymakers.

The alignment between UConn and Rudd provides a new platform for researchers to elevate their work on obesity, investigating such varied questions as: economic incentives and the role of marketing in food choices; genetic and neurophysiological moderators of risk for obesity; chemosensory perception in humans and how it influences food preference and intake; worksite health promotion programs; weight management interventions for adults and children; faith-based interventions; identifying food deserts and measuring health outcomes in those areas; effects of cholesterol-lowering medications on muscle performance; obesity prevention policies; and weight-based stigma and bullying.

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