NCCOR Member Meeting panel offers insights

The most recent National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) Member Meeting, held on April 3, featured a lunchtime panel to discuss possible factors contributing to recently reported childhood obesity declines and related topics.

The event sparked an engaging discussion among members as the panel offered thoughts on what areas the Collaborative might focus on over the next five years. The meeting was the first since NCCOR celebrated its fifth birthday in February.

The panelists were:

  • Hank Cardello, Senior Fellow and Director, Obesity Solutions Initiative, The Hudson Institute
  • Jessica Donze Black, Director, Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods, The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Tracy Fox, President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC

Moderator Elaine Arkin of NCCOR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation moderated the discussion, which included questions from NCCOR members.

All three panelists agreed that the recent declines indicate complementary shifts are occurring—that changes in food systems are being complemented by environmental and cultural shifts. Actions taken by the policy, industry, personal, and environmental sectors are beginning to have an impact. “Personal responsibility is being complemented by corporate responsibility and government responsibility,” said Fox.

The group also remarked that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been important in clarifying the link between obesity and increased health care costs.

The new statistics on declines in childhood obesity look good overall and are the beginning of what researchers would have hoped to see, given the increase in efforts for children ages 2-5 in recent years, they said. A panelist acknowledged changes in the composition of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food packages as a potential contributing factor, for example. Even so, the panel noted the numbers mask distinct differences across subpopulations.

The panel reminded NCCOR that food marketing is still an enormous challenge. The food industry has specifically targeted certain groups, including children and minority groups. Also, marketing techniques have evolved significantly and now go far beyond traditional television marketing to encompass social media and other digital platforms such as games on mobile devices. To continue making headway, marketing unhealthy foods and beverages to children must be addressed.

In thinking about NCCOR’s next five years, the panel closed by listing several activities NCCOR may consider and adopt.

  • Find ways to replicate successes for populations and groups not currently experiencing declines.
  • Replicate successful natural experiments underway and figure out dynamic ways to communicate results.
  • Demonstrate and communicate what’s working using language that can be accessed by diverse groups, and frame results in ways that make groups act.
  • Communicate return-on-investment factors and “build the business case. It’s essential,” said Cardello, to educate businesses on how obesity declines benefit them.
  • “Let’s protect the really good policies we have in place right now,” said Donze Black, explaining that personal stories often impact legislative decisions. Thus, clear research findings accompanied by individual accounts can be very effective.

 

NCCOR members contribute to new research that shows major food companies have cutback on calories

Sixteen of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies have cut 78 calories out of an American’s daily diet according to a new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). This is the result of a five-year (2007-2012) reduction in sales of food and beverages totaling 60.4 trillion calories. The data collection and analysis of this study was overseen by a handful of national experts including members of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).

The companies involved, including Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo, acted together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF). The companies pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. The study found that, thus far, the companies have exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent. Continue reading

Rudd Center webinar explores how to use strategic science to influence public policy

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity recently held a webinar demonstrating how to use strategic science to affect policy outcomes that promote healthy behaviors. The webinar, “Case studies in strategic science to inform public policy,” outlines the steps to effectively conduct research and disseminate findings to enact change. The webinar also showcases three case studies that demonstrate these steps: (1) Reducing marketing of sugary cereals to children; (2) advocating for and evaluating a state competitive foods law; (3) advocating for sugar-sweetened beverage taxes. Continue reading

Sports superstars endorse sugary, fatty foods

Oct. 7, 2013, Reuters

When Miami Heat star LeBron James isn’t scoring baskets, he’s busy — selling soda, sports drinks, and fast food.

But James isn’t alone. In a new study, many top U.S. athletes, from Peyton Manning to Serena Williams, were all over television promoting food and drinks, most of which aren’t very healthy.

“We see these people — they’ve obviously (reached the top) of sports achievement, they’re obviously living a healthy lifestyle — and they’re endorsing these foods. And that kind of lends an aura of healthfulness to these foods and beverages that they don’t deserve,” said Emma Boyland, from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom.

“The message is really getting mixed up,” added Boyland. She studies marketing and children’s food choices but didn’t work on the new research. Continue reading

Junk food makers target kids with free online games, study says

Oct. 4, 2013, HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

Free online games promoting food products tend to emphasize high-fat or sugary products, according to researchers who looked at 143 websites marketing foods to children through the interactive games, known as “advergames.”

Featured foods tended to be low in multiple nutrients or vitamins and high in calories, sugar, and fat, said study researcher Lorraine Weatherspoon, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition and director of the didactic program in dietetics at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Mich.

Children often see the game promoted on the food packaging, then go online to play. The games vary, but one cereal maker, for instance, has the product character featured in an interactive comic book online. A beverage maker has a game in which users “swap the sweets” — pictures of candy, cupcakes, and other treats — to make sets of three or more. Continue reading

Alliance for a Healthier Generation and McDonald’s announce groundbreaking CGI commitment to promote balanced food and beverage choices

Sept. 26, 2013, The Wall Street Journal

McDonald’s is partnering with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded by the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, to increase customers’ access to fruit and vegetables and help families and children to make informed choices in keeping with balanced lifestyles. President Bill Clinton, founder of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, Don Thompson, President and CEO of McDonald’s, and Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, announced the groundbreaking Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitment today at the 2013 CGI Annual Meeting in New York City.

McDonald’s worked with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to develop a comprehensive plan for 20 of the restaurant chain’s largest markets. Continue reading

Study: Giving a boring food a cool name helps children make healthier meal choices

Sept. 14, 2013, Star Gazette

By Bob Jamieson

Cornell University experts have found ways to get America’s school kids to eat healthier school lunches.

They say their techniques are low cost, even no cost, and nudge students to more nutritious offerings by manipulating the lunchroom environment.

“A lot of our work is experimental. We will actually go out in the field and run experiments in schools to see what will happen,” said David Just, associate professor and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. Continue reading

Kids’ fast food ads promote toys over burgers, study finds

Aug. 28, 2013, Everyday Health

By Amir Khan

If your kid is clamoring for a Happy Meal, he may be more interested in the toy than the burger, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire found that fast food advertisements aimed at kids promote toys and movie tie-ins more than the food, which could play a role in increasing childhood obesity epidemic.

Nearly 70 percent of fast food advertisements aimed at kids promoted giveaways or a movie tie-in, according to the study, compared to only 1 percent of advertisements targeting adults. Associating fast food with cartoon characters is linked to an increased consumption of fast food, according to the researchers, who said that there needs to be strict regulations on child-targeted advertising. Continue reading

Webinar discusses how local governments can reduce food marketing to kids

Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is hosting a webinar “Marketing Matters: How Local Governments Can Address Food Marketing to Children” on Thursday, July 25, from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT

The webinar will provide an overview of the role local governments can play to effectively reduce the marketing of unhealthful foods and beverages to children. Research shows a strong connection between marketing practices that target youth and an increase in the consumption of junk food that contributes to childhood obesity. Moving beyond industry self-regulation, several local governments have adopted innovative strategies to minimize the prevalence of unhealthy food and food marketing. Presenters will share examples of successful policy options to promote the marketing of healthier food and beverage options. Continue reading

Nutrition standards won’t fix ‘Big Food’s’ worst child marketing tactics

July 9, 2013, The Huffington Post

By Michele Simon

Last month, I participated in an important panel at a childhood obesity conference to discuss the current strategy backed by some advocacy groups: asking industry to market “healthier” foods to children. But as Susan Linn and I recently argued, any marketing to children is harmful, regardless of the product’s nutritional content.

Instead of begging corporations to tweak the grams of sugar, fat and salt that these highly processed junk foods contain, we should demand that industry stop exploiting children altogether. Some advocates argue this approach is too radical. But it’s actually far more practical and ultimately more effective because of certain key tactics that industry uses to target children. Continue reading