E-Newsletter
AUGUST 2011


SPOTLIGHT

PUBLICATIONS and TOOLS

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS


SPOTLIGHT

Mississippi Most Obese State, Colorado Least

July 7, 2011, Reuters

By Lisa Baertlein

The number of obese U.S. adults rose in 16 states in the last year, helping to push obesity rates in a dozen states above 30 percent, according to a report released on July 7.

By that measure, Mississippi is the fattest state in the union with an adult obesity rate of 34.4 percent. Colorado is the least obese -- with a rate of 19.8 percent -- and the only state with an adult obesity rate below 20 percent, according to "F as in Fat," an annual report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

While the number of states showing significant year-over-year increases in obesity has been slowing, no state chalked up an actual decline. Even Colorado does not win high marks -- its score means one in five state residents is at higher risk for conditions like heart disease and diabetes

"Today, the state with the lowest adult obesity rate would have had the highest rate in 1995," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health.

Four years ago, only one U.S. state had an adult obesity rate above 30 percent, according to the report, which defines adult obesity as a having a body mass index -- a weight-to-height ratio -- of 30 or more.

Over the last two decades, people in the United States have been eating less nutritious food and more of it. At the same time, activity levels have fallen, Levi said.

"If we're going to reverse the obesity trends, willpower alone won't do it. We're going to have to make healthier choices easier for Americans," Levi said.

Public health experts around the world have raised the alarm about exploding rates of obesity -- particularly among children -- and many are promoting efforts to encourage exercise and easier access to affordable, healthy food.

In the United States -- where two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children are obese or overweight -- the obesity epidemic is sending healthcare costs higher and threatening everything from worker productivity to military recruitment.

Some groups say such behavioral initiatives are not enough, arguing that food manufacturers and restaurant chains need limits on how they market to children.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a U.S. consumer group, last year sued McDonald's Corp to stop the world's largest hamburger chain from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics -- a group of U.S. pediatricians -- called for a ban on junk food ads aimed at children.

The food industry -- which has significantly increased portion sizes in restaurants and packaged foods like sugar-sweetened beverages over the last 20 years -- is fighting regulation efforts and has adopted the mantra of "personal responsibility."

To that end, food and beverage companies say consumers have the right to choose what they eat and should balance their caloric intake with activity.

The report released on July 7th showed that over the past 15 years, seven states have doubled their rate of obesity and 10 states have doubled their rate of diabetes.

Since 1995, obesity rates have risen fastest in Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee, while Colorado, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., had the slowest increases.

Adults from racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as those with less education and lower incomes, continue to have the highest overall obesity rates.

VIEW FULL REPORT

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Original Source:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/07/us-usa-obesity-idUSTRE7663JD20110707

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PUBLICATIONS and TOOLS

Understanding U.S. Heath Care Spending

This data brief from the National Institute for Healthcare Management (NIHCM) Foundation summarizes heath care spending in the United States and cites rising obesity rates as one of the reasons for increased healthcare costs. A summary of the key points is below:

  • U.S. spending for health care has been on a relentless upward path – reaching $2.5 trillion in the aggregate, $8,100 per person, and 17.6 percent of GDP in 2009.
  • Spending is highly concentrated among a relatively small portion of high-cost users, with just 5 percent of the population responsible for almost 50 percent of all spending. At the other end, half of the population accounts for just 3 percent of spending.
  • As more people are being diagnosed with and treated for chronic conditions, including many linked to rising obesity rates, high health spending has spread to a larger segment of the population. The spending distribution remains highly concentrated, however.
  • Higher spending for hospital care and physician and clinical services accounted for half of the increase in total national health spending between 2005 and 2009 and more than 80 percent of the increase in private insurance premiums over the period.
  • Rising prices per unit of service have played a larger role than rising utilization rates as a determinant of recent expenditure growth.
  • Key drivers of rising unit prices and higher utilization include advances in medical technology, rising treated prevalence rates for chronic diseases, and increased provider consolidation and market power.

VIEW REPORT

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Food Companies Announce Industry Food Marketing Standards

Some of the nation's largest food companies announced that they will cut back on marketing unhealthy foods to children proposing their own set of advertising standards after rejecting similar voluntary guidelines proposed by the federal government. The announcement was made July 14, the same day that public comments were due to the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) regarding the federal government's proposed nutrition principles. The new industry standards, which will allow companies to advertise food and beverage products to children if they meet certain nutritional criteria, could force some brands to change recipes to include less sodium, fat, sugars, and calories. While many companies have developed their own efforts to market healthier foods to kids, the agreement would apply the same standards to all of the participating companies. Unlike the proposed guidelines of the IWG, the industry's nutrition criteria set calorie and nutrient requirements for 10 food and beverage categories.

VIEW FULL ANNOUNCEMENT

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USDA Publishes Farm to School Report

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the findings of the first "Farm to School" report. The report summarizes observations from the USDA Farm to School Team, which visited 15 school districts from across the country that were involved in farm to school related activities. The report found that communities are passionate about providing locally grown products to schools and work hard to overcome challenges such as the limited availability of local agricultural products and difficulties with processing and storage. In addition, the report provides suggestions for further action by the USDA to support schools in obtaining locally and regionally grown and produced fresh, healthy food.

VIEW FULL REPORT

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RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Overweight Teens Often Miss Obesity Screening

July 18, 2011, WebMD

By Jennifer Warner

Overweight teenagers are no more likely than their normal-weight peers to receive screening designed to prevent childhood obesity, according to a new study.

Despite recommendations calling for pediatricians to target children at risk for childhood obesity, researchers found that overweight teenagers were no more likely than normal-weight teenagers to be screened or receive counseling for nutrition, physical activity, or emotional distress.

"These results are discouraging amid a rise in pediatric obesity and new guidelines that recommend screening by BMI status," researcher Carolyn Bradner Jasik, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues write in Pediatrics.

National guidelines call for pediatricians to target childhood obesity prevention efforts according to body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height) status. In children and teens, a BMI in the 85th to the 94th percentile is considered overweight, and equal to or higher than the 95th percentile is considered obese.

They also recommend incorporating screening for emotional distress along with obesity screening because of the high rates of depression and anxiety among obese youth.

Overweight Teenagers Miss Out

In the study, researchers analyzed information from the 2003-2007 California Health Interview Surveys of 9,220 adolescents aged 12 to 17 who had a checkup in the last 12 months. The participants were asked whether they received screening for nutrition, physical activity, or emotional distress at their last checkup.

Overall, researchers found that obese teenagers reported higher screening rates than normal-weight teens in all three areas. For example, in 2007:

  • Physical activity: 64 percent of obese teenagers received screening, compared with 59 percent of normal-weight teens.
  • Nutrition: 63 percent of obese vs. 58 percent of normal-weight teens were screened.
  • Emotional distress: 24 percent of obese teens vs. 23 percent of normal-weight teens received screening.

However, the study showed that teens who were overweight but not obese, who could benefit most from screening and preventive measures, did not have higher overall screening rates than normal-weight teens.

In addition, overall screening rates for all three measures declined from 2003 to 2007, the year in which the new recommendations were released.

Researchers say increased patient load, new immunization requirements, and insurance reimbursement issues may have contributed to the low obesity screening rates found by the study.

"Until we can provide pediatricians with the tools, reimbursement, and time to intervene in pediatric obesity, primary care remains a missed opportunity in the prevention of obesity," they write.

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Original Source:
http://teens.webmd.com/news/20110718/overweight-teens-often-miss-obesity-screening

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Is Commercially-Prepared Food Responsible for Childhood Weight Gain?

July 25, 2011, Time "Healthland"

By Meredith Melnick

More American families are eating out than ever before, but what impact are all of those out-of-home meals having on health, not to mention our waistlines?

In the first study to examine the relationship between where food is prepared and increased calorie consumption, researchers report that eating commercially-made food can lead children to take in more calories than if they had eaten similar meals at home. And with most Americans taking in about a third of their daily calories from restaurants or other vendors, such trends can only contribute to climbing childhood obesity rates.

In the study released July 25 in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, scientists looked at the eating habits of 29, 217 children aged 2 to 18 between 1977 and 2006. They recorded where the food they ate came from, as well as where the youngsters were actually consuming the food, and included meals prepared outside of the home, but eaten at home (take out, pre-packaged supermarket meals) and foods consumed outside of the home (restaurant meals, on-the-go snacks). Fast food meals accounted for the largest percentage of foods prepared away from home for all ages and even surpassed meals from the school cafeteria in terms of calories consumed. But for foods eaten away from home, store-bought meals beat out all other sources, accounting for the largest percentage of daily calories eaten outside of the home. Fast food was increasingly eaten at home while store-bought prepared foods were now more likely to be eaten on the go.

The study authors, from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that during the nearly 30 year period they analyzed, children and teens ate an average of 179 calories more a day, while the percentage of meals eaten and/or prepared outside of the house increased by 31 percent, now accounting for one-third of all calories consumed overall. "The differences in energy intake by eating location revealed in this analysis demonstrate that eating location is an important factor in the diet of American children," said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of nutrition and the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "Further studies of children's diet focusing on energy intake and nutritional quality by eating location are warranted, particularly for store-purchased food overall, carry-out or drive-thru fast food, and hot-and-ready vs. home-prepared foods."

Why do away-from-home meals contain so many calories? For one, the ingredients that are most responsible for weight gain, including sugars and fats, are also the tastiest, and many commercial food manufacturers load up their products and meals with what they believe will appeal to consumers' taste buds. Portion sizes at restaurants also tend to be larger than what's served up in a home kitchen, encouraging overeating. People may also eat more when they're on the go, since it's easier to lose track of calories when you're not sitting down for a proper meal.

The results shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but the numbers should help parents and doctors to realize another important lesson in nutrition — not just for kids but for all of us. When it comes to eating, it's not just what you eat but where and how you eat that can have an effect on your health and your waistline.

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Original Source:
http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/25/is-commercially-prepared-food-responsible-for-childhood-weight-gain/#ixzz1TmGvvKbm

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Parents Wildly Overestimate the Amount of Exercise Their Children Take

July 3, 2011, The Guardian

By Maev Kennedy

Children are physically active for barely half the 60 minutes a day the government says is needed to keep them fit and healthy – while parents wildly overestimate the amount of time their offspring spend taking exercise. These are the findings of a study published on July 4 to coincide with National Childhood Obesity Week.

The study, by the University of Worcester's institute of sport and exercise science, was small in scale but reached the same conclusions as earlier research on how active children really are, as opposed to what they and their parents believe to be the case.

Monitors to measure physical activity were given to 40 children aged nine and 10 from four primary schools across the UK, to wear for a fortnight. The children also completed questionnaires on how they spent their time. The results revealed that they managed on average 33 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day – just over half the recommended amount – and their main leisure activities were entirely sedentary. They watched television on average for 67 minutes a day, sat down to play computer games for 21 minutes a day, and surfed the internet for a further 17 minutes.

Meanwhile the parents believed their children averaged 271 active minutes a day, more than eight times the amount they actually achieved. In the summer months the parents thought their children were even more active, averaging 295 minutes. The study was carried out for the anti-obesity campaign Change4Life and the Mend healthy lifestyle organization.

Last year the government slashed Change4Life's budget, controversially calling on the private sector including the drinks industry to make up the shortfall. But the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, was forced to announce a U-turn in May and largely restore the funding because of the lack of response when the campaign was no longer being publicised.

Public health minister Anne Milton said tackling obesity was not just about eating better but about children spending at least an active hour a day.

"If we are going to turn around the life chances of our children it's important parents understand why being the right weight matters so much for their children. Children who are overweight could face serious health problems later in life. These problems impact hugely on a person's quality of life," she said. Milton launched a six-week summer Change4Life campaign and also promised to continue the national child measurement program in schools.

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said the UK now had a "chips and Playstation 3 culture", worsened by fears about the safety of children. "Childhood obesity has become a problem of poverty and what we need is nothing short of a huge sea change. I am calling for a revolution and a national movement to tackle the children's health problems that Britain is currently facing," she said.

Many children could not or did not attend local schools, she said, and so travelled by car or bus instead of walking, while in too many schools government-driven budget cuts had led to the axing of school sports, and safety fears meant that instead of afternoons playing out, children spent free time watching television or playing video and internet games. The new study backs up previous Health Survey England data showing that only a third of boys and a fifth of girls were getting the recommended amount of exercise.

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Original Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jul/03/obesity-children-exercise-parents

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Fast Food Is King of the Neighborhood, Study Reports

July 11, 2001, HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

Into America's fight against obesity comes new research pitting fast food against fruits and veggies, and fast food, it seems, is the winner.

Researchers found that so-called "food deserts," where there are few or no supermarkets and fast food is what's most available, tend to draw locals to the fast food. But in areas where there are also supermarkets and grocery stores, foodchoices appear unrelated to healthy eating.

"It's not enough to say we will build it [supermarkets] and people will come," said lead researcher Penny Gordon-Larsen, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health in Chapel Hill.

For the study, Gordon-Larsen's team used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study to look at fast food consumption vs. eating more fruits and vegetables based on the availability of fast food restaurants and supermarkets and grocery stores in neighborhoods in Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland.

The researchers asked a total of 5,115 people in these areas how often they ate fast food, and had them detail their diet in the past month and also their usual dietary habits. Among those living in low-income areas, there was a strong association between the availability of fast food and how much of it was part of their diet, the researchers found. This association was particularly strong among men who lived within one to two miles of a fast food restaurant.

However, there was no strong association between living near a supermarket and eating more fruits or vegetables, the researchers said.

Gordon-Larsen said healthy foods need to be affordable, and there needs to be a concerted effort to promote healthy eating, includes educating people about healthy food choices available in fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

"There are better choices to make in those restaurants," Gordon-Larsen said. "If you chose to go to those restaurants, there are things you can buy that are relatively more healthy as opposed to less healthy."

The report was published in the July 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers noted the limitations of this study included the self-reporting of diet choices and the frequency of fast-food consumption.

However, Dr. Paul A. Simon, from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and co-author of an accompanying editorial in the journal, said that "the study's results are consistent with other research that indicate frequent consumption of fast food is a risk factor for obesity."

Because the research didn't show a relationship between diet and supermarkets doesn't mean supermarkets aren't important, Simon added. In many areas, supermarkets or grocery stores do not provide healthy food options, he said.

"The effort to attract supermarkets to these so-called 'food deserts' is important, but it is not sufficient. In addition, there are lots of things that have to happen within the supermarket," Simon said.

For example, healthy foods need to be in prominent places, priced competitively and look attractive, he said.

Simon says that many of these areas are not really food deserts, they are what he calls "food swamps."

"They are loaded with unhealthy food options and little access to healthier affordable options," he said. "The obesity problem isn't just a lifestyle issue. It's not just about individuals and families making bad choices. It's also about the environment and the fact that the environment shapes our choices to a very powerful degree."

Simon thinks creating an environment in which the healthy choice is the easy one will go a long way to getting the obesity epidemic under control.

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Original Source: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/diet-fitness/diet/articles/2011/07/11/fast-food-is-king-of-the-neighborhood-study-reports

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Research Conflicted on Benefits of Soda Tax in Fighting Obesity

July 6, 2011, Los Angeles Times

By Jessica Tobacman

Drinking soda is linked to obesity, but new research shows it may be in ways that complicate attempts to tax sweetened drinks as a weapon in the fight against bulging waistlines.

Ketan Patel, a doctoral student in economics at Northwestern University, looked at whether food taxes have an effect on obesity and discovered it differs for children and adults.

"It's possible that a tax on soda would help people who are normal weight or overweight from becoming obese," Patel said. "For those people who are already obese, a soda tax doesn't look like it would be effective in reducing their weight. It turns out that obese consumers have a strong preference for diet soda."

A proposal pending in the Illinois Senate would raise by a penny per ounce the state's tax on soda and other sugary drinks. It would not apply to diet soda.

Elissa Bassler, CEO of the Illinois Public Health Institute, strongly supports what she calls a sugary beverage tax because of the link of sweetened drinks to obesity and diabetes in children. She points out that Illinois has the fourth-highest rate of childhood obesity in the country, and the 10th-highest rate of overweight and obese kids combined.

Obese kids are more likely to grow up to be obese adults, she said, and to develop accompanying health problems.

"There is evidence that increasing the price (of drinks) would decrease the consumption of soda beverages among kids," Bassler said.

Patel only studied adults.

"Childhood obesity is a problem, but adult obesity is also a problem," Patel said. "A lot of programs are targeted to children. There's much more control over what children consume. … Adults are free to consume what they want."

Frank J. Chaloupka, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, puts specific numbers to what could be raised from such a tax and how it would reduce the incidence of obesity, findings that differ from Patel's.

Chaloupka said the tax would raise slightly more than $600 million per year, money that could be plowed into anti-obesity efforts. Bassler said such efforts could involve giving people across the state more access to fruits and vegetables, building more parks and bike paths, and improving school lunches.

"There's very little funding for those sorts of efforts, so additional revenues could help support efforts that would add to the effect of the tax and reduce obesity," Chaloupka said.

By effect he means the 45,000 fewer obese children and adolescents he estimates would result if the tax were imposed. He says there would be 140,000 or so fewer obese adults. His research also showed that annual medical costs for treating obesity-related health problems would decrease by about $150 million.

"The tax would have a positive public health impact by reducing soda beverage consumption and obesity," he concluded.

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Original Source: http://www.latimes.com/health/ct-x-0706-soda-tax-20110706,0,6549827.story

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS

Industries Lobby against Voluntary Nutrition Guidelines for Food Marketed to Kids

July 9, 2011, Washington Post

By Lyndsey Layton and Dan Eggen

The food and advertising industries have launched a multi-pronged campaign to squash government efforts to create voluntary nutritional guidelines for foods marketed to children.

Calling themselves the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, the nation's biggest foodmakers, fast-food chains and media companies, including Viacom and Time Warner, are trying to derail standards proposed by four federal agencies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also lent its lobbying muscle to the effort.

The guidelines are designed to encourage foodmakers to reduce salt, added sugars and fats in foods and drinks targeted to children. If their products did not meet the standards, foodmakers following the guidelines would refrain from advertising them to children.

The standards would be voluntary and not regulations; companies would not be required to meet them, and the government would have no way to enforce them.

Public-health experts say children, many of whom may lack the critical-thinking skills to understand advertising, are bombarded daily by television ads, Web sites, toy giveaways and cartoon characters promoting junk food. The food and beverage industry spends about $2 billion a year marketing directly to children.

The business community has portrayed the government's guidelines as job-killing government overreach. Foodmakers said the voluntary guidelines are too severe and would prevent them from marketing even relatively healthy foods to children.

Congressional directive

Concerned about rising obesity rates among children, Congress in 2009 directed four agencies — the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department — to propose nutritional standards that food and beverages should meet in order to be marketed to children. The initiative was a bipartisan effort led by then-Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

"We allow companies into our homes to manipulate children to want food that will make them sick," said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is leading a coalition of public-health groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, in support of the guidelines.

The four federal agencies unveiled proposed standards in May and accepted public comment through July 14. A finalized version of the report will be send to Congress.

The business community has dispatched lobbyists to Capitol Hill, held conference calls for media and produced a print ad extolling its past successes in lowering sugar, sodium and fat in many foods marketed to children.

The food industry developed its own standards in 2006 for products marketed to children, but critics say that those efforts at self-regulation lack uniformity and that results have been modest. Foodmakers are updating those industry standards and released a new version of them July 14.

Advertising executives touted one economic analysis that suggested the government's guidelines would kill 75,000 jobs annually, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlighted a legal scholar's assessment that the voluntary standards would impede commercial speech.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) plans to insert a provision in the Federal Trade Commission budget to require the agency to weigh the costs before finalizing the guidelines. "I'm always worried when voluntary guidelines get pushed, because I fear that it will become prescribed," she said. "All we want is to do a cost-benefit analysis of the economic impact."

Foodmakers said the voluntary guidelines could even prevent them from marketing foods such as yogurt and whole-wheat bread.

Wootan countered that the whole-wheat breads currently marketed to children would meet the proposed guidelines, as would most of the yogurt now aimed at children.

David Vladeck, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC, said he was surprised by the intensity of the reaction from industry and worried about "misinformation." He posted a July 1 blog item that dissected 12 "myths" regarding the proposed guidelines.

"Congress directed the [agencies] to prepare these guidelines because much of the foods marketed directly to kids are not healthful," Vladeck said in an interview. "If you look at rising rates of obesity, one in three kids is either overweight or obese. That percentage is growing. I don't think anyone thinks the status quo is okay. We are trying to be useful in this debate. This is not stealth regulation in any way, shape or form.

The industry coalition

Core members of the coalition — includingGeneral Mills, Kellogg, PepsiCo and Time Warner — spent $6.6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, disclosure records show. Overall, records show, the coalition's main members have spent nearly $60 million on lobbying since the start of the Obama administration.

One of the main players is media giant Viacom. It owns the Nickelodeon television network, whose animated characters — including Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants — are featured prominently on food products marketed to children. Viacom's corporate parent spent nearly $1 million a month on lobbying in the first three months of this year, mostly on media and technology issues.

The coalition declined to release its budget for the campaign, which is being managed by Anita Dunn of the firm SKD Knickerbocker. Dunn served as White House communications director under President Obama in 2009 and is married to Robert F. Bauer, the former White House counsel.

Her work on behalf of foodmakers is surprising to some because first lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity her signature issue. In a speech last year to food manufacturers and retailers, the first lady urged them to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods.

"Our kids didn't learn about the latest sweets and snack foods on their own," she told the industry. "They hear about these products from advertisements on TV, the Internet, video games, schools, many other places."

Consumer groups say the food lobby is aiming to capitalize on Dunn's connections, particularly among Democrats more sympathetic to nutritional guidelines. The Center for Science in the Public Interest said Dunn and her firm "should be ashamed."

Dunn dismissed the criticism.

"Without resorting to personal attacks, everybody should be able to work together towards a common goal here," she said. "At the end of the day, combating childhood obesity is not a question of what gets advertised but a matter of more exercise, healthier eating habits and working together."

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Original Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/industries-lobby-against-voluntary-nutrition-guidelines-for-food-marketed-to-kids/2011/07/08/gIQAZSZu5H_story.html

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McDonald's Happy Meals Get Apples, Fewer Fries

July 26, 2011, Reuters

By Lisa Baertlein

McDonald's Corp said on July 26 it will soon tweak its Happy Meals, reducing the french fry portion by more than half and automatically adding apples to the popular children's meals, after coming under pressure from consumer groups to provide healthier fare.

McDonald's -- which has been taking heat from parents, consumer groups and local lawmakers over the nutritional content and marketing of Happy Meals -- said it would start making the changes in September and the new Happy Meals would be available in all of its 14,000 U.S. restaurants by the end of the first quarter of 2012.

The world's largest hamburger chain also plans a 15 percent reduction in sodium across its U.S. menu by 2015. Beyond that, it vowed to cut sodium, added sugars, saturated fats and calories in domestic meals by 2020.

"We are going to be casting our gaze more closely on portion management as well as how we can introduce more food groups such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains," Cindy Goody, McDonald's senior director of nutrition, said on a webcast.

The new child's french fry portion will be 1.1 ounces, down from 2.4 ounces previously, and equal to about 100 calories.

McDonald's currently offers apple slices with caramel dipping sauce as a Happy Meal side. The new apple portion size is 1.2 ounces, compared with 3.1 ounces previously, and has no added sugar or accompanying dipping sauces.

The new Happy Meals will have about 20 percent fewer calories than today's most popular Happy Meal, executives said. As a result, the new Happy Meals will be under 600 calories.

Prices will not change as a result of the new composition, and toys will continue to be included in every Happy Meal, said Jan Field, McDonald's U.S.A. president.

The move from McDonald's came after San Francisco and nearby Santa Clara County, California, passed laws that would curb free toy giveaways with kids' meals that did not meet nutritional requirements.

"Without the looming prospect of regulation in cities and states around the country, McDonald's would not have taken as seriously the concerns that the public health community and parents have been sharing with them about this issue," said Samantha Graff, director of legal research at Public Health Law & Policy, which drafted the models for the ordinances eventually adopted in Santa Clara County and San Francisco.

Field told Reuters that the changes announced on July 26 were in the works for more than two years and had nothing to do with the Santa Clara County and San Francisco laws.

Field added that the new Happy Meals still would not meet San Francisco's nutritional rules, which also require a vegetable serving.

Still, she said it is "absolutely" possible that McDonald's could add a vegetable to Happy Meals over the next five years.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that advocates healthier restaurant food for children, last year sued McDonald's to stop it from using Happy Meal toys to lure children into its restaurants.

Some 1,700 health professionals and institutions also have signed an open letter to McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner calling for it to stop marketing junk food to kids.

CSPI's nutrition policy director Margo Wootan, called the latest McDonald's changes a step in the right direction.

"McDonald's is an industry leader and Happy Meals have been copied by so many restaurants," she said. "Having them change the nutritional quality for the Happy Meal sets a standard for the industry."

Burger King Corp, DineEquity Inc's, IHOP and more than a dozen other restaurant chains earlier this month backed an industry effort to serve and promote healthier meals for children. McDonald's said it supported that effort, from the National Restaurant Association.

As part of that, Burger King said it was removing french fries and soda as the default for its kids' meals. Diners now have to choose between those options or sliced apples, fat-free milk or juice before an order can be completed.

While the restaurant industry is taking steps to appease its critics, it also has been backing laws designed to restrict local lawmakers' ability to regulate restaurant marketing and other activities.

Shares in McDonald's were up 4 cents to $88.16 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Original Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/26/mcdonalds-idUSN1E76P1E320110726

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First Lady, Grocers Vow to Build Stores in 'Food Deserts'

July 20, 2011, Washington Post

By Ylan Q. Mui

Supermarkets joined with first lady Michelle Obama on July 20 in a pledge to build stores in poor neighborhoods that have historically lacked access to fresh groceries, part of her signature effort to combat childhood obesity.

Participating retailers include Wal-Mart, the country's largest grocer, Walgreens and Supervalu and regional supermarkets such as Brown's Super Stores in Philadelphia and Calhoun Foods in Alabama and Tennessee. Together, they promised to open more than 500 stores that will employ tens of thousands of people.

"The commitments that you all are making today have the potential to be a game changer for our kids and for our communities all across this country," Obama said during a news conference at the White House.

Traditionally, grocers have been wary of opening stores in low-income areas, creating food deserts in many urban and rural markets. A report released this month by the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group, said the costs of security, transportation and employee training are often higher in these areas. In addition, customers may have difficulty getting to the stores or may be too dispersed to justify the investment.

"We knew the conventional wisdom on this issue," Obama said. "If we truly wanted to end the epidemic of childhood obesity . . .then we didn't have a choice. We needed to confront this problem head on."

Retailers have started to take a second look at these markets as their traditional suburban strongholds have become saturated. Wal-Mart, for example, recently unveiled a new, smaller store model called Wal-Mart Express designed specifically for urban and rural neighborhoods.

As part of its pledge Wednesday, Wal-Mart said it would open or remodel 275 to 300 traditional supermarkets over the next five years, a move it expects will create 40,000 jobs. Although the stores are just part of the hundreds of locations the behemoth retailer will probably build during that time, executives said Obama's initiative helped focus its selection of sites.

"Her leadership causes companies like ours to go back and ask questions that challenge ourselves," said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart. Grocery chain Supervalu also committed to opening 250 stores within five years, which it expects will generate 6,000 jobs. Drugstore Walgreens said it planned to convert at least 1,000 stores into "food oases" that sell fresh produce. It estimated that 45 percent of its current locations operate in underserved neighborhoods.

A 2009 report by the Agriculture Department defined a food desert as a low-income neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is at least a mile away, or 10 miles away in rural communities. About 23.5 million people — or 8.4 percent of Americans — live in these areas.

"Today we move past talking about statistics...and focus on steps toward a solution," said James R. Gavin III, chairman of the Partnership for a Healthy America, a nonprofit group founded last year to help implement Obama's obesity prevention efforts.

Improving access to healthy foods is one of the key components of that campaign. Last month, the first lady helped the Agriculture Department revamp the food pyramid into a chart called MyPlate, which left out desserts. But on July 20, Obama said that advising families to eat healthy foods was just the first step.

"If parents can't buy the food they need to prepare those meals...then all of that is just talk," she said.

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Original Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/first-lady-grocers-vow-to-build-stores-in-food-deserts/2011/07/20/gIQA9LHRQI_story.html

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To Fight Obesity, Even Babies Should Exercise

July 11, 2011, Boston Globe

By Maria Cheng

In a new campaign against obesity, the British government issued guidelines on July 11 saying that children under the age of 5 -- including those who can't even walk yet -- should exercise every day.

In its first such guidelines for children that young, the health department said kids under 5 who can walk should be physically active for at least three hours a day. Officials also said parents should reduce the amount of time such kids spend being sedentary while watching television or being strapped in a stroller.

The three hours of activity should be spread throughout the day. Officials said the children's daily dose of exercise is likely to be met simply through playing but could also include activities such as walking to school.

For babies who can't walk yet, the government said physical activity should be encouraged from birth, including infants playing on their stomachs or having swimming sessions with their parents. The government said children's individual physical and mental abilities should be considered when interpreting the advice.

"It's vital that parents introduce children to fun and physically active pastimes to help prevent them becoming obese children, who are likely to become obese adults at risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers," Maura Gillespie, head of policy and advocacy at the British Heart Foundation, said in a statement.

Nearly a quarter of British adults are obese, and experts estimate that by 2050 about 90 percent of adults will be heavy.

According to a 2008 health survey that used devices to measure how much people actually exercised, officials found only about five percent of Britons meet the government's minimum physical activity advice -- about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every week, including some every day.

For children aged 5 to 18, Britain recommends at least one hour of exercise, but that should include intensive activities to strengthen muscles and bones.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises children and teenagers to get about one hour or more of physical activity every day.

According to the Institute of Medicine, an independent organization in Washington, D.C., toddlers should get at least 15 minutes of exercise for every hour they spend in child care.

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Original Source: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/07/11/to_fight_obesity_even_babies_should_exercise/

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