E-Newsletter
January 2013


SPOTLIGHT

PUBLICATIONS

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS


SPOTLIGHT

Obesity in young is seen as falling in several cities

Dec. 10, 2012, The New York Times

By Sabrina Tavernise

After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.

The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

The first dips — noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — were so surprising that some researchers did not believe them.

Deanna M. Hoelscher, a researcher at the University of Texas, who in 2010 recorded one of the earliest declines — among mostly poor Hispanic fourth-graders in the El Paso area — did a double-take. “We reran the numbers a couple of times,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Will you please check that again for me?’ ”

Researchers say they are not sure what is behind the declines. They may be an early sign of a national shift that is visible only in cities that routinely measure the height and weight of schoolchildren. The decline in Los Angeles, for instance, was for fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-graders — the grades that are measured each year — between 2005 and 2010. Nor is it clear whether the drops have more to do with fewer obese children entering school or currently enrolled children losing weight. But researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years.

Though obesity is now part of the national conversation, with aggressive advertising campaigns in major cities and a push by Michelle Obama, many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work. Individual efforts like one-time exercise programs have rarely produced results. Researchers say that it will take a broad set of policies applied systematically to effectively reverse the trend, a conclusion underscored by an Institute of Medicine report released in May.

Philadelphia has undertaken a broad assault on childhood obesity for years. Sugary drinks like sweetened iced tea, fruit punch, and sports drinks started to disappear from school vending machines in 2004. A year later, new snack guidelines set calorie and fat limits, which reduced the size of snack foods like potato chips to single servings. By 2009, deep fryers were gone from cafeterias and whole milk had been replaced by one percent and skim.

Change has been slow. Schools made money on sugary drinks, and some set up rogue drink machines that had to be hunted down. Deep fat fryers, favored by school administrators who did not want to lose popular items like French fries, were unplugged only after Wayne T. Grasela, the head of food services for the school district, stopped buying oil to fill them.

But the message seems to be getting through, even if acting on it is daunting. Josh Monserrat, an eighth-grader at John Welsh Elementary, uses words like “carbs,” and “portion size.” He is part of a student group that promotes healthy eating. He has even dressed as an orange to try to get other children to eat better. Still, he struggles with his own weight. He is 5-foot-3 but weighed nearly 200 pounds at his last doctor’s visit.

“I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m obese for my age,’ ” said Josh, who is 13. “I set a goal for myself to lose 50 pounds.”

Nationally, about 17 percent of children under 20 are obese, or about 12.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which defines childhood obesity as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex. That rate, which has tripled since 1980, has leveled off in recent years but has remained at historical highs, and public health experts warn that it could bring long-term health risks.

Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, creating a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Cancer Society says that being overweight or obese is the culprit in one of seven cancer deaths. Diabetes in children is up by a fifth since 2000, according to federal data.

“I’m deeply worried about it,” said Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who added that obesity is “almost certain to result in a serious downturn in longevity based on the risks people are taking on.”

Obesity affects poor children disproportionately. Twenty percent of low-income children are obese, compared with about 12 percent of children from more affluent families, according to the CDC. Among girls, race is also an important factor. About 25 percent of black girls are obese, compared with 15 percent of white girls.

Some experts note that the current declines, concentrated among higher income, mostly white populations, are still not benefiting many minority children. For example, when New York City measured children in kindergarten through eighth grade from 2007 to 2011, the number of white children who were obese dropped by 12.5 percent, while the number of obese black children dropped by 1.9 percent.

But Philadelphia, which has the biggest share of residents living in poverty of the nation’s 10 largest cities, stands out because its decline was most pronounced among minorities. Obesity among 120,000 public school students measured between 2006 and 2010 declined by 8 percent among black boys and by 7 percent among Hispanic girls, compared with a 0.8 percent decline for white girls and a 6.8 percent decline for white boys.

“The needle is actually moving,” said Gary D. Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University. He first noticed the change while conducting a study of middle school students. Even children who made up the control group that did not take part in anti-obesity measures had a weight drop of nearly 4 percent, compared with 5.5 percent for those who did.

Here at William H. Ziegler Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia, where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the day begins with a nutrition tip over the loudspeaker. Teachers give out colorful erasers and stickers instead of Tootsie Rolls. Fund-raising events feature fruit smoothies instead of chocolate.

Some students had never seen broccoli or cauliflower, so Jill Dogmanits, a sixth-grade teacher, started taste tests to acquaint students with those vegetables and healthy snacks like hummus, fresh pineapple, and whole-wheat bagels.

But school is only part of the day. Children buy an average of 350 calories worth of snacks in corner stores every day, according to a study by Dr. Foster’s center at Temple University. About 640 corner stores are now part of a program of stocking healthier food, according to the Food Trust, a nonprofit group that runs it.

“Parents tell their kids, ‘Take this money and go buy a snack,’ ” said Josh, as children streamed into a store across from his school where crayon-colored sugar drinks called Hugs sell for 25 cents and generic soda is 40 cents.

Dr. Donald F. Schwarz, a pediatrician who is the city’s health commissioner, said: “I think we are beginning to turn the tide with the many things that have gone on now for a decade.”

It is too early to tell whether the trend will hold.

“I’d like to see another year of measurement before I go out and party over this,” said Mary Currier, Mississippi’s state health officer.

And some public health experts say that without broader policy actions like a soda tax, which Philadelphia tried but failed to pass in 2010 and 2011, deeper change will be difficult. Still, new data from Philadelphia — from more than 20,000 children in first through sixth grades — show a further 2.5 percent obesity decline from 2011 to 2012, Dr. Foster said.

Josh lost weight this summer, exercising outside with his stepfather, an Army reservist. But now that it’s cold he has gained some back. Still, he believes he can influence others. His 2-year-old cousin now asks for bananas instead of chips at the corner store. Josh takes full credit.

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Original source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/health/childhood-obesity-drops-in-new-york-and-philadelphia.html?pagewanted=1&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimeshealth&_r=0

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PUBLICATIONS

A review of food marketing to children and adolescents: Follow-up report

This study from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) gauges the progress industry has made since first launching self-regulatory efforts to promote healthier food choices to kids. It serves as a follow-up to the Commission’s 2008 report on food marketing requested by Congress.

The report provides a picture of how food companies allocated $1.79 billion on marketing to youth ages 2-17 in 2009. The FTC found that overall spending was down 19.5 percent from 2006, with most of that decrease coming from less spending on television ads to youth. At the same time, food companies stepped up their spending to market to children and teens in new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, by 50 percent. The analysis suggests that industry self-regulation resulted in modest nutritional improvements from 2006 to 2009 within specific food categories heavily marketed to youth, such as cereals, drinks, and fast food kids’ meals.

According to the report, food company participation in self-regulation has increased, but some companies with significant marketing to children still have not joined the effort. The entertainment industry lags farther behind. With a few exceptions, media companies have not limited licensing of children’s characters and placement of ads during children’s programming to more nutritious foods.

VIEW REPORT

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Study examined association between household behaviors, youth BMI

This study sought to determine whether children (aged 9–18 years) who live in households that have healthful practices related to behaviors associated with obesity have a lower body mass index (BMI).

Researchers analyzed data from the 2005 Styles mail panel survey and found that children watched more television if they had a television in their bedrooms, were less active as a family, and had no junk food restrictions at home. Children in less active families participated in about half as much vigorous physical activity as children in more active families. Children purchased more sodas and snacks at school if they had a television in their bedrooms and their family consumed more meals at fast-food restaurants. Children whose families were less active were more likely to have a self-reported BMI at or above the 85th percentile. In addition, children who watched more television were more likely to have a self-reported BMI at or above the 85th percentile.

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SaludableOmaha aiming to increase community readiness for obesity prevention

Childhood obesity rates in minority populations continue to rise despite leveling national trends. Although interventions that address social and environmental factors exist, processes that create demand for policy and environmental change within communities have not been identified.

Researchers developed a pilot program in South Omaha, a Nebraska Latino community, based on the community readiness model (CRM), called SaludableOmaha. Researchers used CRM to explore the potential of youth advocacy to shift individual and community norms regarding obesity prevention in South Omaha and to advocate for health-promoting community environments.

Researchers used CRM to assess supply and demand for health programs, engage the community, determine the community’s baseline readiness to address childhood obesity, and guide youth advocacy program development. The project was conducted in two phases. In the first, researchers trained a cohort of youth. In the second, the youth cohort created and launched a Latino health movement, branded as SaludableOmaha. A third phase, which is currently under way, is directed at institutionalizing youth advocacy in communities.

At baseline, the community studied was at a low stage of readiness for change. The program generated infrastructure and materials to support the growth and institutionalization of youth advocacy as a means of increasing community readiness for addressing obesity prevention.

CRM is an important tool for addressing issues such as childhood obesity in underserved communities because it provides a framework for matching interventions to the community. Community partnerships such as SaludableOmaha can aid the adoption of obesity prevention programs.

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RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

Childhood obesity rate declining in young, low-income kids

Dec. 25, 2012, Reuters

By Genevra Pittman

The number of low-income preschoolers who qualify as obese or “extremely obese” has dropped over the last decade, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show.

Although the decline was only “modest” and may not apply to all children, researchers said it was still encouraging.

“It's extremely important to make sure we're monitoring obesity in this low-income group,” said CDC researcher [and NCCOR member] Heidi Blanck, who worked on the study.

Those kids are known to be at higher risk of obesity than their well-off peers, in part because access to healthy food is often limited in poorer neighborhoods.

The new results can't prove what's behind the progress, Blanck, told Reuters Health — but two possible contributors are higher rates of breastfeeding and rising awareness of the importance of physical activity even for very young kids.

Blanck and her colleagues used data on routine clinic visits for about half of all U.S. kids eligible for federal nutrition programs — including 27.5 million children aged 2 to 4 years.

They found 13 percent of those preschoolers were obese in 1998. That grew to just above 15 percent in 2003, but dropped slightly below 15 percent in 2010, the most recent study year included.

Similarly, the prevalence of extreme obesity increased from nearly 1.8 percent in 1998 to 2.2 percent in 2003, then dropped back to just below 2.1 percent in 2010, the research team reported Dec. 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Whether kids are obese is determined by their body mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight in relation to height — and by their age and sex. For example, a 4-year-old girl who is 40 inches tall would be obese if she was 42 pounds or heavier. A 2-year-old boy who is 35 inches tall qualifies as obese at 34 pounds or above, according to the CDC's child BMI calculator.

The new findings are the first national data to show obesity and extreme obesity may be declining in young children, Blanck said. “This is very encouraging considering the recent effort made in the field including by several U.S. federal agencies to combat the childhood obesity epidemic,” said Dr. Youfa Wang, director of the Johns Hopkins Global Center on Childhood Obesity in Baltimore, Md., [and NCCOR Envision member].

Blanck said between 2003 and 2010 researchers also saw an increase in breastfeeding of low-income infants. Breastfeeding has been tied to a healthier weight in early childhood.

Additionally, states and communities have started working with child care centers to make sure kids have time to run around and that healthy foods are on the lunch menu, she added.

Parents can encourage better eating by having fruits and vegetables available at snack time and allowing their young kids to help with meal preparation, Blanck said.

Her other recommendations include making sure preschoolers get at least one hour of activity every day and keeping television sets out of the bedroom.

“The prevalence of overweight and obesity in many countries including in the U.S. is still very high,” Wang, who wasn't involved in the new study, told Reuters Health in an email. “The recent level off should not be taken as a reason to reduce the effort to fight the obesity epidemic.”

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Original source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/25/us-obesity-kids-idUSBRE8BO07J20121225

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Healthy snacks help kids feel full faster

Dec. 17, 2012, MedPage Today

By Cole Petrochko

A healthy snack of cheese and vegetables can satisfy a child's appetite while also resulting in the consumption of fewer calories, researchers found.

In a study measuring children's snack consumption when presented with various snack options while watching television, those given a combination vegetable and cheese snack consumed significantly fewer calories before being satiated than those who were served potato chips (P<0.001), according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and colleagues.

The effects of snacking on caloric intake were more pronounced in those who were overweight or obese (P=0.02) or who were from low-involvement families (P=0.049), the author wrote online in Pediatrics.

The authors noted that, although other factors, such as reduced physical activity, contribute to childhood obesity, the increase in snacking — up to an average of three snacks per day from one snack per day 30 years ago — and in consumption of non-nutrient dense snacks “are considered major factors associated with childhood obesity.” They added that “strategies for curbing [non-nutrient dense snack] consumption are needed” to offset the “present and growing problem” of childhood obesity.

The researchers analyzed whether children eating a combination snack of cheese and vegetables would consume fewer calories, and require fewer calories to become satiated than children eating chips. They also looked at whether heavier children eating the combination snack would consume fewer calories than healthier-weight children, and if children in families with low involvement would eat fewer calories of the combination snack than those from high-involvement families. The sample size consisted of 183 children (104 female) with an average age of 8.7. The mean body mass index (BMI) was 20.3 kg/m2.

Among all the participants, 38 were considered overweight (BMI ≥85th percentile), and 43 were considered obese (BMI ≥95th percentile) according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) BMI-for-age growth chart. The majority of overweight (55 percent) and obese (63 percent) children in the study were from low-involvement families.

Participants were randomized to one of four snacking conditions, including potato chips only, vegetables only, cheese only, and cheese and vegetables. The children were allowed to snack freely while watching 45 minutes of TV.

Children's satiety was measured before they were allowed to snack, immediately after watching TV and being allowed to freely snack, and 20 minutes after snacking through a three-question, nine-point scale questionnaire. Satiety was indexed by dividing calories consumed by satiety increases from the first measure to the third measure and used to determine the average number of calories of a snack required to satiate hunger.

The cheese-only and vegetable-only conditions were controls “to examine how much children in the combo condition consumed compared with those in the control groups.”

In addition to the satiety measures, participants' parents filled out 20-item questionnaires regarding mealtime habits, including family involvement during mealtimes, and mealtime activities and interactions.

Participants in both the combination and control conditions consumed significantly fewer calories than those who snacked on chips, at 170 mean calories in the cheese and vegetable group, 60 mean calories in the vegetable-only group, and 200 mean calories in the cheese-only group, versus 620 mean calories in the chip group (P<0.001 for all three comparisons).

“It is worth noting that children offered the combination snack consumed about the same amount of vegetables as those offered vegetables only,” they wrote.

In a comparison of satiety between the combination and chip groups, combination healthy snack eaters needed significantly fewer calories before they were satiated (53 calories versus 282.4 calories, P<0.001), making the combination snack “a more calorie-effective means to attain satiety than potato chips.”

When comparing effects of age, sex, weight status, and family involvement on caloric intake, only obesity or overweight and family had a significant effect on lower calorie consumption, where children in the combination snack condition ate 16 points fewer (76 percent versus 60 percent) and 10 points fewer (77 percent versus 67 percent) calories than those in the chip condition.

The authors noted that, while banning non-nutritional snacks entirely from a child's diet may not be practical, offering a healthy combination snack alternative or as a replacement should cause “less fear of backlash” than complete removal of non-nutrient dense foods.

The study had some limitations, most notably the authors did not examine the processes underlying why the combination healthy snack led to less caloric intake compared with a non-nutrient dense snack.

“Additional research is needed . . . to appreciate the underlying physiological and psychological processes [and] the impact of combination snacks on intake over time also needs to be explored,” they said.

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Original source: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Obesity/36479

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More salt in kids' diets may mean more obesity

Dec. 10, 2012, WebMD

By Rita Rubin

Limiting children’s salt intake could be one way to reduce childhood obesity, new research suggests.

The study of more than 4,200 Australian children aged 2 to 16 years old found that those who ate more salt also drank more fluids, particularly sugar-sweetened beverages — namely soda, fruit drinks, flavored mineral waters, and sports and energy drinks.

Previous research has implicated sugar-sweetened beverages in the rise in childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Boys aged 12 to 19 drink an average of 22 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda a day — nearly two cans — compared to only about 10 ounces of milk, the CDC says. Girls drink a little less of both: about 14 ounces of sugar-sweetened soda and 6 ounces of milk each day.

In the new study, children who drank at least one serving of a sugar-sweetened drink a day were 26 percent more likely to be overweight and obese.

On average, children who reported drinking sugar-sweetened beverages ate 6.5 grams of salt per day, compared to 5.8 grams of salt per day for the children who did not drink them. “This is a significant difference,” says researcher Carley Grimes, a Ph.D. candidate at Deakin University.

What about that salt shaker?

The scientists did not count salt added at the table or used in cooking when calculating how much the children ate. “It is likely that the amount of salt reported in this paper is an underestimation of the true intake of salt,” Grimes says.

“It is difficult to speculate” how the additional salt would have influenced the link with sugar-sweetened beverages, she says.

Whether eating salty foods causes children to drink more sugary beverages can’t be determined from her study, Grimes says. “It is possible that the association may in part be due to a clustering of unhealthy dietary behaviors.” People who prefer salty snacks over more nutritious options might also be more likely to prefer soda to water. After all, people commonly order fries with their Coke, and vice versa.

But, Grimes says, the notion that eating more salt increases children’s thirst for sugary drinks “is clearly plausible,” based on studies in adults and animals.

“One of the reasons bars provide free salted nuts, snacks, and popcorn is that they know that eating these foods makes people thirsty, and they will buy more drinks,” she says.

In Grimes’ study, 62 percent of participants reported drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, considerably lower than the 80 percent found in studies of U.S. children.

Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says Australian children may not drink as much soda or sports drinks, but they make up for it by drinking fruit juice and are just as likely to be overweight or obese as their U.S. peers.

One weakness in Grimes’ study was that fruit juice, which has the same impact as drinks with added sugar, wasn’t included when tallying up children’s drinking of sugary beverages, Popkin says. The study was published online on Dec. 10 in Pediatrics.

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Original source: http://children.webmd.com/news/20121206/salt-kids-obesity

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Food tax, price change could affect rates of obesity and heart disease

Dec. 12, 2012, VOXXI

By Hope Gillette

A number of regions in the United States have tossed around the idea of implementing food taxes on unhealthy items as well as sugary drinks, and some, like New York City, have already gone ahead with plans to limit the amount of such products available to consumers.

While such tactics have met with criticism, analyzing information from 32 previous studies, experts were able to determine there would be a 0.02 percent decline in junk food consumption for every 1 percent price increase.

When it comes to sugary drinks, a 10 percent increase in price could lower consumption by as much as 24 percent.

The findings, which were published in the journal PLoS Medicine, also revealed a decrease in the cost of fruits and vegetables would likely equate to an increase in consumption of 2 to 8 percent.

While the New Zealand study indicated a reduction in junk food consumption, an earlier study published in the British Medical Journal indicated that in order for a junk food tax to be truly effective, it would have to increase the cost of products by at least 20 percent.

“Taxation needs to be at least 20 percent to have a significant effect on obesity and cardiovascular disease,” wrote Oliver Mytton, of the British Heart Foundation’s Health Promotion Research Group, reported by U.S. News & World Report. “Taxing a wide range of unhealthy foods or nutrients is likely to result in greater health benefits than would accrue from narrow taxes.”

The United States is not the first country to consider such a junk food tax. Hungary, Denmark, and Peru have all implemented a tax protocol on fatty foods and sugary drinks, in the effort, explain experts, to combat the global obesity epidemic. Recent studies have linked obesity to consumption of certain foods, especially soda.

“I know of no other category of food whose elimination can produce weight loss in such a short period of time,” Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital told Reuters. “The most effective single target for an intervention aimed at reducing obesity is sugary beverages.”

While a country-wide junk food tax has not yet been implemented in the United States, New York City has taken the initiative and compiled some of the most stringent policies regarding junk food sales, restricting soda and other sugar beverage sizes within the city limits.

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Original source: http://www.voxxi.com/food-tax-price-change-affect-obesity/#ixzz2EwixIFGW

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CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS

USDA to allow more meat, grains in school lunches

Dec. 8, 2012, Yahoo News

By Mary Clare Jalonick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responding to criticism over new school lunch rules by allowing more grains and meat in kids' meals.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter Dec. 7 that the department will do away with daily and weekly limits of meats and grains. Several lawmakers wrote the department after the new rules went into effect in September saying kids aren't getting enough to eat.

School administrators also complained, saying set maximums on grains and meats are too limiting as they try to plan daily meals.

“This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,” Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The new guidelines were intended to address increasing childhood obesity levels. They set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. The department also dictated how much of certain food groups could be served.

While nutritionists and some parents have praised the new school lunch standards, others, including many conservative lawmakers, refer to them as government overreach. Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained about hearing from constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.

Though broader calorie limits are still in place, the rules tweak will allow school lunch planners to use as many grains and as much meat as they want. In comments to USDA, many had said grains shouldn't be limited because they are a part of so many meals, and that it was difficult to always find the right size of meat.

The new tweak doesn't upset nutritionists who fought for the school lunch overhaul.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the change is minor and the new guidance shows that USDA will work with school nutrition officials and others who have concerns.

“It takes time to work out the kinks,” Wootan said. “This should show Congress that they don't need to interfere legislatively.”

Congress has already interfered with the rules. Last year, after USDA first proposed the new guidelines, Congress prohibited USDA from limiting potatoes and French fries and allowed school lunchrooms to continue counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable.

The school lunch rules apply to federally subsidized lunches served to low-income children. Those meals have always been subject to nutritional guidelines because they are partially paid for by the federal government, but the new rules put broader restrictions on what could be served as childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed.

School kids can still buy additional foods in other parts of the lunchroom and the school. Congress two years ago directed USDA to regulate those foods as well, but the department has yet to issue those rules.

Sen. Hoeven, who had written Vilsack to express concern about the rules, said he will be supportive of the meals overhaul if the USDA continues to be flexible when problems arise.

“This is an important step,” he said. “They are responding and that's what they need to do.”

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Original source: http://news.yahoo.com/usda-allow-more-meat-grains-school-lunches-184431563.html

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Expanding young students' role in nutrition

Dec. 15, 2012, Los Angeles Times

By Teresa Watanabe

At Mark Twain Middle School in Los Angeles, a blooming garden serves as a classroom. Students learn math by measuring the growth of wheat, ancient history by building a Mesopotamian-style irrigation system and the science of evaporation, evolution, and genetics by watching their garden grow.

At lunchtime, they may be found snacking on pasta tossed in a sauce featuring just-picked tomatoes and basil.

Aiming to expand such links between classroom and cafeteria, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted this week to further strengthen what is regarded as one of the leading school nutrition programs in the nation. In a resolution passed without opposition, board members directed the district to create a plan to incorporate nutrition education into the curriculum, give students more say in school meal planning and allow them at least 20 minutes to actually eat. Some students say they end up with as little as five minutes for meals because of long cafeteria lines.

The resolution also directs Superintendent John Deasy to report on the financial impact of unauthorized food sales on campus, which include chips, cookies, and other junk food that compete with the district's meals. Despite districtwide policies promoting healthful food, many individual campuses sell such perennial favorites as baked Flamin' Hot Cheetos in school stores and vending machines to raise money.

Board member Steve Zimmer, who co-sponsored the resolution with President Monica Garcia, said the district needed to continue pushing forward on the issue, noting that healthful eating is linked to academic achievement and that some students rely on school meals for most of their daily nutrition.

“We have a sacred obligation to make sure we do everything in our power to raise the quality of our nutritional content,” Zimmer said. The resolution is the latest effort to put L.A. Unified in the forefront of a national movement to make school meals more nutritious and reduce childhood obesity and other health problems.

Over the past several years, L.A. Unified has banned sodas and flavored milk on campus, introduced classroom breakfasts to ensure no child starts the day hungry and transformed its menus. Many items high in fat, salt and sugar have been removed — including such popular fare as corn dogs and coffee cake — in favor of more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The changes have not always been popular. The turkey burgers are “nasty” and the Italian flatbread with marinara sauce “makes your breath disgusting,” said Keonta Johnson, a Mark Twain sixth-grader. But Keonta and three of his friends eating lunch this week said they enjoyed such healthful cafeteria fare as rice and beans, salads, and fruits. “We know if we eat too much junk food we'll get fat and have a greater chance of heart attacks and diabetes,” Keonta said.

Edwin Castro, a seventh-grader, said his friends particularly lamented the loss of the coffee cake and spicy chicken wings; and fewer of them now eat school meals because they don't like them. But, Castro said, he has cut back on chips, cookies, and candy the last few years after learning about nutrition in school and seeing his parents and grandparents struggle with diabetes.

He and other students said lessons in eating habits, history, and other subjects that employed hands-on work out in the school garden have been far more exciting than just reading textbooks.

The garden was revived three years ago by a couple of volunteer master gardeners, who have helped teachers connect it to the curriculum. Those efforts, Zimmer said, can be a model for other schools.

David Binkle, L.A. Unified's food services director, said the district would carry out the board's directive to expand student voices in meal planning through continued campus surveys and plans to build “culinary advisory teams” of food manufacturers, culinary schools and other local partners to work on menu issues at individual campuses. The district is surveying thousands of students, who so far have given a thumbs-up to about half the menu items — including fajitas and chicken teriyaki rice bowls — and rejected others such as the Italian flatbread.

The resolution passed this week also directs the district to form a committee of nutrition experts, community members, food service workers, parents and others to annually evaluate and grade the efforts to carry out the board's school nutrition policy.

Officials with the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles said parts of the resolution, while well-intended, could be challenging to put into practice. Making sure every student has 20 minutes to eat, for instance, could require more cafeteria workers, school supervision and possibly a longer school day, said Dan Isaacs of the administrators' union.

“I don't think any human being on Earth would deny a youngster time for lunch, but you have to take a careful look at it,” he said.

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Original source: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-food-lausd-20121215,0,2724803.story

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Nickelodeon targeted in fight over food marketing guidelines

Dec. 3, 2012, AdWeek

By Katy Bachman

A fight in Washington is heating up again over the effect of food marketing guidelines on curbing childhood obesity. Targeting Nickelodeon, the Food Marketing Workgroup (FMW), a coalition of more than 80 health groups and nutritionists, is hoping to put pressure on the kiddie net and its parent company Viacom to adopt nutrition guidelines for foods marketed to children, especially those foods that license Nickelodeon characters like Sponge Bob.

The fight over whether the government should regulate food ads targeting children has been fought bitterly, and food manufacturers have tightened self-regulation to keep such proposals in draft stage. But nutritionists and health groups haven't given up.

The FMW, led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been keeping close tabs on the business and particularly Nickelodeon, which places about 25 percent of the ads during children's programming, including recent ads for Cocoa Puffs, Air Heads candies, Chuck E.Cheese's, Fruit Roll-Ups, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Pez candy, Cheese Nips crackers, and popsicles.

“Nickelodeon lags behind the efforts of other children's entertainment companies,” noted the group in a letter sent Dec. 3 to Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman and Nickelodeon president Cyma Zarghami, referring to Disney and Ion Media, both of which adopted standards for food marketing to children.

The letter is just the start of a broader campaign targeting Nickelodeon, that includes Facebook posts and ads, print ads in ad and media publications, and a letter writing campaign from concerned parents. CSPI is also in the process of conducting a study about food advertising targeting children.

“[Nick] will be hearing from a lot of parents over the next couple of months that responsible programming means responsible advertising. If in the middle of Dora the Explorer, there are ads for Cocoa Puffs or Air Heads candy, the parent can't feel as good about the programming,” said Margo Wootan, CSPI's director of nutrition policy.

At the very minimum, the FMW suggested Nickelodeon should follow the standards set by the food industry's self-regulatory group, the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). It was the CFBAI's new standards that averted the government's proposal to set voluntary federal food marketing guidelines.

But that makes no sense to Nickelodeon, especially since 80 percent of the food companies marketing to children have adopted the CFBAI's standards, encompassing the vast majority of the company’s advertisers.

“We have proven our commitment over and over, and the vast majority of our advertisers have already signed on to the CFBAI pledge,” Nick said in a statement.

Nick outlined several programs it adopted to fight childhood obesity, including working with the Let's Move! program and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The company also encouraged kids to eat vegetables via a marketing partnership with Birdseye that ran this summer and fall. “No entertainment brand has worked as comprehensively and with more organizations dedicated to fighting childhood obesity over the past decade than Nickelodeon,” said the company, noting it donates 10 percent of its airtime to health and wellness messaging.

That's still not enough for the FMW, which wrote that the programs are “insufficient” to counter the problem. “Your PSAs, philanthropic activities, and partnerships with children's groups do not counterbalance the effect of Nickelodeon's core business and children's exposure to unhealthy food marketing,” the FMW said.

With both sides digging in, the food fight is far from over.

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Original source: http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/nick-targeted-fight-over-food-marketing-guidelines-145662

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