- First NCCOR Connect & Explore webinar a success
- For its five-year anniversary, NCCOR debuts interactive annual report
PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
- Declines in student obesity prevalence associated with a prevention initiative
- New infographic explores how changing communities gets people moving
- New website addresses obesity prevention among Latinos
- Obesity rate for young children plummets 43 percent in a decade
- New obesity weapon: Kids teaching kids
- Childhood obesity may be hardwired
- What's the right way to tax sugary drinks?
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
- Cut out junk food ads in schools, government says
- New FDA nutrition labels would make ‘serving sizes’ reflect actual servings
- Soda wars bubble up across the country
- WHO sees risk of obesity becoming the new norm in Europe
March 3, 2014, NCCOR
In February the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) marked its five-year anniversary by launching Connect & Explore, an external webinar series for researchers, practitioners, and others interested in childhood obesity research. Engaging, informative, and timely, the Connect & Explore webinar was a success with over 180 participants tuning in to gain insight into NCCOR and watch the program!
The webinar featured background information on NCCOR, details on recent childhood obesity research highlights, and three NIH funding opportunities including the Institutes’ rapid response funding mechanism which NCCOR supported. A highlight of the webinar was the “One on One” session, a panel discussion moderated by Elaine Arkin, M.S., of the NCCOR Coordinating Center, and featuring speakers from the four NCCOR funders:
- Laura Kettel Khan, M.I.M., Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Robin McKinnon, M.P.A., Ph.D., National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Laura Leviton, Ph.D., Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)
- Jay Variyam, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
This segment provoked a robust discussion. The representatives spoke about NCCOR’s accomplishments and contributions to the field, new tools and resources available for researchers, and emerging opportunities for research.
The webinar “was a nice snapshot of what NCCOR has accomplished in a relatively short period of time, especially if you consider that three of the four partners are federal agencies,” said Kettel Khan, speaking about how the partnership leverages each funder’s expertise and priorities. “Having Robert Wood Johnson Foundation engaged in these relationships allows the federal agencies more flexibility than if we attempted these efforts on our own,” she added.
The new Connect & Explore webinar series provides a unique platform for participants to engage with NCCOR and find out “what is on the minds of the partnership,” continued Kettel Kahn. I’m hopeful it will encourage “presentations of hot topics in the field of obesity prevention… For example, the recently released data on significant declines in obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds would be a great topic for a board research and practitioner discussion,” she said.
This was the first of three Connect & Explore webinars this year. The next webinar will be held on Thursday, June 12, 2014, from 2-3 p.m. (EST). The Collaborative will solicit feedback after each webinar, inviting the field to provide their impressions, suggestions, and hopes for future NCCOR webinars and endeavors.
A recording of this webinar is available for download at http://nccor.org/resources/nccor/webinars.php#connect.
Feb. 26, 2014, NCCOR
Five years ago the nation’s leading research funders — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture — came together in a common mission to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application of childhood obesity research and formed the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).
In recognition of the contributions NCCOR has made over the past five years, the Collaborative has a new online format for their annual report featuring audio testimonials from researchers and childhood obesity experts, as well as videos and other interactive design features.
Check out NCCOR’s 2013 annual report to learn more about NCCOR’s impact over the past five years and what’s in store for the Collaborative in 2014.
PUBLICATIONS AND TOOLS
New findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that youth obesity dropped in low-income school districts that were part of a King County-focused obesity prevention initiative. By increasing healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity, such as improving the quality of physical education, the initiative boosted healthy habits for middle and high school students. These results have promising implications for statewide and national strategies to improve community health.
The report shows a 17 percent decline in youth obesity in King County (from 9.5 to 7.9 percent) after Public Health – Seattle & King County partnered with schools and community organizations to implement a two-year Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) obesity prevention initiative ending in 2012. While youth obesity rates fell significantly in CPPW initiative school districts, (Auburn, Highline, Kent, Northshore, Renton, Seattle, and Tukwila) rates remained the same in districts not involved in the initiative and were also unchanged in the rest of the state.
Communities across the nation are doing more to ensure that streets, sidewalks, schools, and parks support walking, biking, and playing. Active Living Research recently released a new infographic highlighting several studies that evaluated changes in physical activity after the implementation of built environment and programmatic modifications in different cities. For example, children are more likely to walk or bike to school when there are quality streets and crosswalks, and programs that promote safety; existence of bike lanes is related to higher rates of cycling; and the presence of recreational facilities close to home encourages more physical activity.
Salud America! recently launched "Growing Healthy Change," a "first-of-its-kind clearinghouse of Latino-focused resources and stories to promote changes—healthier marketing and improved access to healthy food and physical activity, etc.—for Latino kids." According to Salud America! director Amelie Ramirez, the site—which includes map creation capabilities, success story examples, and other resources—is a "critical tool to showcase the latest healthy changes for Latino kids that are popping up across the country."
Feb. 25, 2014, The New York Times
By Sabrina Tavernise
Federal health authorities on Feb. 25 reported a 43 percent drop in the obesity rate among 2- to 5-year-old children over the past decade, the first broad decline in an epidemic that often leads to lifelong struggles with weight and higher risks for cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
The drop emerged from a major federal health survey that experts say is the gold standard for evidence on what Americans weigh. The trend came as a welcome surprise to researchers. New evidence has shown that obesity takes hold young: Children who are overweight or obese at ages 3 to 5 years are five times as likely to be overweight or obese as adults.
A smattering of states have reported modest progress in reducing childhood obesity in recent years, and last year the federal authorities noted a slight decline in the obesity rate among low-income children. But the figures on Feb. 25 showed a sharp fall in obesity rates among all 2- to 5-year-olds, offering the first clear evidence that America’s youngest children have turned a corner in the obesity epidemic. About 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 years were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.
“This is the first time we’ve seen any indication of any significant decrease in any group,” said Cynthia L. Ogden, a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lead author of the report, [and NCCOR member] which will be published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, on Feb. 26. “It was exciting.”
She cautioned that these very young children make up a tiny fraction of the American population and that the figures for the broader society had remained flat, and had even increased for women over 60. A third of adults and 17 percent of youths are obese, the federal survey found. Still, the lower obesity rates in the very young bode well for the future, researchers said.
There was little consensus on why the decline might be happening, but many theories.
Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999. More women are breastfeeding, which can lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have also chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but health experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.
Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.
He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese, and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.
Another possible explanation is that some combination of state, local, and federal policies aimed at reducing obesity is starting to make a difference. Michelle Obama, the first lady, has led a push to change young children’s eating and exercise habits and 10,000 child care centers across the country have signed on. The news announcement from the CDC included a remark from Mrs. Obama: “I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans.”
New York City under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also made a major push to combat obesity. The city told restaurants to stop using artificial trans fats in cooking and required chain restaurants to display calorie information on their menus.
Many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work, but proponents of the programs say a broad set of policies applied systematically over a period of time can affect behavior.
The obesity rate for preschoolers — 2- to 5-year-olds — has fluctuated over the years, but Dr. Ogden said the pattern became clear with a decade’s worth of data. About one in 12 children in this age group was obese in 2012. Rates for blacks (one in nine) and Hispanics (one in six) were much higher.
Researchers welcomed the drop but cautioned that only time will tell if the progress will be sustained.
“This is great news, but I’m cautious,” said Ruth Loos, a professor of preventive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai hospital in New York. “The picture will be clearer when we have a few more years of data.”
Still, she added that the 2- to 5-year-olds “might be riding a new wave,” in which changes in habits and environment over many years are finally sinking in. She noted that people who are now 60 years old caught the beginning of what she called the obesity wave that carried the next generation with it.
“Once the obesity epidemic emerged in the 1980s, it took us a while to realize that something bad was happening,” Dr. Loos said. “We’ve been trying to educate parents and families about healthy lifestyles, and maybe it’s finally having an effect.”
Tom Baranowski, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, said there was not enough data to determine whether the decline would spread to older children. Since 2003, the rate for youths over all — ages 2 to 19 years — has remained flat, said Dr. Ogden, author of the CDC report.
But 2- to 5-year-olds are perhaps the most significant age group, as it is in those years that obesity — and all the disease risk that comes with it — becomes established, and it is later very difficult to shake, said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta.
“You have to say maybe some real progress is taking place at the very time it can have the most impact,” Dr. Koplan said. He said he believed the decline was real, as the finding followed several studies that detected patterns of decline among young children, including one by researchers in Massachusetts and the large study by the CDC of low-income children.
“The weight of evidence is becoming more marked,” he said. Still, he cautioned that the age group was only a small slice of American society: “One blossom doesn’t make a spring.”
Feb. 10, 2014, HealthDay
When older kids teach younger children about nutrition and the benefits of exercise, the little ones seem to lose weight and gain knowledge about healthy living, Canadian researchers report.
Such a program—called Healthy Buddies—was tested in Manitoba elementary schools. It helped heavy kids lose an average of half an inch off their waist and increased their knowledge of diet and exercise, the researchers said.
"Engaging older youth in delivering health messages to younger peers is an effective method for preventing weight gain, improving knowledge of healthy living, and increasing self-esteem," said lead researcher Jonathan McGavock, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.
"The effects of this peer mentoring model of healthy living promotion is particularly effective for overweight children," McGavock said.
This approach—detailed online in the Feb. 10 issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics—could help curb the obesity epidemic among young children in North America, he said. The percentage of U.S. children aged 6 to 11 considered obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
McGavock said younger children see older children as role models, which is why their advice is taken more seriously than when the same message is delivered by adults.
"Younger children likely pay more attention to messages or cues from older peers," he said. "Therefore, proper role modeling of healthy behaviors should be a key objective of elementary schools."
Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn., said he was not surprised by the findings. "In my many interactions with parents regarding the importance of good nutrition in childhood, one of the more frequent protests over the years has been peer pressure," Katz said. "Parents, it seems, often feel powerless to overcome the negative influence of peers eating badly."
But Katz, a father of five, said he has seen the upside of peer pressure. "My wife and I have shared our devotion to healthy living with our children, and they have made it their own," he said. "They, in turn, have helped pay it forward, influencing their peers favorably."
This paper illustrates the opportunity to convert negative peer pressure into a positive peer influence, Katz said.
"We can teach healthy living skills to older kids and they, of course, benefit," he said. "They can then help pass these skills along to younger kids, and both groups benefit some more. This paper highlights an important opportunity we have only begun to leverage—peer pressure, for good."
Healthy Buddies has lessons that focus on physical activity, healthy eating, self-esteem, and body image. The instruction is given by 9- to 12-year-olds to 6- to 8-year-olds.
In this study, 19 schools were randomly assigned to use the Healthy Buddies curriculum or their regular instruction during the 2009-2010 school year.
Over the course of the school year, the researchers looked at changes in waist size, body mass index (BMI)—a measurement of fat based on height and weight— as well as physical activity, heart fitness, self-image, and knowledge about healthy living and diet.
They found that the waist size of children in the Healthy Buddies program dropped an average of half an inch compared with children in the regular curriculum. There was no difference in BMI between the groups.
Based on responses to questionnaires, knowledge about healthy living, self-image, and diet increased among kids in the Healthy Buddies program, compared with other children, the researchers said. However, no differences were seen between the groups in terms of physical activity (steps taken per day) or heart and lung fitness, the researchers said.
This suggests that the reduction in waist size seen among the Healthy Buddies participants is attributable to dietary changes, the researchers said.
Feb. 18, 2014, Medpage Today
By Kristina Fiore
Genetic differences in how infants respond to food may play a role in obesity risk, according to two studies.
A study found that among newborn sets of twins, the twin with higher responsiveness to food and lower satiety gained more weight than the twin who was more easily sated, according to Jane Wardle, Ph.D., of University College London, and colleagues.
The other study found that infants with a higher genetic risk score — based on findings from earlier genome-wide association studies (GWAS) — had reduced satiety and higher body mass index (BMI) than those with a lower risk profile, according to Clare Llewellyn, Ph.D., of University College London, and colleagues.
Both studies were published online in JAMA Pediatrics.
"Identifying factors that promote or protect against weight gain could help identify targets for obesity intervention and prevention in future," Wardle said in a statement.
Several studies have shown that a heartier appetite in infancy is a risk factor for more rapid weight gain, so Wardle and colleagues looked at data from the Gemini longitudinal study of dizygotic twin pairs in the U.K. They assessed 172 pairs who had different scores on satiety responsiveness, and 121 pairs who were discordant for responsiveness to food.
They found that even as early as 3 months, twins with the greater appetite were already heavier.
At 6 months, twins who were more responsive to food were 654 grams heavier, and those with lower satiety were 637 grams heavier than their less hungry and more easily sated counterparts. And by 15 months, these hungrier children were 991 grams and 918 grams heavier, respectively.
"These findings are extremely powerful because we were comparing children of the same age and same sex growing up in the same family in order to reveal the role that appetite plays in infant growth," Wardle said in a statement.
In the second study, Llewellyn and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study of a cohort of U.K. twins that included 2,258 unrelated children. They randomly selected one from each pair and genotyped them for 28 obesity-associated variants that had been identified in previous GWAS, putting together a genetic risk score.
They found that those with higher scores had reduced satiety responsiveness and a higher BMI and waist circumference than those with lower scores.
More children in the top 25 percent of the risk score were overweight than in the lowest quartile, and associations between the risk score and adiposity were significantly mediated by satiety responsiveness (P=0.006), they reported.
"This suggests that satiety sensitivity could be targeted for pharmacological and behavioral interventions, to prevent or treat obesity," Llewellyn said in a statement. "For example, children with lower satiety sensitivity could be taught techniques that might improve their fullness signals when eating, such as slowing their eating speed."
Another approach, she said, might be to "provide better advice to parents and children about appropriate portion sizes, limiting access to 'second helpings,' and ensuring tempting treats are out of sight between meals."
Daniel Belsky, Ph.D., of Duke University agreed that these markers may help identify which children would benefit from targeted obesity-prevention interventions, but he cautioned that further research is needed.
"What are the long-term consequences of individual differences in appetite in infancy and early childhood?" Belsky wrote. "Studies are needed that follow children from early life into adolescence and adulthood to test whether appetite measured in infancy and childhood is predictive of later obesity."
Researchers also need to investigate at what point during development individual differences in appetite are established and how they relate to obesity risk, he added.
Original source: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Endocrinology/Obesity/44345
Feb. 18, 2014, Los Angeles Times
By Michael Hiltzik
If you believe obesity is a serious health risk in the United States and sugary drinks are a major contributor to the problem— and that is surely the prevailing nutritionists' view— then a sugared beverage tax has to be on your radar screen.
Now two university economists have found levying this sort of tax is the wrong approach. It is much more efficient and effective, argue Matthew Harding of Stanford and Michael Lovenheim of Cornell, to tax the sugar, not the drink. The main reason is that a sugar tax is tougher to evade.
There is no question obesity has reached the level of a public health crisis. In their paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, the authors remind us more than two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight today and one-third are obese. About 30 percent of children fall into those categories. The rates have increased sharply over the last four or five decades.
The idea of a tax on the perceived culprit foods is not novel. As of 2011, the authors state, 35 states were charging sales tax on soda or imposing an excise tax on the product, distinguishing it from foods exempt from tax. Prohibiting the purchase of sugared drinks with food stamps, or other public relief benefits, often pops up in Congress or state legislatures.
In Mexico, the government is contemplating a tax on sugared drinks, part of an anti-obesity campaign backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's charitable foundation. As mayor, Bloomberg, of course, tried and failed to put a cap on his constituents' sugar consumption with an ordinance limiting the size of beverage containers.
Harding and Lovenheim say sales taxes on sweetened drinks are generally ineffective— the rate is not high enough to discourage buying them, and because the tax is calculated at checkout, it is almost invisible to consumers.
What about a large tax that shows up in the price? They calculate a 20 percent tax on sugared soda—that is, increasing the cost of a bottle of Coca-Cola by 20 percent—would cut the total calories consumed by an average 4.84 percent and sugar consumption by 10 percent. The authors say that is the equivalent of 16 cans of Coke per month.
However, a tax on sugar would decrease calories by 18 percent and sugar by 16 percent. Because it would percolate through to products with other unhealthful qualities, such as excessive sodium and fat, it would have broader positive effects. And it would not allow consumers to simply substitute one untaxed unhealthful product for a taxed unhealthful product.
It is proper to note here the authors, being economists, do not deal with the practicalities of enacting the sort of tax they study. A sugar tax—or a fat or salt tax, for that matter—would generate a huge pushback from the food industry far beyond Coke and Pepsi.
And the beverage sector has not taken proposals for soda taxes lying down. Coke, Pepsi, and other beverage companies spent $70 million to kill a soft-drink tax in Hawaii in 2012. Coke's chief executive, Muhtar Kent, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece a few years ago that America's lazy and sedentary lifestyle, not sugared drinks, were the cause of obesity.
Business and political leaders, he wrote, should encourage "greater physical activity and sensible eating and drinking, while allowing Americans to enjoy the simple pleasure of a Coca-Cola." In other words, please drink responsibly. And if you think $70 million is a lot for the beverage industry to spend against a soda tax, imagine what the food industry would spend to kill a sugar tax.
CHILDHOOD OBESITY NEWS
Feb. 26, 2014, ABC News (The Associated Press)
By Mary Clare Jalonick and Darlene Superville
It is not just about what America's kids are getting in the lunch line.
The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds — part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls "a new norm" for today's schoolchildren and future generations.
"This new approach to eating and activity is not just a fad," Mrs. Obama said Feb. 25 as she described the proposed rules at the White House.
Promotion of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day would be phased out under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules, which are intended to ensure that marketing is brought in line with health standards that already apply to food served by public schools.
That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually would not be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, though it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, also owned by Coca-Cola. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters, and menu boards that promote foods that do not meet federal standards would also be phased out.
Ninety-three percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages. And many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to other products they produce. Companies are spending $149 million a year on marketing to kids in schools, according to USDA.
The announcement at the White House was part of a week of events marking the fourth anniversary of the first lady's Let's Move! program. Mrs. Obama also traveled to Miami on Feb. 25 to announce that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Recreation and Park Association will serve more fruits and vegetables at after-school programs and ensure kids get 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day. NBC's "Parks and Recreation" star Amy Poehler introduced the first lady.
The proposed school marketing rules come on the heels of federal regulations that now require food in school lunch lines to be more healthful than in the past.
Separate rules, which are to go into effect in September, will cover other food around school as well, including in vending machines and "a la carte" lines in the lunchroom. Calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium limits now will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day, as mandated by a 2010 child nutrition law.
Even though diet sodas would be allowed in high schools under the proposed rules announced Feb. 25, the rules do not address the question raised by some as to whether those drinks are actually healthful alternatives to sugary soda.
Some healthful-food rules have come under fire from conservatives who say the government should not dictate what kids eat — and from some students who do not like the new alternatives.
Mrs. Obama defended herself against critics, saying that "I didn't create this issue." She said kids will eventually get used to the changes.
"That's our job as parents, to hold steady through the whining," she said.
Aware of the backlash, USDA is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and is asking for comments on some options. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut's "Book It" program, which coordinates with schools to reward kids with pizza for reading.
Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.
Off-campus fundraisers, like an event at a local fast food outlet that benefits a school, still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food may not be allowed in school hallways. An email to parents — with or without the advertising — would have to suffice. The idea is to market to the parents, not the kids.
The rules also make allowances for major infrastructure costs — that scoreboard advertising Coca-Cola, for example, would not have to be immediately torn down. But the school would have to get one with a different message or product the next time it was replaced.
Schools that do not want to comply could leave the National School Lunch Program, which allows schools to collect government reimbursements for free and low-cost lunches for needy students in exchange for following certain standards. Very few schools choose to give up those government dollars, though.
The beverage industry — led by Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and PepsiCo — is on board with the new rules. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the more healthful drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rules, which also would allow more children access to free lunches and ensure that schools have wellness policies in place.
The 2010 child nutrition law expanded food programs for hungry students. The rules being proposed Feb. 25 would increase that even further by allowing the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free, with the cost shared between the federal government and the schools. According to USDA and the White House, that initiative would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.
The department already has tested the program in 11 states.
Feb., 27, 2014, The New York Times
By Sabrina Tavernise
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.
It would be the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and 1980s, before portion sizes expanded significantly, and federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.
“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA. “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”
The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food, substances that many public health experts say have contributed substantially to the obesity problem in this country. The food industry has argued against similar suggestions in the past.
“The changes put added sugars clearly in the cross hairs,” said Dr. David A. Kessler, who was commissioner during the original push for labels in the 1990s. “America has the sweetest diet in the world. You can’t get to be as big as we’ve gotten without added sweeteners.”
Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
On Feb. 27, the Obama administration promoted the proposed labeling changes at an event at the White House. At an anniversary ceremony for her Let’s Move! campaign aimed at reducing obesity, Michelle Obama talked about how hard it is to understand what is in packaged food, and how the changes were a way to demystify that.
Feb. 20, 2014, TIME
By Katy Steinmetz
Unless something unexpected happens, voters in San Francisco can expect to be answering a question like this come Election Day in November: Would you support a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, with the funds dedicated to health, nutrition, and physical activity programs? They can also expect to find themselves amid a whirlwind of arguments and ads from health organizations supporting the measure and from the powerful beverage industry opposing it.
Soda and other sugary drinks are popping up on city and state dockets across the nation, as lawmakers attempt to curb America’s consumption of certain beverages. Like San Francisco, Berkeley, Calif., and Illinois are considering taxes on sugary beverages, while lawmakers in Maryland and Los Angeles may impose age restrictions for purchasing energy drinks like Red Bull. These follow a steady line of potable proposals in recent years that never made it onto the books, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s famous, failed attempt to limit the size of sodas available consumers in his city.
A big question is whether proposals like San Francisco’s, which would levy a two-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors, will succeed and become an example for other cities to follow or whether—as the beverage industry claims—that proposal is part of a dying breed. “There’s been a sharp decrease in the number being introduced,” says Chris Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the American Beverage Association (ABA). “It’s time for serious health professionals and lawmakers who want to be engaged in a comprehensive solution to obesity to move on from soda taxes and bans.”
It is still early in the legislative session for many states and cities. While time will tell how popular these proposals prove to be this year, there is no doubt that Americans’ concerns about obesity are blowing up. In a recent Gallup poll, obesity followed only cost and access as the country’s most pressing health issue, above cancer and smoking. The obesity rate is increasing, and research has linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages—including sports drinks, fruit drinks, and teas—to the risk of weight gain and chronic illnesses like diabetes. Some studies have shown that at certain price points, taxes on soda may decrease consumption, while others have found that soda taxes have little effect on body weight of consumers.
Though the San Francisco measure still technically has to be approved by the city’s board of supervisors, the majority of them have already co-sponsored the bill, effectively guaranteeing that it will be on the ballot; to go into effect, the tax will need the approval of two-thirds of voters. Proponents point to polls, like one released by Field Research on Feb. 27, finding roughly 67 percent of California voters would support a sugary drink tax if proceeds are earmarked for healthy initiatives, as they are in San Francisco. This week, the City Chamber of Commerce released another poll showing that just 51 percent of voters would support the tax, though the bill backers take issue with the wording of their question.
The ABA emphasizes that other factors contribute to obesity, like high-calorie foods and Americans’ lack of exercise. Gindlesperger argues that soda taxes are “discriminatory policies against common grocery items” that unfairly “single out” products made by their member companies, like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, rather than looking at the bigger picture. When asked whether limiting the intake of full-calorie sodas would help fight obesity, even if it would not solve the problem, Gindlesperger deflects the question, saying that soft drinks “are not any more the cause of obesity than any other caloric food.”
When it comes to soda taxes, the points of contention are both economic and philosophical. Last week, the first major study on how a soda tax would affect the labor market was released. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that a 20 percent tax levied on soda in Illinois or California would yield a net increase in jobs—as truck drivers who used to haul sodas hauled other beverages and as the revenue generated by the tax was used to create other jobs. “People are still going to spend money,” says San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “They’re just going to spend it on something else.” The ABA maintains that soda taxes mean job losses, at least among their member companies.
In San Francisco, advocates at a recent street festival handed out fliers opposing the proposed tax; one bullet point was that such a tax limits consumer choice. Critics of the energy drink bill in Maryland have made similar arguments, saying that banning anyone under the age of 18 from buying a Monster Energy drink is government overreach. “We’re not saying you can’t drink soda,” Wiener says. “We’re saying there are health effects directly related to it—just like we did with cigarettes—and we need to address those effects.”
A state lawmaker in California recently proposed that all sugary drinks come with warning labels. The Golden State looks poised to be a battleground over sugar this year. In 2012, two sugary-beverage taxes on the ballot in the cities of El Monte and Richmond failed by wide margins. A related state bill died in committee.
San Francisco has a proud reputation of making progressive sacrifices—being the first in the nation to ban plastic bags, for example—that may help yield a different result for health advocates here. “We have a history of supporting these kinds of public health measures,” says Wiener. “Policy trends often start in San Francisco and then spread elsewhere. We’re proud of that as a city.” The ABA says they will be spearheading the effort to oppose the measure here as they have elsewhere, running ads, courting local businesses, and likely spending tens of millions.
Feb. 24, 2014, Reuters
By Katy Steinmetz
Being overweight is so common in Europe that it risks becoming "the new norm", with around one-third of teenagers now heavier than is recommended for their health, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Feb. 24.
In a report on obesity levels in the 53 countries of the WHO's European Region, the United Nations health agency said up to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 33 percent of 11-year-olds are overweight.
"Our perception of what is normal has shifted; being overweight is now more common than unusual. We must not let another generation grow up with obesity as the new norm," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO's regional director.
She blamed a combination of high levels of physical inactivity, coupled with a culture that promotes cheap, convenient foods high in sugars, fats, and salt. This combination, she said, "is deadly".
Obesity rates among 11-year-old boys and girls were highest in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands and Switzerland, the report found.
Lack of exercise is a key part of the problem.
In 23 out of 36 countries, more than 30 percent of boys and girls aged 15 and over are not getting enough exercise. Among adults, rates of women who do not engage in enough physical activity range from 16 percent in Greece and 17 percent in Estonia, to 71 percent in Malta and 76 percent in Serbia.
The WHO recommends children aged 5 to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, and adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
Joao Breda, a WHO expert on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, said peoples' living environments—including the layout of town, cities, schools, and workplaces—are crucial to increasing rates of exercise.
"We need to create environments where physical activity is encouraged and the healthy food choice is the default choice, regardless of social group," he said in a statement released with the report.
"Physical activity and healthy food choices should be taken very seriously in all environments - schools, hospitals, cities, towns, and workplaces. As well as the food industry, the urban planning sector can make a difference," he added.
The WHO report found, however, that some countries, including France and some Scandinavian countries, have managed to contain the obesity epidemic "through a whole-of-government approach".
It said many policies in these countries—such as promoting vegetable and fruit consumption in schools, taxing certain foods to reduce intake, controlling advertising, employing good surveillance and monitoring, and taking action to promote physical activity—had combined to help keep obesity levels stable.