- NCCOR members contribute to new research that shows major food companies have cutback on calories
- Reminder: NCCOR’s Connect & Explore webinar series
PUBLICATIONS & TOOLS
- Restaurant food is nearly a quarter of salt in U.S. diet
- American adults are choosing healthier foods, consuming healthier diets
- Obesity rates growing faster in poorer countries than in richer ones
CHILDHOOD OBESITY RESEARCH & NEWS
- Subway joins first lady’s healthy eating effort
- Muppets’ mini-makeover aims to get kids involved in fight against obesity
- Mexico enacts soda tax in effort to combat world's highest obesity rate
NCCOR members contribute to new research that shows major food companies have cutback on calories
Jan. 13, 2013, NCCOR
Sixteen of the nation’s leading food and beverage companies have cut 78 calories out of an American’s daily diet according to a new study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). This is the result of a five-year (2007-2012) reduction in sales of food and beverages totaling 60.4 trillion calories. The data collection and analysis of this study was overseen by a handful of national experts including members of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).
The companies involved, including Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, acted together as part of the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF). The companies pledged to remove 1 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015. The study found that, thus far, the companies have exceeded their 2015 pledge by more than 400 percent.
“These are very promising results. Research has shown that average increases of only 130-170 calories in children’s daily energy gap, that is an excess of calories consumed over those expended through physical activity and normal growth, were sufficient to explain the rise of childhood obesity in the United States, ” said C. Tracy Orleans, Ph.D., senior scientist at RWJF and NCCOR Steering Committee member. “This makes the average reduction of 78 calories in daily calories sold per capita quite meaningful.”
To determine the impact of the pledge, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) combined data on foods and beverages sold by participating companies with nutritional information for those products. They then determined which individual products were included as part of the pledge and tracked sales of those products over time. The UNC team was advised by a roster of leading experts including Orleans and NCCOR members: Laura Kettel Khan, M.I.M., Ph.D., and Jennifer Seymour, Ph.D., of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Susan Krebs-Smith, Ph.D., of National Institutes of Health; Jay Variyam, Ph.D., of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); and recent NCCOR member Molly Kretsch, Ph.D., of USDA.
“The evaluation itself is a stunning accomplishment based on truly pioneering work by the UNC team to develop a system which could actually track food system changes from factory to forks,” said Orleans. “Never before, in any nation, have we had the ability to track food stream changes in this way. This will be an enduring product of the evaluation.”
Public health experts hope that the success of the HWCF will catalyze similar changes by other companies.
“We are seeing the beginning of essential efforts to reduce the production, sale, and marketing of excess calories from sugar and fat that have contributed so much to childhood obesity levels globally, and to track food industry changes.
Given the strong business case for these food industry changes, these results reflect a triple win – a win for business, a win for the public’s health, and a win for science. And, overall, a win for the culture of health, ” said Orleans.
Reminder: NCCOR’s Connect & Explore webinar series
In celebration of its five-year anniversary in February, NCCOR is launching Connect & Explore, an external webinar series for researchers, practitioners and others interested in improving the application of childhood obesity research and growing the knowledge base.
For those registered, this is a reminder to join us at 2 pm, Eastern, on Thurs., Feb. 13, for Connect & Explore: Five Years of Accelerating Childhood Obesity Research, the first of three webinars planned this year.
We have reached capacity for this event and registration has closed. However, a recording will be made available on www.nccor.org after the webinar.
Publications & Tools
Restaurant food is nearly a quarter of salt in U.S. diet
According to a new report, “From Menu to Mouth: Opportunities for Sodium Reduction in Restaurants,” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), restaurant food accounts for nearly a quarter of the sodium in the U.S. diet. Americans eat out at fast food or dine-in restaurants four or five times a week and just one of those meals might contain more than an entire day’s recommended amount of sodium — 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population.
The report said it is a challenge for consumers to control the sodium content in restaurant food since sodium is already added to meals before it reaches the table. However, restaurants can work with public health officials to provide consumers with lower levels of sodium.
American adults are choosing healthier foods, consuming healthier diets
American adults are eating better, making better use of available nutrition information, consuming fewer calories coming from fat and saturated fat, consuming less cholesterol, and eating more fiber, according to a new report “Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
The researchers found that use of nutrition information, including the nutrition facts panel found on most food packages, increased in recent years. Forty-two percent of working age adults and 57 percent of older adults reported using the nutrition facts panel most or all of the time when making food choices. When asked about nutrition information in restaurants, 76 percent of working-age adults reported that they would use the information if it were available.
Reduced consumption of food away from home (such as food from restaurants and fast food) accounted for 20 percent of the improvements in diet quality. The report also indicates changing attitudes toward food and nutrition. Compared with 2007, the percentage of working-age adults who believed they have the ability to change their body weight increased by three percentage points in 2010. During the same time period, the report shows there was little change in the importance that price played when making choices at the grocery store, but working-age adults placed increased importance on nutrition when choosing items to purchase.
Obesity rates growing faster in poorer countries than in richer ones
According to a new report from the Overseas Development Institute, obesity rates are climbing around the world; they are climbing faster in developing countries than in wealthy ones. The report titled “Future Diets,” states that obesity rates tripled in developing countries between 1980 and 2008, while rates only climbed 1.7 times in high-income countries during the same period.
Researchers found that North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America now have almost the same percentage of overweight or obese people as Europe. The authors studied the costs of “typical” and “healthy” diets around the globe and found that, in poorer countries, the healthier diets were unaffordable for much of the population.
Childhood Obesity Research & News
Subway joins first lady’s healthy eating effort
Jan. 26, 2013, Poughkeepsie Journal (The Associated Press)
By Darlene Superville
Michelle Obama has a new partner in her campaign to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
The Subway sandwich chain will spend $41 million over three years to encourage them to eat more food that does not come from a box, the first lady announced Jan. 23 at one of the Connecticut-based company’s restaurants just north of the White House.
Subway will also offer a kids’ menu that mirrors federal standards for school lunches, including offering apples on the side, and low-fat or nonfat plain milk or water as a default beverage.
Speaking as a parent, Obama said Subway’s commitment will help moms and dads choose healthy food for their kids. Its kids’ menu will help eliminate the worry some parents feel about the choices they have to make when eating out, she said.
“Every single item on the kids’ menu meets the highest nutrition standards,” the first lady said before she went to the counter and ordered a turkey on whole wheat bread with spinach, peppers, and oil and vinegar dressing. She paid the $4.40 tab with a $20 bill and ate her lunch while chatting with a group of local elementary school students who had been invited for the announcement.
Some of Subway’s famous celebrity endorsers also were present, including Olympians Nastia Lukin, who prepared Obama’s sandwich, and Michael Phelps, along with New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Jared Fogle.
Fogle gained fame in a series of TV commercials years ago in which he described losing 245 pounds while eating a steady diet of Subway sandwiches, plus walking.
Subway’s commitment is “a natural extension of what we do,” Tony Pace, Subway’s chief marketing officer, said in a telephone interview.
The chain offers a line of lean-meat and vegetable sandwiches that have been certified by the American Heart Association, as well as a trio of breakfast sandwiches with fewer than 200 calories apiece.
Pace said people are becoming more aware of the importance of eating healthier.
Subway’s announcement follows a summit on food marketing to kids that Obama held at the White House last fall. At the time, she urged food and beverage makers, media, entertainment companies, and others to do more to promote healthier foods to children.
A month after the September gathering, Obama announced that the nonprofit organization that produces TV’s “Sesame Street” had agreed to let the produce industry use Elmo, Big Bird, and its other furry characters free of charge in its kid-focused advertising.
Sam Kass, a White House chef and executive director of the first lady’s campaign against childhood obesity, told The Associated Press that Subway was “raising the bar for what a responsible, quick-service restaurant can do to help support the health of the nation.”
Subway will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit organization that works with the private sector to help advance the goals of Let’s Move!, the childhood obesity initiative Obama launched in 2010, a year after becoming first lady.
Muppets’ mini-makeover aims to get kids involved in fight against obesity
Jan. 26, 2014, The Telegraph (The Associated Press)
By Marilynn Marchione
Bert and Ernie jump rope and munch apples and carrots, and Cookie Monster has his namesake treat once a week, not every day. Can a Muppets mini-makeover improve kids’ health, too?
A three-year experiment in South America suggests it can. Now, the Sesame Street project is coming to the United States.
Already, a test run in a New York City preschool has seen results: Four-year-old Jahmeice Strowder got her mom to make cauliflower for the first time in her life. A classmate, Bryson Payne, bugged his dad for a banana every morning and more salads. A parent brought home a loaf of bread instead of Doritos.
“What we created, I believe, is a culture” of healthy eating to fight a “toxic environment” of junk food and too little exercise, said Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
Six years ago, he started working with Sesame Workshop, producers of television’s Sesame Street, on a project aimed at children aged 3 to 5 years old.
“At that age they pay attention to everything” and habits can be changed, he said.
The need is clear: One-third of U.S. children and teens are obese or overweight. Many do not get enough exercise, and a recent study found that kids’ fitness has declined worldwide. They are at high risk for heart and other problems later in life.
“The focus is younger and younger” to try to prevent this, said Dr. Stephen Daniels, a University of Colorado pediatrician and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. The group’s annual conference in November featured Fuster’s experiment as one of the year’s top achievements in heart disease prevention.
For Sesame Street, the project offered a chance to improve the lives of young viewers and give a makeover to certain Muppets.
“While Cookie Monster is an engaging figure, we felt there was an opportunity there to really model healthy eating,” said Jorge Baxter, regional director for Latin America for Sesame Workshop.
The new message is that certain things like cookies are “something you can eat sometimes, but there are some foods that you can eat all the time,” like vegetables, he said. The healthy messages have been gradually incorporated into the television show, and its producers even made a doctor Muppet – Dr. Ruster (pronounced “Rooster”) – in Fuster’s image for the preschool project.
It launched in Colombia because U.S. schools that Fuster approached years ago were reluctant, but a wealthy family’s foundation was willing to sponsor the experiment in Bogota.
It involved 1,216 children and 928 parents from 14 preschools. Some were given the program and others served as a comparison group.
Kids had training on healthy habits and how the body works for an hour a day for five months using Sesame Workshop-produced videos, a board game (the “heart game”), songs, posters, and activities. Parents were involved through take-home assignments and workshops that focused on overcoming barriers to good food and exercise. For example, in areas with poor access to parks or play spaces, parents were coached to encourage kids to use stairs instead of elevators and to walk instead of taking a bus.
Children’s weight and exercise habits were measured at the start and 1½ and 3 years later. Although many moved or dropped out by the time the study ended, researchers documented a significant increase in knowledge, attitude, and health habit scores among kids in the program versus the comparison group.
The proportion of children at a healthy weight increased from 62 percent at the start to 75 percent at three years for those in the program. Ironically, in Colombia, that mostly meant that more undernourished kids grew to reach a healthy weight.
In New York, where the program plans to launch in several early childhood and Head Start programs this spring and fall, project leaders will have to tackle under- and overweight kids.
“A lot of the kids are from low-income families, shelters,” and many have poor access to healthy foods, said Rachael Lynch, director of educational services for an Episcopal Social Services preschool, The Learning Center, in Harlem. “It’s a mecca for fast food around here. We’re trying to get them to walk past the Chinese food or pizza or McDonald’s, to go home and make something.”
Her preschool tested the Sesame Street project last summer and “it really took off” with kids and parents, she said.
“They love it. The kids relate, I can’t stress it enough,” to the Sesame Street characters, she said.
The program had kids work in a nearby community garden one day a week to learn about growing vegetables.
They had a “mystery food box” to reach inside, feel, and guess the contents, then use what they found to make a healthy snack such as smoothies, fruit salads, microwaved baked apples, and apple dip.
Children took home a “weekend update” to list and draw pictures of what they ate. Parents were asked to sign it to encourage an adult focus on healthy meals.
Kateshia Strowder said the program had a big impact on her and her daughter, Jahmeice.
“We’d be in the grocery store and she would name every vegetable. It’s amazing. Brussels sprouts – she likes it. Cabbage – she likes it,” Strowder said. “I’m not a vegetable eater, to be honest. But I had to learn to do those things for her.”
Donte Payne said the same for his son, Bryson, a 4-year-old who also was in the Harlem program.
“It made him more interested in eating more healthy things,” Payne said. “He became very interested in salads. He loves salad now.”
In Colombia, the program is now expanding to about 20,000 children, and in Spain, a project is starting in Madrid.
In New York, a foundation Fuster runs at Mount Sinai will sponsor the U.S. launch, aided by private donors.
Dr. Jaime Cespedes, a pediatric and heart specialist who helped lead the project in Colombia believes it will succeed wherever it is tried.
“Sesame [Street] knows kids, knows media, and how to communicate the messages,” he said. “When you get the kids to deliver the message to the family, change will come.”
Mexico enacts soda tax in effort to combat world's highest obesity rate
Jan. 16, 2013, The Guardian
By Sarah Boseley
A groundbreaking tax on sugar-sweetened beverages recently passed in Mexico could provide the evidence needed to justify similar laws across low- and middle-income countries and cities in the United States, experts believe.
Campaigners and public health experts are watching closely to see what impact Mexico’s tax has on consumption. Mexico, where 32.8 percent of the population is obese, is now the country with the biggest weight problem in the world, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, overtaking the United States. The impact on health has been serious — 14 percent of the population has diabetes. Rates of high blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and heart attacks, are also high.
So far, there is not conclusive evidence from any country in the world that raising the price of sugar-sweetened drinks will affect obesity levels, but the Mexico experiment is on an unprecedented scale. Although the tax was set at 10 percent per liter rather than the 20 percent campaigners wanted, it will affect a huge number of people. Every year, Mexico’s 118 million people drink 163 liters of soda each, or nearly half a liter a day. According to the National Institute of Public Health, a 10 percent tax should reduce that to 141 liters per year, preventing up to 630,000 cases of diabetes by 2030.
Other countries in Latin America, including Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, are working on their own measures to reduce the marketing of soft drinks to children, and to improve labelling so families can know how much sugar and calories they contain. “Mexico will have a domino effect,” said Dr Simon Barquera of the Institute. Public health academics, students, consumer activists, and politicians were all following developments and sharing what they are doing in their own countries on Twitter, he said.
“One of the vice-presidents of the big companies told me they had done their studies and the soda tax will not reduce consumption or solve obesity,” he said. “We know that. My kids know that. But it is an educative tax. It sends a message from the government to the people that we think this is bad for you.”
Tom Farley, health commissioner of New York City, where a proposed ban on large sugary drinks was struck down by the courts, is also watching developments in Mexico. “I am hopeful that with the passage of that in Mexico, when people see the benefits, legislatures around the country [the US] will be supportive of it,” he said.
The tax was passed in October, to the surprise even of many of its supporters, after an unprecedented, hard-hitting advertising campaign from civil society organizations funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has extended its public health work on tobacco prevention into the areas of road safety and obesity.
Billboards across Mexico City ran photographs of a man with parts of his feet missing as a consequence of diabetes. They warned that a 600ml liter bottle of Coca-Cola contained 12 teaspoons of sugar, and asked whether a parent would be happy giving that much to their child. Soft drinks manufacturers retaliated with their own advertisements, urging politicians to reject the tax, claiming that jobs would be lost in their industry and in sugar production, which is important in Mexico. They said that small shops, dependent on soft drinks sales, would close and linked the campaign to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-obesity drive. “Michael Bloomberg, [former] mayor of New York, has financed with a $10 million health campaign against sweetened drinks. He wants to do in Mexico what he could not do in New York,” said the adverts.
Campaigners in the coalition, the Nutritional Alliance for Health, tried to buy airtime on the three mainstream television channels, Televisa, TV Azteca, and Milenio TV, but were turned down without explanation and suspect advertising contracts with industry were the issue. None of the channels responded to questions from the Guardian. Cable TV later aired the campaign advertisements.
The tax, proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto, was brought in as part of a fiscal reform package. The money to be raised, estimated at $15 billion pesos, is intended to be earmarked for drinking water in schools – in some communities there is none, while in others it is not potable and bottled soft drinks are safer. The earmarking of the tax has still to pass a final stage in the senate.
Civil society groups say they will monitor implementation closely, to ensure it does not become part of a general pool of government funding. “It is very, very important not only for Mexico,” said Alejandro Calvillo, director of El Poder del Consumidor (Consumer Power). “It is an issue that has an international resonance. I was very happy [when it was passed] but at the same time with a growing sense of responsibility because we know the reality of this country. We know that there are people who drink a lot of sodas and they don’t have access to drinking water.”
Senator Marcela Torres Peimbert of the opposition PAN (National Action Party), who championed the tax in Congress before the president took it forward, said it was vital the money raised is used to provide drinking water in schools, as promised. “We have suspicions that they are tempted not to do what they are supposed to do, because in the spending budget not all the amount of money expected to be raised was there,” she said. “They say health, but it is not specific.”
She is supporting the setting up of “citizen observatories” to ensure the money goes to pay for drinking water. The president currently has an approval rating of 42 percent, she said. “People don’t trust him. Me neither. We have to make a big effort to watch and press really hard for the money to go where we want it to go.”
She agrees that there is an educational aspect to the tax. “The main worry of the industry wasn’t the money, it was that these products will be marked as very dangerous. I think we achieved that. The worst part for them was that this special tax for health is like that on tobacco or alcohol.” In the end, a tax of 8 percent was passed also on processed food that contains more than 275 calories per 100g.
Jorge Romo, spokesman for the Asociación Nacional de Productores de Refrescos y Aguas Carbonatadas (ANPRAC), the soft drinks manufacturers, said the tax would just be a burden on the poor, who would end up paying more than the 6 percent of income they spend now on their soft drinks. “They will not consume less. Maybe in the first three, four, or six months but afterwards, it will become exactly the same or maybe a few percentage points difference,” he said.
While he agreed that obesity was a huge problem, and said that the companies were engaging in social programs to try to help, soft drinks were being unfairly blamed, he said. He explained that the main cause was a Latin gene, followed by the eating habits of Mexicans, and the lack of exercise.
Coca-Cola’s Latin American president, Brian Smith, appeared on the platform with President Peña Nieto at the launch of a national obesity strategy on the day in October when the tax was passed. He pledged to focus on sales of low-calorie and no-calorie drinks, improve the transparency of labelling, and not market to children under the age of 12.