March 2011





Study Links Infant Obesity With Starting Solid Foods Early

Feb. 7, 2011, The Wall Street Journal

By Jennifer Corbett Dooren

Starting solid foods too early among certain infants may increase the risk of becoming obese by 3 years of age, according to a study by Harvard researchers.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found formula-fed infants who were given solid foods before they were 4 months old were far more likely to be obese at age 3, compared to babies introduced to solid foods after the age of 4 months.

However, among breastfed infants there was no association with the timing of solid-food introduction and obesity.

Susanna Huh, one of the study’s researchers and a gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, said the study backs guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommend introducing solid foods when infants are between four and six months old.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that while 75 percent of women report breastfeeding their newborn children, only about one-third of women are exclusively breastfeeding their children when they are 3 months old.

Huh said that holding off the introduction of solid food until babies are at least 4 months old is one way parents can reduce the risk of their infants becoming overweight.

The solid-food study involved 847 children who are part of a broader study known Project Viva which enrolled more than 2,000 Massachusetts women who became pregnant between 1999 and 2002 in order to study the health of children born to those women.

One facet of the study is to look at factors that contribute to childhood obesity. Previous findings from Project Viva, primarily funded by the federal government and the March of Dimes, showed that the more weight women gained during pregnancy the heavier their children were likely to be at 3 years of age.

For the current study, researchers used data collected from a questionnaire that asked mothers about the timing of the first introduction of 10 solid foods such as cereal, vegetables, fruit, peanut butter, eggs, meat and sweets. Women were also asked about breastfeeding and formula feeding.

Among the 847 babies, 67 percent were breastfed and 33 percent were formula fed at the age of 4 months. Researchers then looked the timing of solid-food introduction and they obtained information on height and weight through the age of 3 years, as well as a gauge of fat measured using skin folds, to see if solid-food timing had any impact on obesity risk.

They found that formula-fed babies given solid food before they were 4 months old had a six-fold increase in the risk of becoming obese compared to babies introduced to solid food after 4 months.

Researchers found that 7 percent of breastfed babies were considered obese at age 3–or having a body-mass index at or greater than the 95th percentile on children’s growth charts–compared to 13 percent of formula-fed children. Being overweight as a child is a major risk factor for being overweight or obese as an adult.

About one-third of mothers who were giving formula to their babies started solid foods before their babies were 4 months old, compared to 8 percent of mothers in the breastfeeding group. About 17 percent of children in the breastfed-group were given solid foods after six months compared to 9 percent of the formula-only group, suggesting that formula-fed babies were started on solid foods earlier than breastfed babies.


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Publications & Tools

Successful Launch of NCCOR's Catalogue of Surveillance Systems

February 2011, NCCOR

On February 4, The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) launched the Catalogue of Surveillance Systems (CSS), a free online resource to help researchers and practitioners more easily investigate childhood obesity in America. The tool generated a great deal of interest and received positive feedback from users and other stakeholders in the field.

The launch of the tool included a new CSS homepage on the NCCOR website. As of the end of February, the homepage had over 1,200 visitors. Additionally, nearly 33 percent of all of the traffic to the NCCOR site was driven by visits to the tool.

The CSS describes in detail existing surveillance systems that collect data related to childhood obesity. It provides one-stop access to more than 75 surveys and other data sets, allowing users to search and select surveys that provide a wealth of data at the national, state and local levels on a range of variables, including school policies and health outcomes, as well as eating and exercise behaviors. Health officials at the city and state level also can find data related to their programs.

NCCOR is hosting a webinar supporting the CSS website May fifth for those would like to learn more information about the tool. To register for upcoming webinars on the features and uses of the Catalogue, please send an e-mail to


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KFF Childhood Obesity State Legislation Chart

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) State Health Facts has updated its database tracking state action on childhood obesity. The database is interactive and users can sort by a national map, region, or legislative issue areas including school nutrition, physical activity, and task force or committee.


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One-Fifth of States Have Better Than Average SNAP Participation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a new report that measures the success of each state in reaching those eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The findings show that state participation rates varied from 46 percent to 94 percent, with the overall national participation rate at 66 percent. One-fifth of states were doing better than the national rate. The report illustrates the need to continue to reach out to eligible populations, including the working poor, which is the demographic with the lowest participation rate.


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Childhood Obesity Research & News

Restaurant Nutrition Draws Focus of First Lady

Feb. 6, 2011, The New York Times

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and William Neuman

After wrapping her arms around the retail giant Wal-Mart and trying to cajole food makers into producing nutrition labels that are easier to understand, Michelle Obama, the first lady and a healthy-eating advocate, has her sights set on a new target: the nation’s restaurants.

A team of advisers to Mrs. Obama has been holding private talks over the past year with the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, in a bid to get restaurants to adopt her goals of smaller portions and children’s meals that include healthy offerings like carrots, apple slices and milk instead of French fries and soda, according to White House and industry officials.

The discussions are preliminary, and participants say they are nowhere near an agreement like the one Mrs. Obama announced recently with Wal-Mart to lower prices on fruits and vegetables and to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in its foods. But they reveal how assertively she is working to prod the industry to sign on to her agenda.

In February, Mrs. Obama began a three-day publicity blitz to spotlight “Let’s Move!,” her campaign to reduce childhood obesity, which was announced one year ago this week. She introduced a public service announcement, appeared on the “Today” show and delivered a speech in Atlanta promoting gardening and healthy-eating programs.

But as she uses her public platform to persuade children to eat healthier and exercise more, Mrs. Obama and her team are also quietly pressing the levers of industry and government. Over the past year she has become involved in many aspects of the nation’s dietary habits, exerting her influence over nutrition policy.

Her team has worked with beverage makers to design soda cans with calorie counts and is deeply involved in a major remake of the government’s most recognizable tool for delivering its healthy-eating message: the food pyramid.

Mrs. Obama persuaded Congress to require schools to include more fruits and vegetables in the lunches they offer, and she encouraged lawmakers to require restaurants to print nutrition information on menus, a provision that wound up in President Obama’s landmark health care law.

“They really want a cooperative relationship with the food industry, and they’re looking at industry to come up with ideas,” said Lanette R. Kovachi, corporate dietitian for Subway, the nation’s second-largest restaurant chain in terms of revenue. She said she had taken part in at least four conference calls with Mrs. Obama’s food advisers.

But in seeking partnerships with industry, Mrs. Obama runs a risk. While nutritionists and public health advocates give her high marks for putting healthy eating on the national agenda, many worry that she will be co-opted by companies rushing to embrace her without offering meaningful change. “Can the food industry play a responsible role in the obesity epidemic? The answer isn’t no,” said Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “The point is that the best initiatives can be subverted for special interest, and it’s important to be vigilant when we form partnerships with industry.”

White House officials say Mrs. Obama has believed from the start that bringing industry to the negotiating table is critical to achieving her long-range goal of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation.

Melody Barnes, Mr. Obama’s domestic policy adviser and the chairwoman of a presidential task force on obesity, said industry has been eager to work with the White House. But Mrs. Obama does not lend her name to any plan or program, she said, unless it meets the recommendations of a task force report issued in May.

“If someone wants her support, we take a hard look at the data and the research to determine if the commitment meets our standards,” Ms. Barnes said. “And if the result is good for business as well as for the health of American children, we see that as a win-win.”

Still, Mrs. Obama has been treading carefully. As part of her anti-obesity campaign, she has called on food makers to design clear “front-of-package” labels to warn consumers about ingredients like salt, sugar and fat. But after months of negotiations with the White House, the companies insisted on a plan that would also spotlight healthy ingredients, like calcium or fiber. The administration thought the new labels confusing, and they do not meet recommendations in a recent report by experts at the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine. When the food companies announced the plan, the White House put out a tepid statement calling it “a significant first step.” Mrs. Obama said nothing.

“She could have just added this to her list of things done, but she said, ‘Not good enough,’ ” said Dr. David Kessler, a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Bill Clinton “It was not done in a confrontational manner; she didn’t blast them, but she sent a very clear signal that it didn’t meet the mark.”

That, however, did not stop food industry executives from invoking Mrs. Obama’s name when they rolled out the labeling initiative last month and said they were responding to her call for action.

Mrs. Obama’s approach to the new labels contrasts starkly with her embrace of Wal-Mart’s plan to reformulate foods and lower prices on fruits and vegetables — a plan that carried political risks of its own. The conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh maintained that Mrs. Obama had “somehow bullied or pressured” the company, while liberals complained that she given her imprimatur to a company that her husband once criticized for its labor practices.

And some food industry experts say Wal-Mart, not Mrs. Obama, was the big winner. The company has long wanted to expand into urban areas, but often faces opposition in cities where unionized labor is powerful, like New York. Mrs. Obama’s endorsement may make it easier for the company to gain a foothold; she strongly supports bringing fruits and vegetables to so-called food deserts, low-income neighborhoods where healthy offerings are often expensive and scarce.

“Wal-Mart is very clever, very political,” said Walter Olson, who writes about food regulation for the Cato Institute, a libertarian research organization in Washington. “I think Wal-Mart has taken a list of things it was probably considering doing anyway and managed to get the first lady’s endorsement in a way that its shareholders will be laughing all the way down the produce aisle.”

Wal-Mart was already planning its initiative when Mrs. Obama became involved. But Leslie Dach, the company’s executive in charge of the project, said Mrs. Obama made it “stronger and ultimately smarter” by demanding that Wal-Mart examine its own progress. “We think she and her staff have approached this very seriously, rooted in the science,” Mr. Dach said.

Mrs. Obama’s outreach to restaurants is still in its early stages. A National Restaurant Association spokeswoman, Sue Hensley, called it “a positive dialogue” and said her group and Mrs. Obama had “the same goals in mind.”

In a speech to the association last fall, Mrs. Obama made those goals clear. Noting that research has shown that children consume more saturated fat and less fiber and calcium when they eat out, she challenged restaurant owners to change their menus, recipes and marketing practices to “give parents the confidence to know that they can go into any restaurant in this country and choose a genuinely healthy meal for their kids.”

Dr. Kessler said it would take years to gauge the effect of Mrs. Obama’s efforts.

“At the end of the day, this is about changing how we as a country look at food,” he said. “The food industry will change when consumers change what they want, and she’s worked hard to help us look at food differently. Long term, that’s what’s important.”


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New Technology Means Vending Machines Full of Healthful Choices

Feb. 17, 2011, Des Moines Register

By Mary Stegmeir

Madison Nelson doesn’t put much thought into her school-day snacks.

When the seventh-grader at Adel-De Soto-Minburn Middle School has extra pocket change, she’ll swing by the cafeteria vending machine for a pick-me-up.

But the chocolate bars, fried chips and soda cans that defined school snacking just a decade ago are nowhere to be found on Nelson’s stomping grounds.

Increased attention toward health, paired with innovations by vending companies – including the Wittern Group in Clive – are changing the way students, employees and commuters snack away from home.

“The healthy way is better, I think,” said Nelson, 13, who purchased a bag of reduced-calorie baked Doritos from one of the machines during a lunch break. “Especially for school.”

Legislation governing school snacking, including Iowa’s Healthy Kids Act, paired with changing tastes among consumers, has changed Wittern Group’s business model and made the company an international leader in healthy vending technologies.

The group’s products include touchscreen displays that allow users to review nutrition information before purchase and a dual-temperature machine that dispenses chilled items, such as fresh fruit, alongside such classics as granola bars and mixed nuts.

“As an industry, we’re trying to be a frontrunner in educating the general public that there are healthier solutions through vending,” said Wittern President Heidi Chico. “We’re to the point where we can vend anything out of a vending machine. Our next challenge is just getting people to expect, and trust, the new products they see there.”

Candy and chips were originally tapped for vending machines because the foods are inexpensive, have a long shelf life and are popular. But products developed in the last 10 years by Wittern and other innovators have expanded food and drink options for consumers on the go.

The Iowa company partnered with Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. in 2008 on a project to dispense whole bananas – stored at 57 degrees – and fresh-cut fruit and veggies – kept at 34 degrees -from the same machine. Wittern engineers also added a mechanism to the unit that prevents bananas from bruising during delivery.

A year later, the national vending operating company Canteen purchased Wittern machines for its 2bU program, which offers organic, locally sourced, vegan, gluten-free and kosher products.

“You’re always going to have people interested in traditional vending – there will always be a market for a Snickers bar,” said Carolyn Reynolds, who oversees the 2bU initiative. “But I think people are receptive to additional choices; it’s a different audience, a younger generation that is looking for more wholesome options.”

That’s good news for Wittern, a family operation celebrating its 80th year in business.

Thousands of its variable-temperature machines – often used by clients to offer healthy choices like string cheese or carrot sticks – are in place across the globe, and new orders for the machine make up a third of the group’s business, Chico said.

“Vendor operators, in general, have healthy solutions in 25 to 30 percent of their fleet,” she said. “And that number just continues to grow.”

Peanut butter sandwiches, flavored popcorn and chocolate milk are among the items offered in the Adel-De Soto-Minburn school district machine. The system started leasing the dual-temp unit from Wittern last fall, and the choices have been a hit with middle school and high school students, who share the same campus, said food service director Liz Severidt.

“We’ve got a lot of kids that are involved in a lot of activities,” she said. “They come early, and they stay late. This, at least, gives them some healthy choices.”

Severidt, who selects the snacks, hopes the machine’s options encourage students to choose items with lower fat, sodium and calorie contents – even when they’re away from school.

More than a third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of American kids are obese, according to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If they see healthy things at lunch, or healthy things in the vending machines, hopefully they will bring that home to their parents,” she said. “At the very least, it forces them to think about it.”


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NFL Commissioner Goodell to Join Leading Authorities in Historic Private-Public Pledge to Fight Childhood Obesity and Highlight Fuel Up to Play 60

Feb. 4, 2011, PRNewswire

Some of our nation’s principal thought leaders in child health, physical activity and education converged in February in North Texas, site of Super Bowl XLV, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines an unprecedented private-public partnership committed to child health and wellness.

This historic agreement will bring together the National Football League, leading government authorities, National Dairy Council (NDC) and Gen YOUth Foundation, a newly formed nonprofit organization that supports efforts to end childhood obesity. MOU co-signers include U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; NDC CEO Thomas Gallagher and Gen YOUth Foundation CEO Alexis Glick. This MOU sets a new precedent for private-public partnerships and cross-department collaboration.

“We are pleased to join this diverse group to collaborate in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic – a problem too big to tackle alone,” said Goodell. “The NFL is proud to be a partner in Fuel Up to Play 60, which is making a real and lasting impact in schools across the country.”

Launched in 2007 by NDC and NFL, Fuel Up to Play 60 is a customizable in-school program that empowers youth in more than 70,000 schools to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school and for their own health. It encourages youth to consume nutrient-rich foods (including low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Fuel Up to Play 60 has earned recognition across the private and public sectors and additional support has been achieved from multiple health organizations and several major corporations.

“Since more than 50 percent of a student’s daily calories are consumed at school, the school environment is an ideal setting for turning healthy behaviors into lifelong habits. To make an impact in schools and beyond, it is critically important to engage kids in an exciting way. Today, we will debut a public service announcement which provides a compelling example of what we can achieve when putting meaningful partnerships to work for kids,” said Secretary Vilsack.

In this spirit of collaboration, a new Foundation, Gen YOUth, launches today. Gen YOUth Foundation will work with schools, communities and business partners to develop and support programs that create lasting changes in the child health and wellness arena, including Fuel Up to Play 60. The mission of the Gen YOUth Foundation is to create a movement that will inspire youth to change their behavior.

“Through Gen YOUth, we are building a team of players who are committed to combating childhood obesity. We hope that moving forward, more influencers will respond to our call to action and join us in taking an active role in eradicating the largest public health issue of this generation,” said Gen YOUth CEO Alexis Glick. “As the mother of three young boys, I know how important it is to teach healthy choices. But if there isn’t support in the school environment, we lose all the momentum we’ve gained at home. We need to tackle this issue from all fronts.”

The Foundation is governed by a Board of Directors representative of organizations across the public, private and health professional sectors. The Foundation Board will meet twice a year and will participate in an annual dialogue on childhood obesity with the leading health professional organizations to identify sustainable solutions.

Members include 16th U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, known for first labeling childhood obesity an “epidemic;” National PTA President Charles Saylors; former NFL player and FOX Sports commentator Howie Long; Washington Post Senior Associate Editor Lally Weymouth; Top Chef All-Star Carla Hall; LALA USA CEO Steve McCormick; and Purdue University Foods and Nutrition Department Head Dr. Connie Weaver. Former financial executive and media personality Alexis Glick will oversee the Board of Directors as Gen YOUth Foundation CEO.


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