PUBLICATIONS & TOOLS
- IOM Releases Front-of-Package Labeling Report
- New System Added to NCCOR's Catalogue of Surveillance Systems
- EPA Releases New Voluntary School Siting Guidelines
CHILDHOOD OBESITY RESEARCH & NEWS
- School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute
- Schools Face New Challenge: Return of Recess
- In High Schools, a Critical Lens on Food
Federal Regulators Rethinking Guidelines on Marketing Food to Children
Oct. 10, 2011, The Washington Post
By Dina ElBoghdady
A federal proposal that would restrict the kinds of foods marketed to children may soon be substantially changed to address the concerns raised by the food and beverage industry, which has aggressively lobbied against the plan for months.
In a statement submitted to a House panel on Oct. 10, a federal regulator deeply involved in developing the voluntary guidelines said the government is taking a “fresh look” at its proposal and rethinking some of its most hotly contested aspects, including how it defines “children.” The guidelines, designed to tackle childhood obesity, called on the industry to market to children only those foods and drinks that make a “meaningful contribution” to a healthful diet and to limit sodium, fats and added sugars in products. Under the voluntary plan, foods that don’t meet the criteria should not be marketed to children.
But since the plan was unveiled in May, the nation’s largest food makers, fast-food chains and media giants have railed against it. The industry, which adopted its own standards in 2006 and updated them recently, said the plan is so strict it would in effect wipe out advertising to kids and teens, eliminate millions of jobs and infringe on commercial speech.
The Federal Trade Commission, which worked with three other agencies on the guidelines and took the lead on the marketing components, is now “contemplating revising them to more narrowly focus on those marketing techniques that our studies suggest are used most extensively to market to children,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in the statement submitted to Congress in advance of a Oct. 12 hearing on this topic.
For starters, the FTC initially aimed to restrict the marketing to children ages 2 to 17, vastly expanding the industry’s self-imposed 2 to 11 age limit. But the FTC concluded “that, with the exception of certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to encompass adolescents ages 12 to 17, within the scope of covered marketing” Vladeck said.
The initial plan — also crafted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department — extended beyond television, print and radio marketing to other marketing venues, such as Internet pop-up ads, online sweepstakes, advertising through cellphones, celebrity endorsements, in-school marketing and character licensing.
But the FTC now believes that charitable events, entertainment and sporting events and theme parks should not be covered because they do not specifically target children but rather a much wider audience, Vladeck said. The commission also does not expect to recommend that food companies remove “brand equity characters” from products that don’t meet the nutrition guidelines.
“The Commission is making a real effort to avoid pulling in marketing activities that are family-oriented or directed to a more general audience and to limit the revised approach to marketing that more exclusively targets the child only,” Vladeck said.
Publications & Tools
IOM Releases Front-of-Package Labeling Report
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its Phase II report and findings on front-of-package (FOP) labeling. FOP are symbols and icons often used on food packaging to identify healthier products. Although nutrition rating systems and symbols on food packages intend to help consumers make healthy decisions, the wide variety of systems that are on products today often lead consumers to become confused about what they mean instead of giving them the intended healthy dietary guidance. The report, Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices, concludes that it is time for a fundamental shift in strategy, a move away from complex or confusing FOP systems that do not give clear guidance about the healthfulness of a food or beverage and toward one that encourages healthier choices through simplicity, visual clarity and the ability to convey meaning without written information. The report recommends a simple FOP nutrition rating system that shows calories in household measures and points for the healthfulness of the product based on nutrients of most concern, enabling shoppers to instantly recognize healthier products by their number of points and calorie information.
New System Added to NCCOR's Catalogue of Surveillance Systems
NCCOR’s Catalogue of Surveillance Systems (CSS) added a new system in October on Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children. The system consists of a survey of the health, health behaviors and their social context, and the well being of school-aged youths in the United States (US) and 42 other countries. The Health Behaviors in School-Aged Children survey is just one of more than 79 surveys and other data sets available in the CSS. The CSS is a free online resource to help researchers and practitioners more easily investigate childhood obesity in America. It describes in detail existing surveillance systems that collect data related to childhood obesity. The CSS allows 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.
Access the Catalogue at www.nccor.org/css
Please visit www.nccor.org for more information about the CSS, a full list of NCCOR-led projects, upcoming events, and childhood obesity research highlights.
EPA Releases New Voluntary School Siting Guidelines
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued its School Siting Guidelines. These guidelines will be an important resource to communities across the country as they look to renovate or build schools. For the first time, the guidelines clearly explain how school systems should look at the positive aspects of a school site, such as walkability and proximity to students, parks, libraries and other community assets, as well as environmental hazards. In the guidelines there is strong language about the relationship between walking and bicycling to school, obesity and academic achievement.
Childhood Obesity Research & News
School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute
Nov. 1, 2011, New York Times
By Ron Nixon
The government has some thoughts on how to make the federally financed school lunch program more nutritious: A quarter-cup of tomato paste on pizza will no longer be considered a vegetable. Cut back on potatoes and add more fresh peaches, apples, spinach and broccoli. And hold the salt.
The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school-lunch program — are meant to reduce rising childhood obesity, Agriculture Department officials say. Food companies including Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and the makers of frozen pizza and French fries have a huge stake in the new guidelines and many argue that it would raise the cost of meals and call for food that too many children just will not eat.
With some nutrition experts rallying to the Obama administration’s side, the battle is shaping up as a contentious and complicated fight involving lawmakers from farm states and large low-income urban areas that rely on the program, which fed some 30 million children last year with free or subsidized meals. Food companies have spent more than $5.6 million so far lobbying against the proposed rules.
A group of farm-state senators have already succeeded in blocking an Agriculture Department plan to limit the amount of starchy foods in school meals, and are now hoping to win a larger victory. The group includes Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who once worked picking potatoes and led the opposition to the new starch rules last month.
A third of American children are obese or overweight, according to the government, and roughly 40 percent of the calories they eat are consumed in the school lunch period. Nutrition experts say if the nation wants to make progress on the obesity crisis among children, what they eat at lunchtime has to be addressed.
The Agriculture Department said the proposed rules would add about $6.8 billion over the next five years, about 14 cents to the cost of a school lunch. But, “our proposed rule will improve the health and nutrition of our children and is based on sound science,” Kevin Concannon, an Agriculture Department under secretary, said in a statement.
Nutritionists like Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University and the author of “Food Politics,” called the proposed guidelines long overdue. “Schools are supposed to set an example of many values of society, and one of them ought to be eating well,” Ms. Nestle said. “It’s unfortunate that the food industry is putting profits before the health of children.”
According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, published this year in The New England Journal of Medicine, starchy carbohydrates like those in potatoes are responsible for many of the nation’s health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. French fries and potato chips are the worst uses of the potato, but even boiled potatoes contribute to weight gain, the study found.
“And kids in school are getting the full brunt of that in their potato-rich diets,” said Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “While potatoes do have important nutrients, the nutrients can be found in other foods.”
The food industry agrees that eating more fruits and vegetables and reducing salt is a good thing. It says it has developed healthier foods over time to make school lunches more nutritious. But they say the government’s proposals go too far too quickly.
The National Potato Council, for example, said the proposal to offer fewer weekly servings of potatoes in favor of other vegetables and fruits was overly restrictive. “Everyone thinks that the only thing kids eat in school are French fries,” said John Keeling, the council’s executive vice president and chief executive. “But 90 percent of the potatoes served in schools are baked, boiled or mashed.”
Mr. Keeling said potatoes provided many of the nutrients like potassium and fiber that the Agriculture Department recommends and that limiting potatoes would increase the cost of meals. “Ninety percent of kids aren’t getting enough of the nutrients they need or the vegetables they need. It doesn’t make sense to tell them to eat less,” Mr. Keeling said. Besides, he added, children will actually eat potatoes as opposed to some other vegetables.
Leah Schmidt, director of nutrition services for Hickman Mills C-1 Schools in Kansas City, Mo., said children would eat other vegetables if they were cooked and seasoned to children’s tastes. “But there is no denying kids will eat potatoes,” she said. “They are popular.”
The American Frozen Food Institute said it was particularly concerned that the new guidelines would overly restrict sodium levels and greatly increase portions of tomato paste to qualify as a vegetable serving. Schools would not be able to serve popular tomato products like salsa and spaghetti sauce unless the portions greatly exceeded one-quarter cup to count as a helping of vegetables. Corey Henry, a spokesman for the institute, called the tomato paste rules ridiculous. “You would basically render a pizza inedible if you had to put that much sauce on it to meet the new standards, and pizza is a big part of school lunches,” Mr. Henry said.
The government’s proposal echoes an uproar 30 years ago when the Reagan administration proposed saving money on the school lunch program by making a serving of ketchup a vegetable instead of a condiment. The idea was widely mocked and was never put in place.
The industry’s arguments have been persuasive, especially to lawmakers from agricultural states or from districts with a large number of low-income students. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, largely echoed the industry’s arguments in a letter last June that asked the Agriculture Department to reconsider its recommendations on the timeframe for reducing sodium and the tomato paste rules.
Schools that serve more than 60 percent of their lunches for free or reduced prices are reimbursed $2.79 per meal by the federal government. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus worry that that might not be enough to cover the additional cost of preparing healthier meals in low-income districts.
The House has passed a bill directing the Agriculture Department to basically start over with a new proposal while the Senate has restricted the department from cutting back on potatoes.
“This whole fight obscures the fact that the U.S.D.A.’s proposal is about helping kids eat a wide variety of vegetable and make lunches overall healthier,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit research group. “It’s about our children’s health. I think that point has long since been lost.”
Schools Face New Challenge: Return of Recess
Oct. 25, 2011, Chicago Tribune
By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
When Chicago’s Bright Elementary School added 15 minutes of recess to its school day this year, teachers ventured outdoors to find a run-down schoolyard with no playground, a sometimes violent neighborhood and a generation of kids who didn’t know how to play outside.
At Namaste Charter School, officials this year spent $23,000 for a “recess coach,” a modern-day schoolyard referee tasked with keeping fights and bullying to a minimum while also teaching games that could be unfamiliar to today’s schoolchildren — games like four square, tag and dodgeball.
After three decades of no recess at most Chicago public schools, outdoor playtime returns next year with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day initiative. Across the country, efforts targeting childhood obesity, like first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, also have helped trigger a recess comeback. But what many Chicago schools are finding is that bringing back recess is not as simple as throwing open the school doors.
For starters, years of neglect and changing priorities have left many schools without functioning playgrounds. Once a mainstay of the school scene, playgrounds are nonexistent at 99 CPS elementary and middle schools, and many of the ones that remain need repair.
Many city schools also have limited outdoor space. Some have campus parks and artificial turf fields to run on, but others have only slabs of concrete, often converted to parking lots. And then there’s the issue of educators not knowing how to do recess.
“We’ve spoken to several principals and teachers and there is some anxiety over how to properly execute recess when it returns,” said Evan Lewis, the executive director of the new Chicago office for Playworks, a national nonprofit that promotes recess in poor, urban schools. “People are apprehensive because they haven’t had to do recess in a while. It’s new to them.”
About 42 percent of CPS schools today report having some form of recess, even if it’s five minutes a few days a week. Districtwide, all CPS grammar and middle schools will be offering at least 20 minutes of daily recess next fall when CPS lengthens the school day to 71/2 hours.
While many educators acknowledge there are benefits to allowing school-age children to play outdoors every day, they also worry about how to keep kids from being idle during the break, how to stop bullying on the playground and where to hold recess — especially in space-challenged schools.
CPS officials have launched an inventory of what outdoor facilities will be available for recess next fall. A survey earlier this year found that while 79 percent of principals said they had playground equipment appropriate for kindergartners through third-graders, that number slipped to 32 percent for children in grades four to six and 13 percent for middle schoolers.
The assessment, to be completed by the end of this school year, will also address cracked concrete and how much it will cost the district to bring outdoor areas up to par — an issue that has not been of paramount concern over the last few years with the decline of recess and a financially strained school district trying to keep up with a $2.5 billion backlog of roof and masonry projects.
Starting next month, CPS leaders will begin chatting with principals to see not only how they plan to fill the additional 90 minutes of instruction time, but also what they’re considering doing for recess.
Some principals have already begun planning and fretting.
At Hoyne Elementary School, an addition built in 1998 to address overcrowding displaced the school’s playground and stretches of the schoolyard. Now, the Calumet Heights neighborhood school is bounded by sidewalks, a grassy patch in front and narrow slivers of concrete in the back and on one side.
Still, Principal Yvonne Calhoun said the school is embracing the arrival of recess, which it has not offered in the 20 years she’s worked there.
She plans to stagger the midday break by grade and assign a stretch of grass in the front to young ones while middle schoolers get part of the backyard. School officials will bring out balls and rope from the gym and paint another hopscotch outline or two on the asphalt. Even if CPS were to offer to install a playground, there’s no room, Calhoun said.
“If we get equipment, I don’t know where we’d put it,” she said.
At Langford Community Academy in Englewood, Principal Lynn Garner is exploring whether to add more support staff to watch the recess field or have teachers fill that role. And is there room for some kids to jump rope while others take over the newly installed artificial field for a game of soccer?
“My biggest concern is coverage and making sure there’s enough teachers outside to keep children safe,” said Garner, who would love to bring on a Playworks recess coach but can’t afford it. “We’ll just have to be creative in how we do that.”
Recess fell off CPS’ schedule starting in the 1970s as students with no stay-at-home parent stopped going home for lunch. Schedules were reworked and students stayed indoors for a 20-minute lunch.
In High Schools, a Critical Lens on Food
Oct. 26, 2011, New York Times
By Hannah Wallace
A commercial for McDonald’s fish sandwiches played in a classroom at Park Slope Collegiate one day last month as part of a class called the Science of Food. It was clear that many students had seen the ad — several sang along with the jingle — but this was the first time they had been asked to critique it.
“Who is the target audience for this ad?” asked their teacher, Joni Tonda.
“Us!” yelled the 23 students, practically in unison. Through the class, which is part of a new program being taught at 15 city high schools, students are becoming aware that they are part of a lucrative demographic, and they are learning how companies target them.
Media literacy is only one part of Ms. Tonda’s lesson plan, which is based on a curriculum developed by a nonprofit group, FoodFight. The group’s founders, Carolyn Cohen and Deborah Lewison-Grant, two former public school teachers, set out to change the way adolescents think about food. By one estimate, 35 percent of adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese.
Though there have been several recent attempts to improve school food and to plant edible gardens at public schools — Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign among them — those efforts have largely been focused on elementary and junior high schools.
“High school students have been ignored in this conversation about the obesity epidemic,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s a serious health crisis.”
The lesson plan blends media literacy, politics, nutrition and cooking. Students learn how to evaluate food labels, to prepare nutritious and affordable meals, and to identify the political and economic forces that shape their diet. Some will visit urban farms, food co-ops and a 400-acre farm upstate.
Sarah Katz, one of the first teachers trained in the program, in August 2010, said the curriculum appealed to her because of its interdisciplinary nature and because it was not preachy.
“Telling kids what they should and shouldn’t eat is not really effective,” said Ms. Katz, who taught a class called Food for Thought at Essex Street Academy last spring. “Teenagers don’t do things because adults tell them to. They need to care and have enough information to make their own choices.”
A FoodFight course begins with a critical look at marketing campaigns. Some students react with outrage. “Kids don’t like to be played by corporations,” Ms. Katz said. “They want to make their own choices.”
At another point, the class discusses why some neighborhoods lack access to healthy, affordable food, an issue that resonates with students because many FoodFight classes are taught in poor neighborhoods.
Students keep a food journal and learn how lobbyists try to influence federal dietary recommendations.
In the lesson about advertising at Park Slope Collegiate, Ms. Tonda organized her students into small groups and asked them to create a slogan for a real or imagined food product. Three boys in the back of the class designed an energy bar called Pro-Fit. “It’s more than protein; it’s Pro-Fit!” their slogan read.
Takiyah Newton, a senior, said, “I signed up for the class because I wanted to learn about the food we eat, and society and stuff.” A highlight, she said, was “learning about these companies and how they’re tricking us.”
Ms. Tonda said she had seen some changes in students’ behavior. After a lesson about the consequences of consuming too much sugar, Ms. Newton switched from McDonald’s sweetened iced tea to a no-calorie drink, Ms. Tonda said, and now brings bottled water to class. Another student, affected by the images of a crowded chicken farm in the documentary “Food Inc.,” has asked her mother to stop buying meat from industrial producers.
Ms. Katz, at Essex Street Academy, was skeptical at first that her students would alter their diets. But when she quizzed parents, it became clear that habits were changing. One student said he had cut out sugar-sweetened beverages. “His mom said, ‘So that’s why they’re still sitting there in the fridge!’ ” Ms. Katz said.
Before Brandon Rosales took the class last year, he drank a lot of soda and never thought about portion sizes. “I would skip breakfast, eat a light lunch and then stuff myself at dinner,” said Mr. Rosales, who acknowledged that he was overweight.
After his food journal revealed the unhealthy pattern, he began replacing juice and soda with water, he said, and started eating smaller meals. Since he took the class, he said, he has lost 10 pounds, and he continues to maintain the journal.
“Now my food journal looks clean,” he said. “My meals are good; I drink water. It’s like a healthy person’s journal.” His family history provides some motivation. “I have a family full of diabetics,” he said. “I want to live a happy life not having to put insulin in like my grandmas do.”