April 2012





NCCOR launches a new look

April 1, 2012, NCCOR

The National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) has redesigned and enhanced its suite of communications products to improve usability and user engagement. Its highly visible website – www.nccor.org – has new features and a bolder look. Written material and presentation templates have also been updated, and an improved NCCOR e-Newsletter will debut in May.

The move improves the Collaborative’s reach and positions www.nccor.org as the resource for childhood obesity research information.

NCCOR is a unique example of a public-private partnership that brings synergy and innovation to combat childhood obesity. The redesign was born out of a desire to have NCCOR’s online presence be as synergistic and innovative as the Collaborative itself. In addition to a more engaging design, the website now boasts social media tools (e.g., Twitter feed, blog) that enhance the Collaborative’s communication methods and create opportunities to cross-promote NCCOR projects and events, original articles, and funding opportunities. Updates to the e-newsletter template subscribers receive will highlight these new NCCOR tools, as well.

Some of the new website design features include:

  • Social media tools: Users can now follow us on Twitter, keep apprised of the latest childhood obesity issues and news on our blog, and provide feedback through blog comments and opinion polls. Check them out and join the conversation!
  • Picture carousel of featured projects/events: Want to know what’s new with NCCOR? Just take a look at the revolving pictures on the homepage. Click on a picture to learn more.
  • Improved navigation bar: The most used sections of the website are now prominently featured at the top of the page, in color, making it easy for users to quickly find what they are looking for.

The website also features project pages reflecting all of NCCOR’s current activities, biographies of the inaugural NCCOR External Scientific Panel (NESP), and the Collaborative’s latest infographics. Stay tuned for website additions to the website in the Spring, such as videos related to NCCOR resources, and access to the NCCOR 2011 Annual Report.

The enhanced look and feel of the website, e-newsletter, and other products are meant to increase user engagement, drive traffic to the site, and ultimately increase the awareness of NCCOR’s mission, goals, and projects to old and new audiences alike.

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Materials available to support HBO’s ’The Weight of the Nation’ documentary series

April 2, 2012, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A multi-part, multi-platform event, HBO’s Weight of the Nation is comprised of a series of four documentary films, three children’s films, and up to 12 bonus short films. The mission of this public education campaign is to accelerate efforts to eliminate obesity across the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with HBO Documentary Films, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies of Science, Institute Of Medicine, Kaiser Permanente, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to roll out the community and state engagement component of the campaign. Activities that support the community and state engagement efforts will include regional screenings in several major cities, the distribution of up to 40,000 community action kits, an HBO website and a social media campaign. In addition, parts of the documentary series will be screened at the CDC’s Weight of the Nation™2012 conference in Washington, DC, on May 7.

On May 14-15, HBO will broadcast the documentaries through all its channels including the HBO main channel, multiplex channels, HBO On Demand, HBO GO, and more. The films will stream free of charge on HBO.com. In addition to the community screenings of the films and on-demand access to the online short films, non-HBO subscribers will be able to view the films when they are broadcast as HBO’s local affiliates are removing the subscription requirement for the week of May 14, giving access to non-subscribers.

Community and state programs may opt to host opinion leader screening events that will help engage community and state decision makers, leaders, elected officials and local media. Programs may also opt to advance their community mobilization activities by hosting a screening with coalition members, community and state activists and others positioned to implement programs and strategies. Event planning materials, discussion guides, and other helpful information to host a screening event will be included in the screening kits.

Visit http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/# to read the pre-release information and to sign up for a screening kit from HBO. You can also navigate to the Facebook page that HBO has established to promote the film (Facebook.com/TheWeightOfTheNation), and “like” the page while you’re there.

Visit www.CDC.gov/Obesity to learn more about the epidemic and the multiple strategies that will help us address this epidemic, or www.CDC.gov/WON to learn more about the CDC’s Weight of the Nation 2012 conference.

For more information, please contact Rosie Bretthauer-Mueller, CDC, RBretthauer-Mueller@cdc.gov.

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Publications & Tools

Article about NCCOR Measures Registry and Catalogue of Surveillance Systems published

March 22, 2012, NCCOR

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published an article about National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research’s (NCCOR) Measures Registry and Catalogue of Surveillance Systems.

The April 2012 article − authored by NCCOR members Robin McKinnon, Jill Reedy, David Berrigan, Susan Krebs-Smith on behalf of all members in the NCCOR Registry and Catalogue working groups − describes the functions of the Catalogue and Registry, the development process, and the impact of the two tools. The article notes some of the gaps that the Catalogue has identified such as the lack of policy surveillance systems and the dearth of databases at the food retail level. The article also describes the Registry’s impact in identifying gaps in measures available in Spanish, as well as those for rural populations or environments.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine is the official journal of the American College of Preventive Medicine and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research. It publishes articles in the areas of prevention research, teaching, practice, and policy.


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Childhood Obesity Research & News

Exercise might boost kids' academic ability

March 12, 2012, HealthDay

Promoting physical activity among young school kids can end up improving their academic performance, a new study suggests.

Italian researchers tracked 138 children aged 8 through 11 who took mental acuity tests under a series of conditions that sometimes involved physical activity and sometimes did not.

“Schoolteachers frequently claim that students lose attention and concentration with prolonged periods of academic instruction,” first study author Maria Chiara Gallotta, at the University of Rome, said in a news release. “The key elements of learning, particularly important during development, are attention and concentration. Our study examined the relationship between exertion and the attention and concentration levels of schoolchildren.”

The findings appear in the March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Over a three-week period, the children sat for three exam sessions of 50 minutes each. Before the first test they had all engaged in some form of physical exertion. Before the second test they had only engaged in academic exercises. And the third time they had participated in both physical and academic activity. All the tests were structured to gauge concentration skills as well as the speed with which the kids responded and the quality of their answers.

The children performed best following either physical activity or academic activity, but less well when both were combined before testing.

Processing speed went up by nine percent after engaging in some form of mental “exercise” and 10 percent after physical activity. But after a combined physical and mental exertion, testing scores went up by just four percent.

Similarly, in terms of concentration skills, pretesting mental activity boosted scores by 13 percent, while physical activity sent scores rising by 10 percent. When both were combined, testing results went up by just two percent.

The authors said the lower scores could be due to a rise in stress associated with asking children to exercise both their brains and their bodies in the same time span.

“Our findings,” Gallotta said, “suggest that varying types of exertion have different beneficial influences on school children’s immediate cognitive performance. While more research is needed, we believe this provides helpful justification for increasing physical activity opportunities in the academic setting.”


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Student fitness improves with anti-obesity program

March 23, 2012, Reuters Health

By Aparna Narayanan

Obesity rates continue to climb in California schools, but exercise and nutrition programs may be having a positive effect on student health, a new study suggests.

Kids entered fifth grade more obese every year, but they did not gain more weight and their overall fitness improved as they moved to higher grades.

“We accomplished a significant first step and that is to slow obesity,” said Dr. William Bommer, a cardiologist at the University of California, Davis, who worked on the study. “But we importantly were not able to reverse it.”

The researchers, whose report is published in the <em>American Heart Journal</em>, recorded the fitness gains after California mandated exercise time and healthful eating in public schools across the state in 2005.

While the findings suggest the prevention programs may be helping, they can’t prove the programs caused the health improvements.

Obesity is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments in children and adults. About 17 percent of children and teens in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response to rising obesity trends, California required public schools to provide an average of 20 minutes of physical exercise per day for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade, and 40 minutes for grades six to 12. Schools also had to increase the quality and quantity of health education and could no longer serve high-fat, high-sugar foods and drinks.

Bommer’s team tracked data from more than six million students in fifth, seventh and ninth grade from 2003 to 2008, after these measures took effect.

At each grade level, the students took fitness tests which included body mass index (BMI) measurements, endurance runs, push-ups and shoulder stretches. The researchers analyzed those test records for changes in obesity and fitness.

They found some encouraging signs. Though the number of obese kids continued to increase (2 percent more children were overweight or obese in 2008 than in 2003), the rate of increase seemed to be slowing.

Obesity rates rose an average of 0.3 percent per year during the study, compared with about 0.8 to 1.7 percent per year in previous national studies.

Students showed small improvements in body fat and weight as they progressed from fifth to seventh to ninth grade. They also got better—or at least did not get worse—in physical fitness areas such as abdominal strength, upper body strength and flexibility.

One particular finding defied researchers’ expectations: more students entered fifth grade obese every year, however they didn’t gain further excess weight between fifth and ninth grades.

“We thought that probably what we’d find was the entrance class was about the same (every year) and kids were gaining weight during the school years,” Bommer explained.

Nor did the fifth-graders lose the weight as they progressed through the grade levels. Indeed, Bommer’s team attributes the overall rise in rates of obesity and overweight seen among all students during the study period mainly to the rise among the incoming generations of fifth graders.

Further research is needed to determine whether this early obesity develops before kids get to kindergarten or during elementary years, Bommer told Reuters Health, as well as where future interventions could make a difference.

“If you become obese as a student or adolescent, it’s very difficult to reverse that obesity when you’re an adult,” he added.

Dr. Maura Frank, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, described the California programs as a model for other states.

“When we work with individual families or schools, if we don’t have the support of public policy, nothing can be done,” said Frank, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s a prerequisite for change on a population level.”

The findings on growing obesity rates among fifth graders are equally important, she told Reuters Health.

“It highlights the need to start with interventions earlier,” she said.


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McDonald's unveils new children's advertising

March 5, 2012, Chicago Tribune

By Emily Bryson York

McDonald’s Corp. unveiled new kids advertising in March, fulfilling a pledge to include a nutritional or physical activity message in all communication with children starting in 2012.
The Oak Brook-based fast-food giant says it’s doing the right thing for its customers and its brand. But activist groups, who see McDonald’s as the emblem of what’s wrong with American eating, decry any advertising to children under age 12, who critics say are too young to know when they are being targeted with ad messages.

“We’re a leadership brand, whether it’s for children’s advertising or the food we serve in the restaurants,” said Marlena Peleo-Lazar, chief creative officer of McDonald’s USA. “We saw an opportunity to take a … stance, not from a duress standpoint but from a leadership sort of way, and as a brand it really does illustrate that we believe in doing the right thing.”

McDonald’s spent about $115 million advertising Happy Meals during 2010, about 13 percent of the company’s $884 million in measured U.S. media spending, according to Kantar Media.

The national ad push supports the chain’s revamped Happy Meal, now available at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants, with a burger or chicken nuggets, apple slices, fries and one percent white or fat-free chocolate milk.

The 1.1-ounce portion of french fries is new. McDonald’s introduced apple dippers with caramel sauce as a fry alternative in 2004, later learning that only 11 percent of customers were ordering it. The new meal has effectively made a fruit or vegetable mandatory. The most popular Happy Meals now contain 20 percent fewer calories, McDonald’s has said.

One commercial in the new series features Ferris, a little boy living on a farm with a pet goat that is an indiscriminate eater. Rather than put the goat out to pasture, the boy and his father teach the wayward animal the importance of a balanced diet, particularly dairy and fruit.

Ferris and the goat are enjoying Happy Meals, with fries and apple slices, at the Golden Arches at the end of the commercial, illustrating the concept of balanced eating.

The message: “Joy is a gift. This is the box that it comes in.”

“I think having a positive message is actually confusing if the bottom-line message is that coming to McDonald’s will make you happy,” said Susan Linn, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, who has not seen the commercial. Her group opposes ads directed at children younger than 12.

But it shouldn’t be McDonald’s job to educate children about nutrition, said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer retained as an expert witness in litigation against McDonald’s.

“What we want is for McDonald’s to get out of the way, for parents to do their job to teach their children about nutrition,” Simon said.

Peleo-Lazar, a McDonald’s veteran, acknowledged that criticism is inevitable. “You can be a brand that responds to everything or you can focus on the right thing for the brand and the business,” she said.

Although activist groups have sought to regulate McDonald’s and other fast-food chains by banning free toys in certain areas unless they meet certain nutritional standards, the industry has been working to regulate its own advertising to children.

Elaine Kolish, vice president of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative at the Better Business Bureau, who has seen the ads, described them as “outstanding” and said she was “delighted that McDonald’s is incorporating nutrition and activity messages into the advertising.” Kolish also applauds the tiny fry containers as a way of teaching portion control.

“Foods aren’t forbidden,” she said. “You just have to eat them in moderation.”
Food advertising to children on network television has declined dramatically during the past three decades, according to a federal report.

In 1977, food ads made up 62 percent of the advertising on network programs for which more than half the audience was children. By 2004, that figure had dropped to 33 percent, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

A BBB study in 2010 looked at 35 hours of kids programming and found that 24 percent of the ads were for food. The other ads, Kolish said, were for “sedentary activities” like video games, movies or TV shows.

McDonald’s is among 16 food and beverage companies that have joined the BBB’s advertising initiative. Each has promised to limit child-directed advertising of its least-healthy products, focusing instead on healthier options meeting nutritional criteria that each company established independently.

Last summer, McDonald’s USA President Jan Fields promised to include positive messages in all communications with kids, like tray liners, in-store merchandising, online and TV.

McDonald’s conducted research for several days in Chicago with kids ages 7-12 to determine what motivated them to eat healthy and to exercise. Peleo-Lazar said she was impressed with how knowledgeable the children were about nutrition, including understanding calories and food groups.

John Montgomery, creative director at Leo Burnett Chicago, the advertising agency handling McDonald’s Happy Meal business in the U.S., said the strategy is to “have a cast of characters that try to make things fun, like ants and spiders that work out get stronger.”

“Very much like kids learning to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ you have to remind them over and over, so it’s a recurring story” about healthy choices, Montgomery said. “Hopefully, we create it elegantly and subtly and talk about it through characters’ achievements, through making the right choices in life and exercise.”

But it’s this strategy McDonald’s most vocal detractors are likely to object to.
“It’s all about the branding, forming an emotional bond with your child,” said Simon, the expert witness. “The fact that McDonald’s is exploiting children’s emotional vulnerability through cartoons and animals just continues to further the exploitation.”


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