- Body Weight Simulator uses new mathematical model to predict weight loss
- Friend selection after school can increase activity, reduce obesity
PUBLICATIONS & TOOLS
CHILDHOOD OBESITY RESEARCH & NEWS
- Promoting nutrition, Disney to restrict junk-food ads
- McDonald's shareholders defeat proposal to weigh impact on obesity
Body Weight Simulator uses new mathematical model to predict weight loss
June 11, 2012, NCCOR
It is difficult to know how much weight loss can be expected from physical activity and diet interventions. This is especially true since most weight loss “calculators” rely on overly simplistic mathematical models that inaccurately predict weight loss. The Body Weight Simulator, an interactive online tool developed by Dr. Kevin Hall and his research team at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), uses a more sophisticated mathematical model to predict body weight changes over time in response to diet and exercise interventions.
“The Body Weight Simulator incorporates the most comprehensive physiological data on how the human body responds to diet and exercise over time,” said Hall, also a contributor to NCCOR’s Envision project. “In contrast, the vast majority of other weight loss ‘calculators’ rely on static models based on the ‘3500 Calorie per pound’ weight loss rule of thumb that is now known to be too simplistic and substantially overestimates weight loss.”
Users enter baseline information into the Body Weight Simulator about their age, height, sex, starting weight, as well as work and leisure activities. They also select a time frame to achieve their goal weight. The Simulator calculates the diet and exercise intervention needed to achieve the goal.
“Users can thereby plan a personalized weight management program and set their goals to be commensurate with the required behavior changes,” said Hall. “Importantly, the Body Weight Simulator calculates the permanent lifestyle changes required to maintain the new weight and avoid weight regain and yo-yo dieting.”
The Simulator may also be a helpful tool for nutrition and obesity researchers.
“Researchers can use the Body Weight Simulator to help plan research studies by anticipating the expected time course and magnitude of weight changes resulting from a diet or exercise intervention,” said Hall. “[It] can also be used retrospectively to help analyze weight change data and estimate the adherence of the research subjects to the prescribed intervention”
Friend selection after school can increase activity, reduce obesity
May 29, 2012, Vanderbilt University Medical Center News and Publications
By Carole Bartoo
Another tool in the battle against childhood obesity may be careful selection of who a child plays with after school. Vanderbilt’s Sabina Gesell, Ph.D., research assistant professor of pediatrics, is first author of a study in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics that examines the group effect of peers on activity levels of children in afterschool care programs.
Eighty children, ages 5 to 12, were observed for 12 weeks during their after-care programs. The programs allowed children to interact with different peers throughout the day. Study participants wore a pager-like device called an accelerometer, which detects activity intensity levels over time. The children were observed and were asked to list the friends they “hung out with” the most.
“We found that children in this age group are six times more likely to adjust to their friends’ activity levels, than not. In fact, a network of four to five immediate friends has a significant influence on any individual child regardless of their usual activity level,” Gesell said.
The results showed more active groups tended to draw a child up into greater activity levels, while groups that tended toward sedentary activities brought an individual child’s levels down.
“The average activity level of the group of friends is what influences an individual child. Children are constantly adjusting their activity levels to match their peer group,” Gesell said.
The researchers also examined whether children preferentially select groups based on activity level, perhaps choosing peers whose activity levels were similar to their own, but surprisingly, they found no such association. Children choose friends with other similarities (like being the same gender, age), but activity levels did not seem to be factor.
Gesell said this is exciting because more than 8 million children of working parents typically spend one to three hours per day in afterschool programs, making this an ideal place to get kids to be more active. Adjusting the makeup of playgroups to place children at-risk for obesity into groups with an activity level that is higher than their own is likely to influence them to be more active, too.
Before testing such an intervention in the real world, Gesell will experiment with computer simulations to determine the tipping point at which embedding too many inactive kids in a playgroup will bring down the active kids’ activity levels.
“If you look at childhood obesity efforts across the country, many have failed to look at social context. It is important that we look at all the forces in play and intentionally leverage them to have a maximal impact,” Gesell said.
This research was funded through the Vanderbilt Institute for Obesity and Metabolism, the Vanderbilt Clinical and Translational Science Award (NIH), and the American Heart Association. Other authors of this paper are Vanderbilt’s Eric Tesdahl, M.S., and Eileen Ruchman, B.A.
Original source: http://www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/news/releases.php?release=2435
Publications & Tools
National food policy programs improve access to healthy foods
May 23, 2012, Yale News
Access to healthy food in underserved communities has improved significantly after changes in federal nutrition and food assistance programs, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the study shows that the revisions in food packages for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have increased the availability and variety of healthy foods in WIC-authorized and non-WIC convenience and grocery stores.
The WIC program is designed to help meet the needs of pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children who are at nutritional risk. The program’s food packages were revised in 2009 to offer foods that better reflect dietary recommendations for Americans. The Yale researchers looked at inventories of 252 convenience stores and non-chain grocery stores in Connecticut to assess the variety, quality, and prices of WIC-approved foods before and after the new WIC food package implementation.
Researchers found that within six to eight months of the WIC revisions, the provision of healthy foods, such as whole-grain products and produce, improved significantly in convenience and grocery stores participating in the WIC program. Non-WIC convenience and grocery stores, especially in low-income neighborhoods, also showed some improvement.
The researchers assert that the WIC food package revisions have improved access to healthy foods not only for WIC participants but for communities at large.
According to lead author Tatiana Andreyeva, the Yale Rudd Center’s Director of Economic Initiatives, “Stores participating in the WIC program have found ways to deliver new healthy foods when they were required to do so. If the experience in Connecticut is typical of other states, national food policy programs that promote the consumption of healthy foods, but also require changes in stores, can help to improve local food environments for program participants and non-participants alike.”
Childhood Obesity Research & News
Promoting nutrition, Disney to restrict junk-food ads
June 5, 2012, The New York Times
By Brooks Barnes
The Walt Disney Company, in an effort to address concerns about entertainment’s role in childhood obesity, announced on June 5 that all products advertised on its child-focused television channels, radio stations and websites must comply with a strict new set of nutritional standards.
The restrictions on ads extend to Saturday-morning cartoons on ABC stations owned by Disney. Under the new rules, products like Capri Sun drinks and Kraft Lunchables meals—both current Disney advertisers—along with a wide range of candy, sugared cereal and fast food, will no longer be acceptable advertising material.
The initiative, which Disney revealed at a Washington news conference with the first lady, Michelle Obama, stretches into other areas. For instance, Disney will reduce the amount of sodium by 25 percent in the 12 million children’s meals served annually at its theme parks, and create what it calls fun public service announcements promoting child exercise and healthy eating.
The move follows the announcement of a plan by New York City to ban the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks amid increasing concern about childhood obesity in America.
Disney said that in adopting the new advertising standards it was largely following recommendations proposed last year by federal regulators. The suggestions were aimed at inducing the food industry to overhaul the way it marketed things like cereal, soda and snacks to children.
Food companies have vociferously fought government regulation on advertising, saying they can take steps on their own. Disney acknowledged it would most likely lose some advertising revenue—it declined to say how much—but said that the benefits outweighed the downside. (Disney Channel does not currently accept traditional ads, although a range of promotions and sponsorships are allowed; other channels like Disney XD are supported by commercials.)
Disney’s ad restrictions, which will not take effect until 2015 because of long-term contracts with advertisers, will apply to any programming aimed at children under 12, which includes popular live-action programs as well as cartoons.
Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chairman, said he felt strongly that “companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” but added: “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.”
Taking steps to combat childhood obesity allows Disney the opportunity to polish its brand as one families can trust—something that drives sales of everything from Pixar DVDs to baby clothes to theme park vacations. In addition, Disney has carefully studied the marketplace and executives say they believe there is increasing consumer demand for more nutritious food.
Iger noted that health food for children had already become “a very, very solid business” for Disney. Since 2006 consumers have purchased about two billion servings of Disney-licensed servings of fruit and vegetables, according to the company.
Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said Disney’s plan put it “far ahead of competitors.” At the same time, she cautioned that Disney’s guidelines still fell short of what her organization would like to see, particularly for cereal. Disney’s new standards require cereal to contain less than 10 grams of sugar a serving, for instance, while Wootan would prefer about six grams.
“This limits the marketing of the worst junk foods, but it won’t mean you’re only going to see ads for apples, bananas and oranges, either,” she said.
As part of its initiative, Disney also introduced what it called Mickey Check in grocery store aisles: Disney-licensed products that meet criteria for limited calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar can display a logo—Mickey Mouse ears and a check mark—on their packaging. The logos will include the slogan, “Good For You—Fun Too!”
By the end of this year, the White House said in a news release Tuesday, “the Mickey Check will appear on licensed foods products, on qualified recipes on Disney.com and Family.com, and on menus and select products at Disney’s Parks and Resorts.”
Some elements of Disney’s campaign—the Mickey Check, in particular—could revive parental criticism that the company has a way of moving into areas it does not belong, such as approval over what foods children eat.
Moreover, consumers have also come to distrust or ignore healthy eating symbols on packaging because so many food companies have introduced self-serving varieties, said Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.
“Here comes Disney with yet another symbol, and it’s too early to say whether this will simply add to the chaos and confusion or actually help steer parents and kids as they shop,” Brownell said.
Still, Brownell, who was given an advance briefing of Disney’s plans, said the effort was “enormously important.” He cautioned that he had not yet deeply examined Disney’s nutritional guidelines, but said “they appear quite good.”
Disney developed the new nutrition standards with the assistance of two child health and wellness experts: James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and Keith T. Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
The company’s standards are based on the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed guidelines for food marketing to children. Disney also looked at the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a self-policing effort by food giants like Burger King and Campbell Soup to set their own marketing limits.
Disney’s guidelines will be available starting June 5 atwww.thewaltdisneycompany.com/citizenship/magic-healthy-living.
Disney’s new guidelines are likely to have a ripple effect through the children’s entertainment industry. Rivals like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network will face pressure to follow Disney’s lead. Advertisers spend some $950 million annually on television tailored to children under 12, according to industry estimates.
“With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S.—and what I hope every company will do going forward,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement.
Food companies will also feel the effects. Giants like Pepsi and Kellogg in 2007, trying to squelch calls for government regulation, said they would stop advertising products that failed to meet various nutritional standards to children under 12. Food companies then started pushing healthier items and reformulating junk food products.
Disney has sent similar dominoes falling in the past. In 2006, Disney said it would sharply curtail the use of its name and characters with foods high in sugar, salt and fat. Mickey Mouse stopped appearing on boxes of Pop-Tarts, and Buzz Lightyear and his “Toy Story” pals disappeared from McDonald’s Happy Meals. Within months, Nickelodeon and Discovery Kids announced similar restrictions; the 2007 effort by food companies to reel in advertising was also linked to Disney’s lead.
As part of its Tuesday announcement, Disney will introduce a tightened version of the nutritional standards it first adopted in 2006, including a required additional 10 percent reduction in sugar in yogurt and flavored milk products.
“We need to motivate consumers to make changes, and Disney, because of its sheer size and brand power, can do that better than anybody,” Ayoob said.
McDonald's shareholders defeat proposal to weigh impact on obesity
May 24, 2012, Advertising Age
By Maureen Morrison
McDonald’s Corp. recently voted down a proposal to assess its impact on public health, particularly childhood obesity.
The proposal was brought by consumer watchdog group Corporate Accountability International (CAI). It requested that McDonald’s board “issue a report, at reasonable expense and excluding proprietary information, within six months of the 2012 annual meeting, assessing the company’s policy responses to growing evidence of linkages between fast food and childhood obesity, diet-related diseases and other impacts on children’s health,” according to the McDonald’s proxy statement, which recommended shareholders vote against the proposal.
“McDonald’s can no longer ignore the spiraling costs of its business practices on our children’s health and on our health-care system,” said Andrew Bremer, a pediatric endocrinologist and professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in a statement, who spoke on behalf of a shareholder, John Harrington.
Dr. Bremer also spoke in support of the resolution at the annual meeting, saying that there’s a growing concern about how McDonald’s and chains of its ilk are contributing to obesity and diet-related disease. He added that by not changing marketing and the food it offers, shareholders are unreasonably exposed to risk, and the tactics are “doing the brand no favors.”
Outgoing CEO Jim Skinner said during the meeting that McDonald’s advertises responsibly to kids and families. He said the company is proud of its food and the nutritional changes it’s made to the menu, and that McDonald’s, which serves 68 million people a day globally, has done more than anyone else in the fast food industry to improve nutrition and offer healthier food options. The proposal was voted down; only 6.4 percent voted in favor.
“While these are global issues that require actions that go well beyond what our company or any other provider of prepared foods can take on its own, we are committed to being part of the effort to address the relevant issues underlying these concerns,” said the company in its opposition statement.
“We offer a variety of food choices to our customers; provide nutrition information about our menu items in a variety of accessible ways so that families can make informed decisions; communicate with children in a responsible manner through age appropriate marketing and promotional activities; and encourage children and families to live balanced, active lifestyles.”
Aside from the kids’ debate, Skinner, who is retiring at the end of June and will be replaced by Don Thompson, also talked about the company’s improved sustainability tactics, as well as operational improvements such as store remodels.
Thompson said the chain’s top priorities include continuously innovating its menu globally, including more fruits, vegetables and grains, such as it’s done with apples in Happy Meals. He also the chain has a continued investment in promoting core menu items in new ads, such as one by DDB that touts fries. He added that the chain aims to open about 1,300 restaurants this year globally, and noted that around the world the chain has already remodeled 45 percent of store interiors.