March 2014





First NCCOR Connect & Explore webinar a success

March 3, 2014, NCCOR

In February the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) marked its five-year anniversary by launching Connect & Explore, an external webinar series for researchers, practitioners, and others interested in childhood obesity research. Engaging, informative, and timely, the Connect & Explore webinar was a success with over 180 participants tuning in to gain insight into NCCOR and watch the program!

The webinar featured background information on NCCOR, details on recent childhood obesity research highlights, and three NIH funding opportunities including the Institutes’ rapid response funding mechanism which NCCOR supported. A highlight of the webinar was the “One on One” session, a panel discussion moderated by Elaine Arkin, M.S., of the NCCOR Coordinating Center, and featuring speakers from the four NCCOR funders:

  • Laura Kettel Khan, M.I.M., Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Robin McKinnon, M.P.A., Ph.D., National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • Laura Leviton, Ph.D., Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)
  • Jay Variyam, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

This segment provoked a robust discussion. The representatives spoke about NCCOR’s accomplishments and contributions to the field, new tools and resources available for researchers, and emerging opportunities for research.

The webinar “was a nice snapshot of what NCCOR has accomplished in a relatively short period of time, especially if you consider that three of the four partners are federal agencies,” said Kettel Khan, speaking about how the partnership leverages each funder’s expertise and priorities. “Having Robert Wood Johnson Foundation engaged in these relationships allows the federal agencies more flexibility than if we attempted these efforts on our own,” she added.

The new Connect & Explore webinar series provides a unique platform for participants to engage with NCCOR and find out “what is on the minds of the partnership,” continued Kettel Kahn. I’m hopeful it will encourage “presentations of hot topics in the field of obesity prevention… For example, the recently released data on significant declines in obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds would be a great topic for a board research and practitioner discussion,” she said.

This was the first of three Connect & Explore webinars this year. The next webinar will be held on Thursday, June 12, 2014, from 2-3 p.m. (EST). The Collaborative will solicit feedback after each webinar, inviting the field to provide their impressions, suggestions, and hopes for future NCCOR webinars and endeavors.

A recording of this webinar is available for download at

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For its five-year anniversary, NCCOR debuts interactive annual report

Feb. 26, 2014, NCCOR

Five years ago the nation’s leading research funders — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture — came together in a common mission to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and application of childhood obesity research and formed the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR).

In recognition of the contributions NCCOR has made over the past five years, the Collaborative has a new online format for their annual report featuring audio testimonials from researchers and childhood obesity experts, as well as videos and other interactive design features.

Check out NCCOR’s 2013 annual report to learn more about NCCOR’s impact over the past five years and what’s in store for the Collaborative in 2014.


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Publications & Tools

Declines in student obesity prevalence associated with a prevention initiative

New findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that youth obesity dropped in low-income school districts that were part of a King County-focused obesity prevention initiative. By increasing healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity, such as improving the quality of physical education, the initiative boosted healthy habits for middle and high school students. These results have promising implications for statewide and national strategies to improve community health.

The report shows a 17 percent decline in youth obesity in King County (from 9.5 to 7.9 percent) after Public Health – Seattle & King County partnered with schools and community organizations to implement a two-year Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) obesity prevention initiative ending in 2012. While youth obesity rates fell significantly in CPPW initiative school districts, (Auburn, Highline, Kent, Northshore, Renton, Seattle, and Tukwila) rates remained the same in districts not involved in the initiative and were also unchanged in the rest of the state.


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New infographic explores how changing communities gets people moving

Communities across the nation are doing more to ensure that streets, sidewalks, schools, and parks support walking, biking, and playing. Active Living Research recently released a new infographic highlighting several studies that evaluated changes in physical activity after the implementation of built environment and programmatic modifications in different cities. For example, children are more likely to walk or bike to school when there are quality streets and crosswalks, and programs that promote safety; existence of bike lanes is related to higher rates of cycling; and the presence of recreational facilities close to home encourages more physical activity.


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New website addresses obesity prevention among Latinos

Salud America! recently launched “Growing Healthy Change,” a “first-of-its-kind clearinghouse of Latino-focused resources and stories to promote changes—healthier marketing and improved access to healthy food and physical activity, etc.—for Latino kids.” According to Salud America! director Amelie Ramirez, the site—which includes map creation capabilities, success story examples, and other resources—is a “critical tool to showcase the latest healthy changes for Latino kids that are popping up across the country.”


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Childhood Obesity Research & News

Cut out junk food ads in schools, government says

Feb. 26, 2014, ABC News (The Associated Press)

By Mary Clare Jalonick and Darlene Superville

It is not just about what America’s kids are getting in the lunch line.

The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds — part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls “a new norm” for today’s schoolchildren and future generations.

“This new approach to eating and activity is not just a fad,” Mrs. Obama said Feb. 25 as she described the proposed rules at the White House.

Promotion of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day would be phased out under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules, which are intended to ensure that marketing is brought in line with health standards that already apply to food served by public schools.

That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually would not be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, though it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, also owned by Coca-Cola. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters, and menu boards that promote foods that do not meet federal standards would also be phased out.

Ninety-three percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages. And many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to other products they produce. Companies are spending $149 million a year on marketing to kids in schools, according to USDA.

The announcement at the White House was part of a week of events marking the fourth anniversary of the first lady’s Let’s Move! program. Mrs. Obama also traveled to Miami on Feb. 25 to announce that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Recreation and Park Association will serve more fruits and vegetables at after-school programs and ensure kids get 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day. NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler introduced the first lady.

The proposed school marketing rules come on the heels of federal regulations that now require food in school lunch lines to be more healthful than in the past.

Separate rules, which are to go into effect in September, will cover other food around school as well, including in vending machines and “a la carte” lines in the lunchroom. Calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium limits now will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day, as mandated by a 2010 child nutrition law.

Even though diet sodas would be allowed in high schools under the proposed rules announced Feb. 25, the rules do not address the question raised by some as to whether those drinks are actually healthful alternatives to sugary soda.

Some healthful-food rules have come under fire from conservatives who say the government should not dictate what kids eat — and from some students who do not like the new alternatives.

Mrs. Obama defended herself against critics, saying that “I didn’t create this issue.” She said kids will eventually get used to the changes.

“That’s our job as parents, to hold steady through the whining,” she said.

Aware of the backlash, USDA is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and is asking for comments on some options. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, which coordinates with schools to reward kids with pizza for reading.

Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.

Off-campus fundraisers, like an event at a local fast food outlet that benefits a school, still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food may not be allowed in school hallways. An email to parents — with or without the advertising — would have to suffice. The idea is to market to the parents, not the kids.

The rules also make allowances for major infrastructure costs — that scoreboard advertising Coca-Cola, for example, would not have to be immediately torn down. But the school would have to get one with a different message or product the next time it was replaced.

Schools that do not want to comply could leave the National School Lunch Program, which allows schools to collect government reimbursements for free and low-cost lunches for needy students in exchange for following certain standards. Very few schools choose to give up those government dollars, though.

The beverage industry — led by Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and PepsiCo — is on board with the new rules. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the more healthful drinks that will be offered in schools is the “logical next step.”

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed rules, which also would allow more children access to free lunches and ensure that schools have wellness policies in place.

The 2010 child nutrition law expanded food programs for hungry students. The rules being proposed Feb. 25 would increase that even further by allowing the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free, with the cost shared between the federal government and the schools. According to USDA and the White House, that initiative would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.

The department already has tested the program in 11 states.


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New FDA nutrition labels would make ‘serving sizes’ reflect actual servings

Feb., 27, 2014, The New York Times

By Sabrina Tavernise

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.

It would be the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and 1980s, before portion sizes expanded significantly, and federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.

“It’s an amazing transformation,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA. “Things like the size of a muffin have changed so dramatically. It is important that the information on the nutrition fact labels reflect the realities in the world today.”

The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food, substances that many public health experts say have contributed substantially to the obesity problem in this country. The food industry has argued against similar suggestions in the past.

“The changes put added sugars clearly in the cross hairs,” said Dr. David A. Kessler, who was commissioner during the original push for labels in the 1990s. “America has the sweetest diet in the world. You can’t get to be as big as we’ve gotten without added sweeteners.”

Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

On Feb. 27, the Obama administration promoted the proposed labeling changes at an event at the White House. At an anniversary ceremony for her Let’s Move! campaign aimed at reducing obesity, Michelle Obama talked about how hard it is to understand what is in packaged food, and how the changes were a way to demystify that.


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Soda wars bubble up across the country

Feb. 20, 2014, TIME

By Katy Steinmetz

Unless something unexpected happens, voters in San Francisco can expect to be answering a question like this come Election Day in November: Would you support a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, with the funds dedicated to health, nutrition, and physical activity programs? They can also expect to find themselves amid a whirlwind of arguments and ads from health organizations supporting the measure and from the powerful beverage industry opposing it.

Soda and other sugary drinks are popping up on city and state dockets across the nation, as lawmakers attempt to curb America’s consumption of certain beverages. Like San Francisco, Berkeley, Calif., and Illinois are considering taxes on sugary beverages, while lawmakers in Maryland and Los Angeles may impose age restrictions for purchasing energy drinks like Red Bull. These follow a steady line of potable proposals in recent years that never made it onto the books, including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s famous, failed attempt to limit the size of sodas available consumers in his city.

A big question is whether proposals like San Francisco’s, which would levy a two-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors, will succeed and become an example for other cities to follow or whether—as the beverage industry claims—that proposal is part of a dying breed. “There’s been a sharp decrease in the number being introduced,” says Chris Gindlesperger, spokesperson for the American Beverage Association (ABA). “It’s time for serious health professionals and lawmakers who want to be engaged in a comprehensive solution to obesity to move on from soda taxes and bans.”

It is still early in the legislative session for many states and cities. While time will tell how popular these proposals prove to be this year, there is no doubt that Americans’ concerns about obesity are blowing up. In a recent Gallup poll, obesity followed only cost and access as the country’s most pressing health issue, above cancer and smoking. The obesity rate is increasing, and research has linked the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages—including sports drinks, fruit drinks, and teas—to the risk of weight gain and chronic illnesses like diabetes. Some studies have shown that at certain price points, taxes on soda may decrease consumption, while others have found that soda taxes have little effect on body weight of consumers.

Though the San Francisco measure still technically has to be approved by the city’s board of supervisors, the majority of them have already co-sponsored the bill, effectively guaranteeing that it will be on the ballot; to go into effect, the tax will need the approval of two-thirds of voters. Proponents point to polls, like one released by Field Research on Feb. 27, finding roughly 67 percent of California voters would support a sugary drink tax if proceeds are earmarked for healthy initiatives, as they are in San Francisco. This week, the City Chamber of Commerce released another poll showing that just 51 percent of voters would support the tax, though the bill backers take issue with the wording of their question.

The ABA emphasizes that other factors contribute to obesity, like high-calorie foods and Americans’ lack of exercise. Gindlesperger argues that soda taxes are “discriminatory policies against common grocery items” that unfairly “single out” products made by their member companies, like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, rather than looking at the bigger picture. When asked whether limiting the intake of full-calorie sodas would help fight obesity, even if it would not solve the problem, Gindlesperger deflects the question, saying that soft drinks “are not any more the cause of obesity than any other caloric food.”

When it comes to soda taxes, the points of contention are both economic and philosophical. Last week, the first major study on how a soda tax would affect the labor market was released. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the study, published in theAmerican Journal of Public Health, found that a 20 percent tax levied on soda in Illinois or California would yield a net increase in jobs—as truck drivers who used to haul sodas hauled other beverages and as the revenue generated by the tax was used to create other jobs. “People are still going to spend money,” says San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “They’re just going to spend it on something else.” The ABA maintains that soda taxes mean job losses, at least among their member companies.

In San Francisco, advocates at a recent street festival handed out fliers opposing the proposed tax; one bullet point was that such a tax limits consumer choice. Critics of the energy drink bill in Maryland have made similar arguments, saying that banning anyone under the age of 18 from buying a Monster Energy drink is government overreach. “We’re not saying you can’t drink soda,” Wiener says. “We’re saying there are health effects directly related to it—just like we did with cigarettes—and we need to address those effects.”

A state lawmaker in California recently proposed that all sugary drinks come with warning labels. The Golden State looks poised to be a battleground over sugar this year. In 2012, two sugary-beverage taxes on the ballot in the cities of El Monte and Richmond failed by wide margins. A related state bill died in committee.

San Francisco has a proud reputation of making progressive sacrifices—being the first in the nation to ban plastic bags, for example—that may help yield a different result for health advocates here. “We have a history of supporting these kinds of public health measures,” says Wiener. “Policy trends often start in San Francisco and then spread elsewhere. We’re proud of that as a city.” The ABA says they will be spearheading the effort to oppose the measure here as they have elsewhere, running ads, courting local businesses, and likely spending tens of millions.


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WHO sees risk of obesity becoming the new norm in Europe

Feb. 24, 2014, Reuters

By Katy Steinmetz

Being overweight is so common in Europe that it risks becoming “the new norm”, with around one-third of teenagers now heavier than is recommended for their health, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Feb. 24.

In a report on obesity levels in the 53 countries of the WHO’s European Region, the United Nations health agency said up to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 33 percent of 11-year-olds are overweight.

“Our perception of what is normal has shifted; being overweight is now more common than unusual. We must not let another generation grow up with obesity as the new norm,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director.

She blamed a combination of high levels of physical inactivity, coupled with a culture that promotes cheap, convenient foods high in sugars, fats, and salt. This combination, she said, “is deadly”.

Obesity rates among 11-year-old boys and girls were highest in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands and Switzerland, the report found.

Lack of exercise is a key part of the problem.

In 23 out of 36 countries, more than 30 percent of boys and girls aged 15 and over are not getting enough exercise. Among adults, rates of women who do not engage in enough physical activity range from 16 percent in Greece and 17 percent in Estonia, to 71 percent in Malta and 76 percent in Serbia.

The WHO recommends children aged 5 to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day, and adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Joao Breda, a WHO expert on nutrition, physical activity, and obesity, said peoples’ living environments—including the layout of town, cities, schools, and workplaces—are crucial to increasing rates of exercise.

“We need to create environments where physical activity is encouraged and the healthy food choice is the default choice, regardless of social group,” he said in a statement released with the report.

“Physical activity and healthy food choices should be taken very seriously in all environments – schools, hospitals, cities, towns, and workplaces. As well as the food industry, the urban planning sector can make a difference,” he added.

The WHO report found, however, that some countries, including France and some Scandinavian countries, have managed to contain the obesity epidemic “through a whole-of-government approach”.

It said many policies in these countries—such as promoting vegetable and fruit consumption in schools, taxing certain foods to reduce intake, controlling advertising, employing good surveillance and monitoring, and taking action to promote physical activity—had combined to help keep obesity levels stable.


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