Cutting the Fat: The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Cutting the Fat: The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Food retailers and manufacturers have stepped up their focus on the childhood obesity issue “Food retailers can have a very constructive impact.” — Kelly Brownell, director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University

In February 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama [4] brought unprecedented attention to the issue of childhood obesity when she launched the “Let’s Move” initiative.

The goal of the multifaceted program was nothing less than “solving the challenge of childhood obesity” — which has more tripled in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — “within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.”

To be sure, childhood obesity is linked to many factors and sectors of society. The CDC points to families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media and entertainment industries — as well as the food and beverage industries — as all having an influence. But as part of the Let’s Move initiative, the First Lady made a special point of reaching out to the food industry, which she called upon to make changes in the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of food and beverages that would benefit children.

First Lady Michelle Obama, White House Chef Sam Kass (with microphone) and Tom Colicchio, head judge of the TV show “Top Chef” observe chefs from past seasons of the show in a cooking competition last February to help celebrate the second anniversary of the Let’s Move initiative.

More than two years later — and just three months from an election that could spell the end of the Obama administration — how much progress have food retailers and manufacturers made toward addressing childhood obesity? What more can and should the industry do?

Probably the biggest splash has been created by CPG manufacturers — who have also been subject to the most criticism regarding the content of foods marketed to children — via programs such as the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) and front-of-package labeling efforts. Sixteen manufacturers in the HWCF, for example, have collectively committed to removing 1.5 trillion calories from the food supply by 2015, and expect to be two-thirds of the way toward that goal by the end of this year. (For more on manufacturer initiatives, see the “Let’s Move — Faster” sidebar.) [5]

But retailers, one of the last lines of defense in the obesity war, also have a major part to play, particularly in the realm of nutrition education, food access and, potentially, merchandising.

Related story: Juggling Juice in Children's Diets [6]

Some chains, like Brookshire Grocery [7] and Martin’s Super Markets [8], are participating in industry initiatives like the HWCF, promoting the foundation’s school curriculum efforts. A number of retailers are engaged in their own anti-obesity programs; chief among these is Wal-Mart Stores [9]’ year-old healthier food initiative, which includes the “Great for You” packaging icon the company began placing on select Great Value and Marketside private-label items this spring.

Large regional operators like Hy-Vee [10], H.E. Butt Grocery Co. [11], Marsh Supermarkets [12], Ahold USA [13] and others have launched programs aimed at educating parents and kids about more nutritious food options and the importance of exercise. Many independent retailers — such as Metro FoodLand, a one-store operator in Detroit that has introduced an unusual “Healthy Rewards” loyalty program — are also pushing the eat-healthy message. Many operators of all sizes are employing nutritional labeling programs such as NuVal and Guiding Stars to help shoppers select healthier products.

While critics of the food industry are leaning heavily on food manufacturers to make changes in their marketing practices, they would also like to see retailers adjust how foods are merchandised in their stores. “Food retailers can have a very constructive impact,” said Kelly Brownell, director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, New Haven Conn. “By establishing nutrition criteria for what is in prime real estate for children, having candy-free checkout aisles, and promoting healthier foods at the end-of-aisle displays, one can begin to create a list of areas where retailers could be powerful public health partners.”

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly [14]

As part of Let’s Move, Michelle Obama also asked retailers to open more stores in underserved “food desert” communities — which have been called “ground zero” for childhood obesity — to help parents find nutritious alternatives for their children. “We can talk all we want about calorie counts and recipes and how to serve balanced meals,” she said at a White House reception last year for the Partnership for a Healthy America, a nonprofit spinoff of Let’s Move working with the private sector on the food desert issue. “But if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals, if the only options for groceries are in the corner gas station or the local mini-mart, then all of that is just talk.”

Large retailers like Wal-Mart and Supervalu [15] have pledged to open more stores in food desert communities; Wal-Mart said it would open between 275 and 300 stores by 2016; and Supervalu said it plans to build 250 Save-A-Lot stores over the next five years. But some of the most pioneering moves have been made by independents like Jeff Brown, owner of Brown’s Super Stores, Belmawr, N.J., a string of 10 ShopRites in the Philadelphia area, several in food desert communities.

Help With Choices

Mainstream food retailers, who offer everything from body-enhancing blueberries to paunch-producing potato chips, see their role as “helping shoppers go through the clutter and make solid choices without preaching to them,” said Cathy Polley, vice president of health and wellness for the Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va., and executive director of the FMI Foundation.

“Retailers are doing weight-management classes,” she said. “We have dietitians in many stores putting together in-store cooking demos and store tours for parents and children showing how to pack a healthier lunch or make a healthier dinner. Retailers are trying to talk to shoppers every day about this issue.” One of the most proactive retailers in educating consumers is Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, which employs 195 dietitians for its 235 stores.

FMI is assembling a section on its website, www.fmi.org, dedicated to helping retailers implement health-and-wellness programs, with research and advice on everything from in-store cooking classes and store tours to “how to talk to management about creating a health-and-wellness initiative,” said Polley, who expects the site to be completed in about two months. At the same time, she noted, FMI is not telling its retail members how to merchandise products. “They’re the experts in marketing and merchandising.” (FMI is also staunchly opposed to rules stemming from the federal health care reform law that would require supermarkets to post calorie information on foodservice offerings; see story here [16].)

Related story: Juggling Juice in Children's Diets [6]

FMI partnered with the SymphonyIRI Group two years ago on research into childhood obesity in which families with at least one obese child were compared to families with healthy children. The study found that children in healthy weight households tend to more involved in food purchase decisions. “In these families, children are more likely to request specific products, accompany parents in shopping trips and give feedback on products purchased,” according to a report by Thom Blischok, global president of innovation and strategy for Symphony IRI Group. “Furthermore, in healthy weight families, parents are more likely to prepare and cook most meals.”

For the past few years, shoppers have recognized and increased their purchases of foods containing desirable ingredients including whole grains, fiber and protein, according to “Shopping for Health 2012,” a study released this month by FMI and Prevention magazine. In the study, 32% of shoppers reported that they are buying more foods based on nutritional components than they did last year.

Food retailers have tried some creative approaches to the childhood obesity issue that have taken them away from their stores. For example, to promote exercise, Hy-Vee holds a series of “IronKids” Triathlon events for children ages 6 to 15 in its trade area. “If you help little kids feel better about themselves and accomplish something they didn’t know they could, there’s nothing but good in that,” said Randy Edeker, who became Hy-Vee’s chairman and chief executive officer in June. “So we think that’s a good investment.” In March, the company hosted an event at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines where Michelle Obama promoted the Let’s Move program to an audience of 12,000 children.

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly [14]

Apart from the moral dimensions of the childhood obesity problem, there is a business case to be made, noted Ruth Kinzey, president of the Kinzey Co., a reputation strategy firm based in Salisbury, N.C. Activities like “scavenger hunts” in stores that engage kids represent an opportunity for retailers to nurture a “positive experience toward healthy eating that might initiate a relationship long-term, which grocers can capitalize on later,” she said. “These are your future shoppers and employees.” Healthier employees, of course, translate into lower health care costs for retailers, she added.

On a shorter-term basis, retailers can help “time-pressed moms” by providing healthy private-label options and promoting them through advertising, online educational material or even mobile apps, Kinzey said.

Wal-Mart's Icon

Wal-Mart has made significant progress toward addressing the childhood obesity issue. In February, the company unveiled its “Great for You” packaging icon — a green rectangle juxtaposed against the outline of a person with both arms reaching upward — that identifies private-label products that meet certain nutritional criteria. (The criteria, based on federal guidelines, are posted at www.walmartgreatforyou.com.) The icon will be made available to national-brand products that qualify and can be complementary to other nutrition labeling systems being used by the food industry, Wal-Mart said.

The icon began to appear on select Great Value and Marketside items, as well as on fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables, at U.S. stores nationwide this spring.

“Wal-Mart moms are telling us they want to make healthier choices for their families, but need help deciphering all the claims and information already displayed on products,” said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Wal-Mart, in a statement.

The criteria behind the icon focus on encouraging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, and lean meats. It also limits the amount of total, trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars that can be found in items.

“After a year of working with nutrition stakeholders, meaningful progress is being made,” said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, at a Washington event announcing the icon. “We have the opportunity to address an issue many feel is too complicated or too hard to tackle and to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be.”

Wal-Mart began adding the Great for You nutrition icon on select private-label items in the spring.The icon received an endorsement from Michelle Obama, who said at the Washington event that it was “yet another step toward ensuring that our kids are given the chance to grow up healthy.”

In addition to the icon, Wal-Mart has been forging ahead over the past year on several other programs to make food healthier and more affordable. For example, the company reported that it is working to reduce sodium and added sugars in 165 food items. Some of the items reformulated in the last year include: a 15% sodium reduction in Great Value ketchup; an average of 15% sodium reduction in Great Value canned vegetables, including corn, green beans and carrots; more than 70% sodium reduction in fresh steaks, roasts and other muscle cuts of beef.

The company is also developing a survey of more than 20,000 food items in key categories, such as grain, dairy, soups and beverage products, to track the reformulation of Great Value and national-brand packaged food items. Progress toward the company’s goals will be reported in Wal-Mart’s annual global responsibility report. “Wal-Mart is serving as a leader in calling on suppliers to get rid of trans fats and reducing sodium,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Washington.

Wal-Mart said it has already surpassed one of its key goals, helping customers save $1.1 billion by offering low prices on fruits and vegetables. In addition, the company has been working to make healthier food choices more affordable by reducing or eliminating the price premium on more than 350 better-for-you items, such as low-sodium lunch meat, reduced-fat peanut butter and fat-free salad dressing.

Related story: Juggling Juice in Children's Diets [6]

In order to address the food-access problem, Wal-Mart said it would provide more than 1.3 million people living in more than 700 USDA-designated food deserts with access to fresh and healthy food by opening 275 to 300 stores by 2016. Since making this commitment in July 2011, Wal-Mart has opened 23 stores in areas serving food deserts and anticipates opening between 50 to 60 Wal-Mart stores or Neighborhood Market locations in those areas in 2012.

Wal-Mart and its foundation also provided more than $13 million in grants to nutrition education programs in 2011 and early 2012. This figure includes $9.5 million to organizations such as Share Our Strength, the National 4-H Council and Action for Healthy Kids.

Ahold's Summits

Among the regional chains addressing the childhood obesity issue, Ahold USA, through its Stop & Shop, Giant of Landover, Md., and Giant of Carlisle, Pa., banners, has been notably proactive. In particular, the company has held more than 10 “Healthy Kids Summits” in stores and other venues, including five this year, that bring together nutritionists and other experts on the topic to share insights and resources with shoppers.

The free summits are often held in store produce departments, open to the public and media. “There is no better place in the store to deliver a message about healthy eating then in a beautiful, bountiful [produce] department,” said Tracy Pawelski, vice president, external communications, Ahold USA. The store sets up a dais where “community thought leaders,” such as a local pediatrician, members of the school community and an Ahold nutritionist, discuss the importance of healthy eating and exercise. “It’s everything from a public policy conversation on the issue to what resources are available in that community, to tips about how to shop the store for affordable, healthy solutions and how to read labels,” she said. Ahold has also included food bank representatives to address the affordability of healthier choices.

The summits have “deepened our relationships in our communities as a leader of the issue,” said Pawelski. “Certainly in the communities where we’ve hosted these, it has become a much more integrated community approach.”

In January the summit took the form of a Healthy Kids Breakfast (above) at a store in New Haven, Conn. Stop & Shop’s N.Y. Metro Division partnered with the New Haven Public Schools to address the importance of a healthy breakfast for children and help identify breakfast foods that meet the health standards implemented by New Haven Public Schools. Students from a local elementary school were treated to a healthy breakfast and taught the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast and reading labels on breakfast products.

The New Haven program also enabled shoppers using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to become more familiar with healthier Stop & Shop-branded products.

Boston Red Sox left fielder David NavaAway from its stores, Ahold has also been successful in engaging high-profile community partners, such as the Boston Red Sox. On July 17, Stop & Shop’s New England division hosted a Healthy Kids Summit at Fenway Park with a 30-minute panel discussion that included Red Sox left fielder Daniel Nava. “We wanted to do something inspiring and memorable and fun to reinvigorate communities to think about being healthy and active,” said Suzi Robinson, spokeswoman for Stop & Shop’s New England division.

The Fenway Park event attracted more than 200 local residents. Other panelists included Joann Donnelly, executive director of healthy living, YMCA of Greater Boston; Elizabeth M. Ward, The Hood “Answer Mom,” on behalf of the New England Dairy Promotion Board; and Huy Nguyen, medical director, Boston Public Health Commission. Julie Menounos, in-store nutritionist at the Stop & Shop Chelmsford, Mass., store, moderated the panel.

Nava shared insights on how a professional athlete approaches nutrition. For example, before a game, he fuels up on protein, fruit with honey and plenty of water to hydrate. To maintain strength and recover after a workout, Nava and other teammates stock up on foods from all areas of the federal “MyPlate” guidelines, including salmon, chicken and vegetables.

As part of the panel discussion, kids and audience members participated in a brief trivia game that incorporated key facts on nutrition, exercise, a balanced lifestyle and simple tips and techniques to stay fit. The discussion was followed by a Zumba fitness routine led by Monique Rogers from the YMCA of Greater Boston, and a health fair.

New England Patriots place kicker Stephen GostkowskiIn another sports-themed event, Stop & Shop held a Healthy Kids Summit last December at the Dana-Farber Field House, Foxborough, Mass., the indoor practice facility of the New England Patriots. Patriots place kicker Stephen Gostkowski was part of a panel discussion that included Menounos, the president of a local YMCA, and a dietitian from Memorial Hospital in Rhode Island. More than 150 people, including 100 children, attended.

The athlete connection helps make the health message “stick better” with kids, Robinson said. “We want kids to hear from a sports player and think, ‘I need to eat well to play the game I love.’” (Hy-Vee has also made this connection with its “Exercise Your Character” events, in which the chain brings pro players to address as many as 8,000 fourth- and fifth-graders at Heidi Hall in Des Moines on ”living a healthy lifestyle, getting active and having good character,” said Edeker.)

In addition to the summits, Ahold employs a number of “Kid Healthy Ideas” to promote nutrition for children. All of the Ahold division websites feature information on nutrition for kids, activities and games, including a “Passport to Nutrition.” The company holds Kid Healthy Ideas store tours across its divisions and recently launched a Kid Healthy Ideas magazine, which is available at stores and online.

Healthy Rewards

Independents, particularly those in underserved communities, have found innovative ways to address the obesity issue. For example, Metro FoodLand, a one-store independent in Detroit, has introduced an unusual loyalty card program this year designed to drive healthier purchases.

Under the store’s Healthy Rewards Club program, shoppers accumulate points every time they purchase from a list of healthy items, such as produce, whole grains, organic, gluten-free and others, which are tagged throughout the store. Points can be traded in for discounts at the checkout and free products (deli salads, rotisserie chickens and baked dinners) as well as drawings for prizes like grills and gift cards.

Other independents have joined the Partnership for a Healthier America’s initiative to eliminate food deserts in the U.S. within seven years. Calhoun Markets, Montgomery, Ala., has committed to opening 10 stores in underserved areas of Alabama and Tennessee.

Jeff Brown (above), owner of Brown’s Super Stores, through his nonprofit community development group Uplift Solutions, helped Marshall Klein, president and CEO of Klein’s Family Markets, Philadelphia, to open a store in the Howard Park section of Baltimore, an underserved area. “We are starting to work with grocers around the country that are interested in doing food desert work,” said Brown. “We can help them do it right the first time and more successful the first time.”

In addition, Brown, who had previously opened a number food desert stores in the Philadelphia area, has expanded a store in an underserved neighborhood of Cheltenham, Pa., and is building another food desert store in Philadelphia, as part of Partnership for a Healthier America.

Beyond the stores themselves, Brown is developing a “phase two” aimed at helping shoppers in underserved areas make the most of the healthier lifestyle opportunities provided by new or expanded supermarkets.

Related story: Juggling Juice in Children's Diets [6]

In his Cheltenham store, for example, Brown installed a health clinic next to the pharmacy that provides rudimentary health care services as well as making health referrals. “Areas that lack access to supermarkets probably lack access to health care as well,” he said. He is working on adding a dietitian to the store as well as self-service technology shoppers can use to monitor their health.

The clinic also has an advocacy service that helps shoppers apply electronically for all government entitlement programs for which they are eligible, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Medicaid. “When [shoppers] come in and they want to use our pharmacy and they don’t have money for food, or they don’t have money to pay the doctor, we try to help them to get the entitlement so they will have a way to pay,” Brown said.

Another strategy Brown devised to help shoppers save money is to open a credit union that cashes checks but doesn’t require a minimum balance and has no monthly fees or ATM fees. The savings can be invested in healthier food, he noted. “If you’re making $20,000 a year, anything that costs $700 to $800 a year is reducing your chance to have the resources to have a healthy diet.”

Brown has also recruited five health insurance companies to run in-store classes. For example, in the Cheltenham store, United Health Care in Philadelphia recently partnered with the “Sesame Street” children’s show to teach kids about proper eating and nutrition by using “Sesame Street” characters. “They sample fruits and vegetables and teach them about the kind of things they should be eating, but in such a way that would be interesting to kids,” he said. “There is no charge to the customer and the educational cost is being absorbed by the insurer and we provide the space for free. This is a low-cost way to improve people’s knowledge of what to do.”

Like most food retailers, Brown favors offering all types of food, both healthy and less healthy (indulgent). On the other hand, he is testing out merchandising methods designed to steer shoppers toward healthier foods. For example, in the milk department most retailers give whole milk the most facings and position it to appear first in the traffic flow. Brown experimented with placing whole milk further back in the lineup and locating the lower-fat milk first, as well as allocating equal facings of whole, 1% and 2% milk. “We found that we can shift some customers to lower fat milk without any education — just by merchandising,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a way to make more money, but it’s a way to make the same money and help your costumers.”

Brown also sees an opportunity in moving better-for-you, less-caloric items to eye level on shelving to help people choose those products.

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly [14]

Brown observed that other retailers operating in underserved areas tend not to always carry lower-calorie items based in the perception that they won’t sell. “I do think it is a harder sale, but I found that you can merchandise everything just like you do in a more affluent store, and carry a variety of products, including some of the low-calorie stuff,” he said. “You still need to make money, but I do think there is room to be thoughtful and help your customers with their calorie consumption.”

Brown’s merchandising moves align with suggestions made by the CSPI’s Jacobson in an interview with SN. Jacobson’s remarks were particularly focused on high-caloric soft drinks. “Some say soda is the No. 1 cause of the obesity epidemic,” he said. “There’s been a huge increase in soda consumption plus beverages seem to be more conducive to weight gain than foods.”

So Jacobson recommended that retailers highlight diet soda, bottled water and flavored water, placing them at eye level in shelving and giving them greater presence in large displays. He also suggested shifting the proportion of drinks in checkout coolers toward non-caloric varieties. He described these as “subtle measures to guide people toward those products.”

More directly, he said, retailers could use tags or signs to point out that diet drinks are healthier or regular sodas are less healthy — “however aggressive they want to be.” Promotions could be geared only to diet drinks, assuming that could be arranged with suppliers, he added.

Similarly, retailers could put more sugary cereals higher up on shelving, away from the eye-level of roving 4-year-olds. “It’s a little thing, but it might help,” Jacobson said.

In general, supermarkets could do more to promote healthy diets, Jacobson said, making them “a centerpiece of their ads and their stores’ reputation, with more sampling and lower prices.” He encouraged food retailers to participate on Oct. 24 in National Food Day, which the CSPI launched last year. “It’s the perfect time for supermarkets to say, ‘Hey customers, we really care about your health and so we’re having specials, sampling and cooking demos.’”

Last year, National Food Day included about 2,000 events around the U.S., including some smaller grocery stores, public schools, college students and a few produce companies that used the National Food Day logo on products.

Sidebar: Let's Move, Faster

“The decisions you make determine what’s on our grocery store shelves, what’s in our school lunches and what’s in the thousands of ads our kids are exposed to each year,” First Lady Michelle Obama reminded a gathering of CPG manufacturers at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science Forum in March 2010, a month after she launched her child obesity initiative, Let’s Move.

While acknowledging that the companies had made progress toward addressing childhood obesity, she added, “I’m here today to urge all of you to move faster and go farther.”

Related story: Juggling Juice in Children's Diets [6]

As evidence of moving faster and farther, food industry critics would like to see manufacturers reformulate more products and alter marketing practices. “Even the most fervent nutrition advocates are not arguing for the complete elimination of things like snacks and sweets,” said Kelly Brownell, director, Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Yale University, New Haven Conn. “The challenge is to create conditions that do not lead to overconsumption of these products.”

The GMA says it has taken a number of steps in response to the First Lady’s admonition. For example, the GMA partnered with the Food Marketing Institute to develop the Facts Up Front nutrition labeling program, which summarizes key facts from the Nutrition Facts panel on the back of packages, noted Ginny Smith, senior director of communications for the GMA. Introduced last year, “Facts Up Front provides busy consumers — especially parents — with the information they need to make informed decisions when they shop,” she said.

In the past year, GMA member companies have “moved aggressively” to implement the Fact Up Front labels on their packaging, Smith said. “The number of products carrying the Facts Up Front icons in the marketplace will continue to grow throughout the year, based on seasonality, and production and distribution schedules.” Brands using the labels include Campbell Soup and General Mills, as well as Stop & Shop private-label items.

This fall, GMA plans to launch a consumer-facing website that will “not only teach visitors about Facts Up Front, but will also provide interactive tools and resources to help them understand the nutrition needs of themselves and their families,” Smith said.

Smith also pointed out that since 2002 the industry has introduced more than 20,000 new products geared to a “healthy lifestyle,” according to GMA’s most recent health and wellness survey of its members. The survey reported that food and beverage companies collectively have:

• Eliminated or reduced trans fat in more than 10,000 products.

• Eliminated or reduced saturated fat in more than 6,600 products.

• Reduced sugar/carbohydrates in more than 3,700 products.

• Reduced the calorie content of more than 3,500 products.

• Reduced sodium in more than 3,000 products.

Industry critics, however, would like to see further progress by manufacturers on cutting the sodium and sugar content of foods. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), favors federal regulation to “create a level playing field” for manufacturers who might be reluctant to make changes that would impact products’ marketability.

On the advertising front, 16 GMA companies are participating in the Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), formed in 2006 by the Better Business Bureau to modify advertising to children. Three of the companies — Coca-Cola, Hershey and Mars — have elected not to engage in advertising primarily directed to children under 12. The others — including PepsiCo, General Mills and ConAgra Foods — have pledged that 100% of their ads seen on children’s programming promote healthier diet choices and better-for-you products, as defined by government and other standards. As a result, said Smith, between 2004 and 2010, total advertisements viewed by children on children’s television programming fell by more than half, with a sharp decline in ads for cookies (by 99%), candy (68%), soda (96%) and snacks (71%).

Within the last year, CFBAI members have tightened the nutrition criteria for products marketed on children’s programs to meet “strict standards” for calorie, sugar, fat and sodium content, Smith said. Product changes must be completed by the end of 2013 or the products may no longer be advertised to children.

Related story: Retailers Make Meals Kid Friendly [14]

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, in its latest Cereal FACTS report released last month, acknowledged that since 2009 cereal companies have improved the nutrition of most cereals marketed directly to children and also reduced some forms of advertising directed to children. On the other hand, the report stated that cereal companies still increased ads to kids for many of their least nutritious products. “The majority of cereal ads seen by children on TV (53%) promote products consisting of one-third or more sugar,” the report said.

As a result, The Rudd Center’s Brownell would like to see regulations put in place “such that healthy foods are marketed to children and unhealthy foods are not. The public health cost of doing otherwise is enormous.”

Sidebar: Childhood Obesity Facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

• The percentage of children 6–11 years old in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents 12–19 years old who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.

• In 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

• Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, 70% of obese youth had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

• Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes.

• Children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.

• Children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults.

Timeline of Childhood Obesity Activism

• 2006
November:
Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative Formed

2009
October:
Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) Formed

First Lady Michelle Obama joins students for a “Let’s Move!” Salad-Bars-to-Schools launch event, 2010.2010
February:
Let’s Move, Partnership for a Healthier America Launch

First Lady Michelle Obama joins students for a “Let’s Move!” Salad-Bars-to-Schools launch event, 2010.

2010
May:
HWCF Pledges 1.5-Trilliion-Calorie Reduction by End of 2015

2011
January:
Facts Up Front Created
February: Wal-Mart Announces Healthier Food Initiative
July: Wal-Mart, Supervalu Commit to Opening Stores in Food Deserts

Wal-Mart highlighting healthy foods.2012
February:
Wal-Mart Announces Great for You Icon

2013
January:
HWCF Deadline for Removal of 1 Trillion Calories

2015
January:
Reformulation of Thousands of Wal-Mart Packaged Foods

2016
January:
HWCF Deadline for Removal of 1.5 Trillion Calories
Wal-Mart Deadline for Opening 275-300 Stores in Food Deserts

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