Public Supports Action to Protect Youth From Weight-Based Bullying

Parental support for enactment of laws and policies to protect youth from weight-based bullying is “present, consistent, and strong,” according to a new study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. All 50 states currently have anti-bullying laws, but only three states – New York, Maine and New Hampshire - include body weight as a characteristic that places youth at risk of being bullied.cover

Many school districts have anti-bullying policies, yet body weight is often overlooked, stating that “evidence from students, parents and teachers indicates that weight-based bullying is one of the most prevalent forms of peer harassment towards youth in the school setting.”

The study found that support for including weight-based bullying in anti-bullying laws has grown during the past two years, stressing that “the omission of body weight in existing policies has important implications for youth who face weight-based bullying.”

photo“Parental voices can be influential in mobilizing advocacy efforts, and enacting policy change affecting children’s health,” said Rebecca Puhl, a study author, professor in UConn’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and deputy director of the Rudd Center.

The study findings, published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, can inform policy discussions about remedies for weight-based bullying among youth as increasing national attention is being paid to this issue.  The study indicated that “parental support is an influential catalyst motivating political will for policy decisions affecting youth, but has received limited research attention.”

Specific findings of the study include:

  • Parental support has been consistently high (at least 81 percent) over the past two years for policies to address weight-based bullying among youth at the school, state, and federal levels.
  • Support appears to have increased over the past two years for measures to better protect youth from weight-based bullying through improvements to state anti-bullying laws (87.9 percent – up from 84.7 percent) and through enactment of federal legislation (86 percent – up from 81 percent).UCONN_Rudd_logo
  • While previous research has shown that mothers express more support than fathers for similar types of policies, this new study found no gender difference, suggesting that fathers’ support for these measures may be increasing.

“As a next step, it will be important to communicate with policy makers and school officials to identify interest and feasibility of viable policy initiatives,” said Puhl, “and to examine potential avenues for enacting change through law.” Puhl told CT by the Numbers that Connecticut’s law includes “physical appearance” but not body weight. There is, therefore, room to strengthen the state law, she pointed out, because physical appearance is a broad category that can include everything from clothing style to hair color, and body weight could easily slip through the cracks if it is not specifically enumerated.

The study involved online questionnaires of diverse national samples of parents in 2014 and 2015, totaling 1,804 parents over the two years. The research was funded by a donation from Rudd Foundation and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The study co-authors include Young Suh and Xun Li of the UConn Rudd Center. The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to promoting solutions to childhood obesity, poor diet, and weight bias through research and policy.

Advertisers Target Hispanic and Black Youth with Unhealthy Snack Ads, UConn Center Study Finds

The University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity is calling on media companies to “set nutrition standards” for snack ads aimed at children and teens and “stop targeting advertising high-calorie, nutritionally poor foods to all young people,” but “especially advertising aimed at Black and Hispanic youth.” The recommendations come in the wake of a report that found that Black and Hispanic children “are exposed to more food advertising than white non-Hispanic children” and much of it is for unhealthy foods that have a greater likelihood of adversely impact children’s health.rudd-logo-300x77

The Rudd Center’s report, Snack Facts, found that Black children saw 64 percent more snack food ads on TV compared to white children, and Black teens viewed 103 percent more compared to white teens.  The disparity, according to the report issued last fall, had increased between 2010 and 2014, the most recent year studied.  “FACTS” is an acronym for “Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score.”

The findings also indicated that in addition to a barrage of advertising for unhealthy snacks, Black children and teens saw approximately 50 percent and 80 percent more ads for healthier fruit and yogurt brands – although the positive findings were generally outdistanced by findings of concern.  Black children also saw 99 percent more ads for savory snacks and Black teens saw 129 percent more, compared with white children and teens.spanish snak ads

From 2010 to 2014, TV ads for savory snacks (salty or spicy) viewed by black children increased 48 percent and ads viewed by black teens increased 95 percent.  “Given that youth of color suffer from higher rates of obesity and other diet-related diseases,” the Rudd Center indicated, “snack food advertising likely exacerbates health disparities affecting their communities.”

Two-thirds of 2- to 5 year-olds and more than half of youth ages 6 to 19 report having three of more snacks per day, and Americans are spending more on snacks – an increase of more than $100 million from 2012 to 2015, according to data cited in the report.

The Rudd Center report found that snack advertising on Spanish language television had changed dramatically between 2010 and 2014, and not for the better:

  • Yogurt advertising declined by 93 percent, and not one fruit brand advertised on Spanish-language TV in 2014.
  • Spending on savory snack ads (salty/spicy snacks) skyrocketed 551 percent and sweet snack ads rose 30 percent.
  • Ads for unhealthy snacks comprised 88 percent of snack food ads viewed by Hispanic children on Spanish-language TV in 2014, a dramatic jump from 39 percent in 2010.

The 102-page report reviewed the advertising practices of specific companies in the snack food industry, and highlighted changes in advertising emphasis.  It also tracked trends in advertising on social media.  The advertising analysis examined 90 brands spending more than$1 million in total advertising in 2014 from 43 different companies, according to the report. chips

The report suggested that “media companies could provide lower rates for advertising that promotes nutritious foods,” noting that aggressive marketing of unhealthy snack foods to children and teens exacerbates the crisis of poor diet and related diseases among young people.”

Snack FACTS examined the nutritional quality and advertising for 90 snack food brands offered by 43 companies that were marketed to U.S. children and teens on TV, internet, and in schools in 2014. Researchers analyzed healthier snacks, including yogurt, fruit, and nuts, as well as unhealthy snacks, including sweet and savory snacks such as cookies, chips, and fruit snacks, comparing 2010 and 2014 when possible.

The report also indicates that “companies have recognized the business opportunity in marketing healthy snacks to young people,” and urges those companies to respond in children and youth’s best interest.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, which affiliated with UConn a year ago after a decade at Yale University, is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to improving the world’s diet, preventing obesity, and reducing weight stigma. The Rudd Center is described as “a leader in building broad-based consensus to change diet and activity patterns, while holding industry and government agencies responsible for safeguarding public health.”  Research related to the report was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.snack food