I have been mulling over my first American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, a gathering of nutritionists, researchers, and public health advocates most invested in improving the health of Americans that took place one month ago in Denver.
Of particular interest to me were the programs that unveiled new research related to food marketing and obesity. As expected, a number of speakers presented their take on the correlations between consumption of soft drinks, fast foods, and snacks with obesity; the problems surrounding advertising to children; and the impact of posting calorie counts on what fast food items customers select.
But what struck me the most was what wasn't emphasized (or picked up by the press). For instance:
• Posting calories on restaurant menu boards is not working. In the four metropolitan areas in which calorie information had been provided to customers (New York; Philadelphia; Seattle; Portland, Oregon), results demonstrated little or no reduction in the number of calories purchased.
• Some food marketers are making dramatic improvements in reducing advertising to children. While the number of fast food advertisements directed at children increased from 2003 to 2009, the number of ads earmarked to kids dropped for the major soft drink companies, with Coca-Cola recording the biggest decline at -56 percent.
• There is no evidence that taxing sweetened beverages lowers obesity rates. These taxes will surely reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, but studies to date have not dealt with the "substitution effect"—do consumers simply eat other high-calorie products instead?—which other researchers indicate would not help ameliorate the problem.