Publications by authors named "Sophia Hua"

11 Publications

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A content analysis of marketing on the packages of dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building.

Prev Med Rep 2021 Sep 23;23:101504. Epub 2021 Jul 23.

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, 423 Guardian Dr., Blockley Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19104, United States.

Most dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle growth lack scientific evidence in support of product claims and contain ingredients that can be harmful to health. Many people, however, still use these products. This paper aims to address a gap in the knowledge of the number and types of marketing claims appearing on dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building and how they relate to the presence of an FDA disclaimer. We identified all products (n = 110) found in the weight loss and muscle building section of three stores (a pharmacy, supermarket, and superstore) in the Boston, MA area during 2013. We performed a content analysis to assess the presence of marketing claims displayed on product packaging, including claims about weight loss, safety, quality, and scientific evidence. Warnings and the FDA disclaimer were also coded. We found that, on average, products displayed 6.5 claims. Among weight loss- and muscle building- related claims, claims about reducing weight, BMI, or body fat were most common (60.9%), followed by protein claims (40.0%). Nearly half of the products made claims that scientific research supported product use. Products with the FDA disclaimer (53.6%) or a warning for vulnerable populations (56.4%) had a higher average number of claims compared to products without the disclaimer or warning ( < 0.001). Dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building displayed many marketing claims promising weight loss despite a lack of scientific evidence that such products can be used safely and effectively. Greater FDA regulation of these marketing claims are needed.
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September 2021

A qualitative study on retailer experiences with Philadelphia's sweetened beverage tax.

Transl Behav Med 2021 Aug 4. Epub 2021 Aug 4.

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.

The Philadelphia Beverage Tax was implemented on January 1, 2017 for some sugar- and artificially-sweetened beverages. Few qualitative studies have assessed retailers' reactions to beverage taxes. We aimed to understand food retailers' knowledge and attitudes about the Philadelphia beverage tax and how they responded to it with the goal of informing the framing and implementation of beverage taxes in other interested jurisdictions. Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with retailers within Philadelphia before (n = 15) and after (n = 11) the Philadelphia Beverage Tax was implemented. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit participants with different store locations and customer base characteristics. A priori codes based on the interview guide were used to organize data, and analytic memos were developed and reviewed to identify themes that emerged within the data using a grounded theory approach. Five themes emerged: (a) concerns about the tax purpose, amount, and use of revenue; (b) concerns about the tax's impact on finances and business operations; (c) business strategies implemented to lessen financial burden of the tax; (d) perceptions of customer responses to the tax based on income; and (e) confusion around tax implementation. Results highlighted ways to improve implementation. Retailers in Philadelphia implemented various strategies to offset negative effects on taxed beverage sales. Cities implementing a beverage tax would benefit from investment in educational outreach and support to business owners prior to tax implementation and ensure transparency in how tax revenue will be spent.
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August 2021

Association of a Sweetened Beverage Tax With Purchases of Beverages and High-Sugar Foods at Independent Stores in Philadelphia.

JAMA Netw Open 2021 Jun 1;4(6):e2113527. Epub 2021 Jun 1.

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia.

Importance: The relationship between a sweetened beverage tax and changes in the prices and purchases of beverages and high-sugar food is understudied in the long term and in small independent food retail stores where sugar-sweetened beverages are among the most commonly purchased items.

Objective: To examine whether a 1.5 cent-per-fluid-ounce excise tax on sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was associated with sustained changes in beverage prices and purchases, as well as calories purchased from beverages and high-sugar foods, over 2 years at small independent stores.

Design, Setting, And Participants: This cross-sectional study used a difference-in-differences approach to compare changes in beverage prices and purchases of beverages and high-sugar foods (candy, sweet snacks) at independent stores in Philadelphia and Baltimore, Maryland (a nontaxed control) before and 2 years after tax implementation, which occurred on January 1, 2017. Price comparisons were also made to independent stores in Philadelphia's neighboring counties.

Main Outcomes And Measures: Changes in mean price (measured in cents per fluid ounce) of taxed and nontaxed beverages, mean fluid ounces purchased of taxed and nontaxed beverages, and mean total calories purchased from beverages and high-sugar foods.

Results: Compared with Baltimore independent stores, taxed beverage prices in Philadelphia increased 2.06 cents per fluid ounce (95% CI, 1.75 to 2.38 cents per fluid ounce; P < .001), with 137% of the tax passed through to prices 2 years after tax implementation, while nontaxed beverage prices had no statistically significant change. A total of 116 independent stores and 4738 customer purchases (1950 [41.2%] women; 4351 [91.8%] age 18 years or older; 1006 [21.2%] White customers, 3185 [67.2%] Black customers) at independent stores were assessed for price and purchase comparisons. Purchases of taxed beverages declined by 6.1 fl oz (95% CI, -9.9 to -2.4 fl oz; P < .001), corresponding to a 42% decline in Philadelphia compared with Baltimore; there were no significant changes in purchases of nontaxed beverages. Although there was no significant moderation by neighborhood income or customer education level, exploratory stratified analyses revealed that declines in taxed beverage purchases were larger among customers shopping in low-income neighborhoods (-7.1 fl oz; 95% CI, -13.0 to -1.1 fl oz; P = .001) and individuals with lower education levels (-6.9 fl oz; 95% CI, -12.5 to -1.3 fl oz; P = .001).

Conclusions And Relevance: This cross-sectional study found that a tax on sweetened beverages was associated with increases in price and decreases in purchasing. Beverage excise taxes may be an effective policy to sustainably decrease purchases of sweetened drinks and calories from sugar in independent stores, with large reductions in lower-income areas and among customers with lower levels of education.
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June 2021

Availability and Nutrient Composition of Vegetarian Items at US Fast-Food Restaurants.

J Acad Nutr Diet 2021 Jul 26;121(7):1306-1311.e8. Epub 2021 Mar 26.

Background: Consumer demand for vegetarian options is growing. Fast-food restaurants have responded by adding high-profile vegetarian offerings, but little is known about the overall availability or nutrient profile of vegetarian options at these establishments, or how these items compare with nonvegetarian items.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to quantify trends in the availability and nutrient profile of vegetarian items in US fast-food restaurants from 2012 to 2018.

Design: This study was a longitudinal analysis of secondary data. We used nutrient data from the MenuStat database for menu offerings at 36 large US fast-food chain restaurants (2012 to 2018). Vegetarian items were identified through automated key word searches and item description hand-coding.

Outcome Measures: Annual counts and proportions of vegetarian and nonvegetarian items by category, and annual trends and differences in predicted mean calories; saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats; sugar; nonsugar carbohydrates; protein; sodium between and within vegetarian and nonvegetarian items.

Statistical Analysis Performed: We report counts and proportions of vegetarian items by menu category, then use Tobit regression models to examine annual trends and differences in predicted mean nutrients between and within vegetarian and nonvegetarian items. Sensitivity analyses were calorie-adjusted.

Results: The annual proportion of vegetarian items remained consistent (approximately 20%), and counts increased (2012, n = 601; 2018, n = 713). Vegetarian items had significantly fewer calories (2018: -95 kcal) and, even after adjustment for calories, lower saturated fat (-1.6 g), unsaturated fat (-1.8 g), protein (-3.8 g), and sodium (-62 mg) annually (P < .05) compared with nonvegetarian items. Vegetarian items were significantly higher in sugar (2018: +2.0 g; P < .01) and nonsugar carbohydrates (2018: +9.7 g; P < .01), after calorie adjustment, compared with nonvegetarian items.

Conclusions: Vegetarian items were generally lower in several overconsumed nutrients of public health concern (eg, sodium and saturated fat) than nonvegetarian items, but nutrient changes suggest surveillance remains important as vegetarian options increase in popularity.
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July 2021

Messages Promoting Healthy Kids' Meals: An Online RCT.

Am J Prev Med 2021 05 23;60(5):674-683. Epub 2021 Feb 23.

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Introduction: Calorie labeling is now required on all large U.S. chain restaurant menus, but its influence on consumer behavior is mixed. This study examines whether different parent-targeted messages encourage parents to order lower-calorie meals for their children in a hypothetical online setting.

Methods: An online RCT was conducted with sociodemographically diverse primary caregivers of children aged 6-12 years (data collected and analyzed in 2017-2019). Participants (N=2,373) were randomized to see 1 of 4 messages: (1) nonfood control, (2) kids' meals are the right size for children, (3) doctors recommend a 600 kcal per meal limit for kids, or (4) 600 kcal per meal is a generally recommended limit for kids. Participants ordered hypothetical meals for their children and themselves and rated meal and message perceptions.

Results: There were no significant differences between conditions in calories ordered for children at either restaurant, although all 3 food message conditions ordered fewer calories for their children than the control (full service: 27-68 fewer kcal, fast food: 18-64 fewer kcal). The general 600 kcal/meal limit message consistently performed best across outcomes, encouraging parents to order the fewest calories for their children at both restaurants (5%-7% fewer) and significantly increasing their understanding of calorie recommendations for kids' meals. It also significantly reduced fast-food calories parents ordered for themselves compared with the control (-106 kcal, p=0.042).

Conclusions: Although no statistically significant differences were detected, messages with specific calorie recommendations for kids led parents to order lower-calorie restaurant meals for their children, suggesting that additional real-world studies with larger sample sizes are warranted.
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May 2021

Prevalence and nutrient composition of menu offerings targeted to customers with dietary restrictions at US fast casual and full-service restaurants.

Public Health Nutr 2021 04 12;24(6):1240-1247. Epub 2021 Jan 12.

Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.

Objective: To examine the prevalence and nutrient composition of menu offerings targeted to customers with dietary restrictions at US fast casual and full-service chain restaurants.

Design: We used 2018 data from MenuStat, a database of nutrient information for menu items at large US chain restaurants. Five alternative diets were examined: gluten-free, low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, low-fat and vegetarian. Diet offerings were identified by searching MenuStat item descriptions and reviewing online menus. For each diet, we reported counts and proportions. We used bootstrapped multilevel models to examine differences in predicted mean kilojoules, saturated fat, Na and sugars between diet and non-diet menu items.

Setting: Forty-five US fast casual and full-service chain restaurants in 2018 (including 6419 items in initial analytic sample across small plates, salads and main dishes).

Participants: None.

Results: The most prevalent diets were gluten-free (n 631, 9·8 % of menu items), low-calorie (n 306, 4·8 %) and vegetarian (n 230, 3·6 %). Compared with non-diet counterparts, low-calorie main dishes had significantly lower levels of all nutrients examined and vegetarian main dishes had significantly lower levels of all nutrients except saturated fat. Gluten-free small plates had significantly fewer kilojoules, grams of saturated fat and milligrams of Na compared with non-diet small plates.

Conclusions: A small proportion of fast casual and full-service restaurant menus are targeted towards customers with dietary restrictions. Compared with non-diet items, those classified as gluten-free, low-calorie or vegetarian generally have healthier nutrient profiles, but overall nutrient values are still too high for most menu items, regardless of dietary label.
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April 2021

A Qualitative Study of Parents With Children 6 to 12 Years Old: Use of Restaurant Calorie Labels to Inform the Development of a Messaging Campaign.

J Acad Nutr Diet 2020 11;120(11):1884-1892.e4

Background: US law mandates that chain restaurants with 20 or more locations post calorie information on their menus to inform consumers and encourage healthy choices. Few qualitative studies have assessed how parents perceive and use this information when ordering for their children and what types of accompanying messages might increase use of calorie labels when ordering food.

Objective: We aimed to better understand parents' perceptions and use of calorie labeling and the types of messages that might increase use.

Design: We conducted 10 focus groups (n = 58) and 20 shop-along interviews (n = 20). Focus group participants discussed their hypothetical orders and restaurant experiences when dining with their children, and shop-along participants verbalized their decision processes while ordering at a restaurant. Both groups gave feedback on 4 public service messages aimed to increase healthier ordering for children. All interviews were voice-recorded and transcribed.

Participants/setting: Participants were primary caregivers of at least 1 child between 6 and 12 years who reported having less than a college education at the time of screening and who commonly ate at chain restaurants. Focus groups were conducted in a conference room, and shop-alongs were conducted in quick-serve and full-service chain restaurants around Philadelphia between August 2016 and May 2017.

Analyses: A modified grounded theory approach was used to extract themes from transcripts.

Results: Thematic analysis of transcripts revealed 5 key themes: (1) parents' use of calorie labels; (2) differences across restaurant settings; (3) nonjudgmental information; (4) financial value and enjoyment of food; and (5) message preferences. These themes suggested that nonjudgmental, fact-based messages that highlight financial value, feelings of fullness, and easy meal component swaps without giving up the treatlike aspect of eating out may be particularly helpful for consumers.

Conclusions: These findings can inform current US Food and Drug Administration campaign efforts to support consumer use of calorie labels on menus.
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November 2020

The Association Of A Sweetened Beverage Tax With Changes In Beverage Prices And Purchases At Independent Stores.

Health Aff (Millwood) 2020 07;39(7):1130-1139

Christina A. Roberto is an assistant professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

In January 2017 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, implemented an excise tax of 1.5 cents per ounce on beverages sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Small independent stores are an important yet understudied setting. They are visited frequently in urban and low-income areas, and sugary beverages are among the most commonly purchased items in them. We compared changes in beverage prices and purchases before and twelve months after tax implementation at small independent stores in Philadelphia and an untaxed control city, Baltimore, Maryland. Our sample included 134 stores with price data and 4,584 customer purchases. Compared with Baltimore, Philadelphia experienced significantly greater increases in the price of taxed beverages (1.81 cents per ounce, or 120.4 percent of the tax) and significantly larger declines in the volume of taxed beverages sold (5.76 ounces, or 38.9 percent) after tax implementation. Beverage excise taxes may be an effective policy tool for decreasing the purchase of sweetened drinks in small independent stores, particularly among populations at higher risk for sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
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July 2020

One-year changes in sugar-sweetened beverage consumers' purchases following implementation of a beverage tax: a longitudinal quasi-experiment.

Am J Clin Nutr 2020 09;112(3):644-651

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Background: Few longitudinal studies examine the response to beverage taxes, especially among regular sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumers.

Objective: This study aimed to examine changes in objectively measured beverage purchases associated with the Philadelphia beverage tax on sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages.

Methods: A longitudinal quasi-experiment was conducted with adult sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumers in Philadelphia (n = 306) and Baltimore (n = 297; a nontaxed comparison city). From 2016 to 2017 participants submitted all food and beverage receipts during a 2-wk period at: baseline (pretax) and 3, 6, and 12 mo posttax (91.0% retention; data analyzed in 2019). Linear mixed effects models were used to assess the difference-in-differences in total purchased ounces (fl oz) of taxed beverages in a 2-wk period in Philadelphia compared with Baltimore. Secondary analyses: 1) excluded weeks that contained major holidays at baseline and 12 mo (42% of measured weeks at baseline and 12 mo) because policy implementation timing necessitated data collection during holidays when SSB demand may be more inelastic, and 2) aggregated posttax time points to address serial correlation and low power.

Results: There were no statistically significant changes in purchased ounces of taxed beverages in Philadelphia compared with Baltimore in the primary analysis. After excluding holiday purchasing, the tax was associated with statistically significant reductions of taxed beverage purchases at 3 and 6 mo (-157.1 ounces, 95% CI: -310.1, -4.1 and -175.1 ounces, 95% CI: -328.0, -22.3, respectively) but not 12 mo. Analyses aggregating all 6 wk of posttax time points showed statistically significant reductions (-203.7 ounces, 95% CI: -399.6, -7.8).

Conclusions: A sweetened beverage tax was not associated with reduced taxed beverage purchases among SSB consumers 12 mo posttax in the full sample. Both secondary analyses excluding holiday purchasing or aggregating posttax time periods found reductions in taxed beverage purchases ranging from -4.9 to -12.5 ounces per day. Larger longitudinal studies are needed to further understand tax effects.
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September 2020

Health Promotion and Healthier Products Increase Vending Purchases: A Randomized Factorial Trial.

J Acad Nutr Diet 2017 Jul 3;117(7):1057-1065. Epub 2017 Feb 3.

Background: The current food environment has a high prevalence of nutrient-sparse foods and beverages, most starkly seen in vending machine offerings. There are currently few studies that explore different interventions that might lead to healthier vending machine purchases.

Objective: To examine how healthier product availability, price reductions, and/or promotional signs affect sales and revenue of snack and beverage vending machines.

Design: A 2×2×2 factorial randomized controlled trial was conducted.

Participants/setting: Students, staff, and employees on a university campus.

Intervention: All co-located snack and beverage vending machines (n=56, 28 snack and 28 beverage) were randomized into one of eight conditions: availability of healthier products and/or 25% price reduction for healthier items and/or promotional signs on machines. Aggregate sales and revenue data for the 5-month study period (February to June 2015) were compared with data from the same months 1 year prior. Analyses were conducted July 2015.

Main Outcome Measures: The change in units sold and revenue between February through June 2014 and 2015.

Statistical Analyses Performed: Linear regression models (main effects and interaction effects) and t test analyses were performed.

Results: The interaction between healthier product guidelines and promotional signs in snack vending machines documented increased revenue (P<0.05). Beverage machines randomized to meet healthier product guidelines documented increased units sold (P<0.05) with no revenue change. Price reductions alone had no effect, nor were there any effects for the three-way interaction of the factors. Examining top-selling products for all vending machines combined, pre- to postintervention, we found an overall shift to healthier purchasing.

Conclusions: When healthier vending snacks are available, promotional signs are also important to ensure consumers purchase those items in greater amounts. Mitigating potential loss in profits is essential for sustainability of a healthier food environment.
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July 2017

Vending Machines: A Narrative Review of Factors Influencing Items Purchased.

J Acad Nutr Diet 2016 10 18;116(10):1578-1588. Epub 2016 Aug 18.

Vending machines are a ubiquitous part of our food environments. Unfortunately, items found in vending machines tend to be processed foods and beverages high in salt, sugar, and/or fat. The purpose of this review is to describe intervention and case studies designed to promote healthier vending purchases by consumers and identify which manipulations are most effective. All studies analyzed were intervention or case studies that manipulated vending machines and analyzed sales or revenue data. This literature review is limited to studies conducted in the United States within the past 2 decades (ie, 1994 to 2015), regardless of study population or setting. Ten articles met these criteria based on a search conducted using PubMed. Study manipulations included price changes, increase in healthier items, changes to the advertisements wrapped around vending machines, and promotional signs such as a stoplight system to indicate healthfulness of items and to remind consumers to make healthy choices. Overall, seven studies had manipulations that resulted in statistically significant positive changes in purchasing behavior. Two studies used manipulations that did not influence consumer behavior, and one study was equivocal. Although there was no intervention pattern that ensured changes in purchasing, price reductions were most effective overall. Revenue from vending sales did not change substantially regardless of intervention, which will be important to foster initiation and sustainability of healthier vending. Future research should identify price changes that would balance healthier choices and revenue as well as better marketing to promote purchase of healthier items.
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October 2016