Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Weight Bias Hinders Obesity Solutions

The neglected problem of societal bias, stigma, and discrimination toward individuals with obesity impedes progress toward evidence-based solutions, according to a commentary by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director and Theodore Kyle, RPh, MBA, member of the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions and Advocacy Advisor of The Obesity Society.

“We must separate the disease of obesity from the people who are affected and implement solutions for obesity while maintaining respect and dignity for children and adults with this disease,” assert the authors in an Institute of Medicine Perspectives piece.

Combating weight bias requires efforts to increase public awareness of weight stigma and its health impacts, challenge societal stereotypes and attributions of blame for body weight, combat harmful messages in the media that promote obesity stigma, disseminate interventions that support and empower rather than stigmatize or shame persons with obesity, and implement stigma reduction efforts in settings where weight bias is prevalent, such as in schools, the workplace, and in health care, say the authors. Read more.

Strategic Science and Communications can Improve Food Marketing Practices

Prominent organizations like the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization have warned that food and beverage advertising contributes to childhood obesity. To address these concerns, food companies have pledged to advertise only ‘healthier dietary choices’ in ‘child-directed media’.  However, many public health advocates question whether the food industry’s pledges will improve their child-targeted marketing practices in a meaningful way.

In a paper recently published in the journal Critical Public Health, Rudd Center researchers evaluate the progress made by manufacturers of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in promoting nutritious choices to children through their pledges.  Researchers also evaluate the potential role of scientific research to influence corporate behavior.

The analysis is the first of its kind to provide a case study of the potential for success, as well as the limitations, of a public health strategy to incentivize food companies to voluntarily improve child-targeted marketing practices through strategic research and communications.

Researchers conducted a series of studies beginning in 2008 to evaluate child-targeted marketing by cereal companies using a variety of research methods. One report, called Cereal FACTS, aimed to understand the extent and impact of cereal marketing to children; disseminate these findings to parents, the media, the public health community, policy-makers, and industry representatives; and encourage cereal companies to shift child-targeted marketing toward the more nutritious products in their portfolios. Additional studies examined the impact of that marketing on children’s eating behaviors.

In 2012, a follow-up analysis of Cereal FACTS demonstrated some improvements in the nutritional quality and marketing of child-targeted cereals, although child-targeted cereals remained the least healthy products in company portfolios.

According to the researchers, cereal companies have implemented more improvements than most other food and beverage categories most likely due to scrutiny from researchers, advocacy groups, and government initiatives. Read more.

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