Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
The Rudd Center Health Digest

August 2009

TV Food Advertising Increases Snacking and Potential Weight Gain in Children and Adults

TVAdsSnackIn a series of experimental studies, Rudd Center researchers found that TV food advertisements increased automatic snacking by children and adults. In the experiments, children and adults exposed to the advertising snacked more on available food, even if it was not specifically presented in the ads. The findings appear in the July issue of Health Psychology, which is co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Jennifer Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Director, along with John A. Bargh, PhD, Yale Professor of Psychology.

One experiment showed that seven- to 11-year-old children who watched a cartoon that included food commercials ate 45 percent more snack food than children who watched the same cartoon with non-food commercials. Thirty minutes daily of watching TV with food ads would lead to a weight gain of nearly ten pounds a year from increased snacking, unless mitigated by reduced consumption of other foods or increased physical activity.

In a second experiment, the researchers found that adult participants exposed to unhealthy food ads in TV programming also ate significantly more than those who saw ads with a nutrition or healthy food message. Additionally, these effects persisted after the TV viewing.

“This research shows a direct and powerful link between television food advertising and calories consumed by adults and children,” said Dr. Harris. “Food advertising triggers automatic eating, regardless of hunger, and is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. Reducing unhealthy food advertising to children is critical.”

Connecticut Governor Vetoes Menu Labeling Bill

Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill that would have required chain restaurants statewide to disclose calorie counts on menus and menu boards.

While “many medical conditions can be directly related to poor diets,” Rell said, the solution “is not nutrition labeling in chain restaurants.” Common sense and good eating habits must prevail, she said. “Does it come as a surprise to anyone that a vegetable salad is healthier and more nutritious than a bacon cheeseburger?,” she added.

In her veto letter, Gov. Rell said national, uniform menu-labeling standards for chain restaurants would be better for businesses and consumers. Strong federal menu-labeling language will be included in the health care reform bill currently being crafted in Congress.

Proponents of menu labeling believe this a missed opportunity. In a press release, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said Gov. Rell’s decision was “extremely disappointing and irresponsible.” DeLauro said consumers need nutrition information in order to make informed choices when dining outside the home.

“People often don’t realize that a vegetable salad, if eaten with high-fat dressing, isn’t always the lowest calorie item on the menu,” said Roberta Friedman, ScM, Rudd Center Director of Public Policy. “Menu labeling makes it easy for people to see the differences, and is excellent public health policy.”

Rudd Center Launches Fall Seminar Series


David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; and Director, Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program, spoke at the Spring 2009 Seminar Series.

Since the Rudd Center was founded in 2005, the organization’s ongoing Seminar Series has welcomed many prominent experts from academia, public policy, and the media to discuss their work and its implications for the study of obesity and food policy. Guests of the Fall 2009 Seminar Series will include Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University in Australia and Alison Field from the Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health, both leaders in childhood obesity; Elissa Epel from the University of California at San Francisco, an expert on the impact of stress on food intake; and Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

September 9, 12:30: David B. Abrams, PhD
Executive Director, Steven A. Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, American Legacy Foundation
Systems Thinking and Simulation Modeling: Their Role in Informing Health Policy

September 16, 12:30: Alison E. Field, ScD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School
Preventing Weight Gain: What Should We Recommend?

September 30, 12:30 pm: Joshua Freedman, MD
Associate Clinical Professor, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, FKF Applied Research, LLC
An fMRI-based View of How the Brain Reacts to Food and Food Advertising

Our seminars are held at the Rudd Center, located at 309 Edwards Street in New Haven, Connecticut, 06511. They are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. The full schedule for our Fall Seminar Series is available online and for download as a PDF document.

To receive a weekly email from the Rudd Center detailing upcoming seminars and schedule changes, please click here.

A National Report Card on Addressing Obesity

Adult obesity rates increased in 23 states last year and did not decrease in a single state, according to “F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America,” the sixth annual report of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on obesity trends in the United States. Two-thirds of American adults and almost one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. “This shows again the need for courageous and aggressive action because business as usual is just not working,” said Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director.

The report emphasized that obesity must be a national priority. “The country is failing to address the obesity epidemic in proportion to the threat it poses. … Our leaders should challenge the entire country to do their part to help improve our nation’s health.”

The report explored the Rudd Center’s work on a soft drink tax. Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Brownell, have shown that a one-cent per 12-ounce soft drink tax would generate $1.5 billion per year. More people are willing to support such a tax if the revenue is used for obesity prevention.

Menu labeling initiatives were also covered in the report. Displaying caloric and nutrition information on menus enables a consumer to make more informed choices. One study showed that seeing caloric information on menus influenced the food choices of 82 percent of individuals surveyed. About 70 percent chose foods with fewer calories. Menu labeling at the local, state, and federal levels was one of the report’s final recommendations.

The “F as in Fat” report concludes with a call to action, suggesting leaders implement a “National Strategy to Combat Obesity.”

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Robert S. Sherwin, MD

Dr. Robert S. Sherwin, C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine in the Section of Endocrinology at Yale University School of Medicine, is working to better understand the reductions of glucose and different kinds of food on brain feeding pathways. He is Director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation as well as the Diabetes Endocrinology Research Center, and the JDRF Center for the Study of Hypoglycemia at Yale.

Dr. Sherwin uses functional MRI to compare brain activation of fructose and glucose in lean and obese individuals. In addition, he is examining whether small reductions in glucose alter brain activation after people view pictures of different kinds of foods. He also studies the mechanisms of how the brain senses glucose in animal models.

Prior to joining the faculty, Dr. Sherwin was a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale University School of Medicine. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital (New York) and his fellowship in metabolism and diabetes at the National Institutes of Health. He obtained his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Sherwin is the recipient of the American Diabetes Association’s Banting Award for lifetime scientific achievement, the Novartis Award for long-standing achievement in diabetes, and two MERIT Awards from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Sherwin has published more than 320 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Obesity-Related Diseases Cost $147 Billion Annually

Treating diseases related to obesity is estimated to cost the U.S. health system $147 billion annually. According to a study published in the journal Health Affairs, spending on treatments for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis increased from 6.5 percent of all medical expenditures in 1998 to 9.1 percent in 2006. During this same time period obesity rates increased by 37 percent. The authors suggested “there is an undeniable link between rising rates of obesity and rising medical spending.”

The study, “Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates,” found obese individuals spent 42 percent more for medical care in 2006 than their normal weight counterparts and that obesity-attributable costs affected public and private payers alike.

The authors revealed that obesity prevention efforts are likely to be cost-effective but not cost-saving: “From a public health perspective that focuses on identifying cost-effective strategies for improving the health of the population, these interventions may still be worth pursuing, even at significant cost.”

The study was presented at the Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, where Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said, “obesity, and with it diabetes, are the only major health problems that are getting worse in this country, and they’re getting worse rapidly.”

In a CDC press release for this study Dr. Frieden added, “[i]t is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation.”

Dr. Frieden alluded to the idea of a soft drink tax as a means to address obesity rates. At Weight of the Nation he suggested decreasing the price of healthy foods and increasing the price of unhealthy foods “would be effective.”

Front Burner News

California’s Calorie Disclosure Law Goes into Effect

California has become the first state to require chain restaurants to provide brochures listing calories, sodium, saturated fat, and carbohydrates for each menu item at their stores. Both sit-down and drive-through restaurants with more than 20 outlets in the state must comply. Read the full article.

Health Care Reform Bill to Include Federal Menu Labeling Law

Spurred by the passage of a slew of state and local menu-labeling laws, the Senate reached a bipartisan agreement to include a federal menu-labeling law as part of comprehensive health care reform. Time magazine discusses what menu-labeling laws mean for industry and consumers, and whether this initiative can really improve eating habits. For the full article, click here.

Obesity Costs California $41 Billion a Year


The economic costs of adult overweight, obesity, and physical inactivity have nearly doubled and are now costing California an estimated $41 billion annually. Health care costs totaled $20.7 billion and lost productivity costs reached $20.4 billion, according to a report commissioned by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. For the full article, click here.

Hospitalizations Related to Childhood Obesity Nearly Double

The hospitalization of obese children has skyrocketed in recent years. The number of hospitalizations of children and adolescents, ages two to 19, with a primary or secondary diagnosis of obesity nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005, climbing from 21,743 to 42,429, according to research published in Health Affairs. For the full article, click here.

To Fight Obesity Epidemic, It Takes a Village

The CDC has published 24 community-centered recommendations for how to combat obesity, including strategies for promoting healthier foods, exercise, and how to encourage communities to organize for change. For the full article, click here.

Higher BMI Linked to Stress-Related Weight Gain

Men and women with a higher body mass index are more likely to gain weight when stressed. Individuals with a lower BMI did not exhibit similar stress-induced weight gain patterns, according to research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Read the full article.

Study Finds Links Between Obesity and Adolescents' Social Networks

Recent research indicates that overweight youth are twice as likely to have overweight friends. Associations between children with similar weight issues could reinforce unhealthy behaviors that cause obesity, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. For the full article, click here.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Announces Plan to Combat Childhood Obesity

With health care reform the top priority for Congress, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is focusing her efforts on reducing childhood obesity, announcing a new plan to ban trans fats in school and provide healthier school lunches. Sen. Gillibrand is working to secure more federal funds for New York State to combat childhood obesity and lower health care costs. Click here for the full article.

CDC Reveals Blacks Have Highest Obesity Rate, Whites Lowest

The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years in the United States, and certain racial and ethnic groups have been disproportionately affected. Compared to whites, blacks are 51 percent more likely to be obese and Hispanics are 21 percent more likely - disparities that may be linked to cultural attitudes, income, and education levels - according to a CDC study published in the "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report". Click here for the full article.

U.S. Government Plans to Increase Funding to Battle Obesity

The Obama administration will give states and local governments more money to control obesity, including investing in public transportation. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said most of the $1 billion appropriated by Congress for disease prevention as part of the stimulus plan would go to a CDC-planned initiative to fight obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. For the full article, click here.


Motivation and Willingness to Change Most Important Factors for Weight Loss Success


Every year consumers spend billions of dollars on supplements, diet foods, books, and meal replacements. The truth is that weight loss success depends more on motivation and willingness to change, rather than the diet plan you choose or what program you join, says Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. For the full article, click here.

Critics Slam Overweight Surgeon General Pick

President Obama's pick for the next Surgeon General, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, is under fire for being overweight. Critics and supporters have commented on photos of Benjamin, saying she sends the wrong message as the public face of America's health initiatives. Click here for the full article.