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

September 2009

Soft Drink Taxes Gaining Momentum


Taxing sugar-sweetened beverages has become a hot topic, spurred by a number of factors including the proposal of such a tax by New York’s governor, proposals that revenue to fund health care could be generated in part by a tax, and the April release of a New England Journal of Medicine article advocating a tax. The article was coauthored by Rudd Center Director Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, and Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, then Commissioner of the New York City Health Department and now Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors wrote that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could reduce consumption and generate revenue for programs to prevent obesity among children and adults. As evidence, they cited successful taxes on tobacco.

A recent American Heart Association report highlighted the increased consumption of added sugar between 1970 and 2005 in American adults, primarily from sugar-sweetened beverages. The AHA recommends that added sugars make up no more than 100 calories of an American woman’s daily diet and 150 calories of an American man’s.

The Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax section of the Rudd Center’s Web site offers research and legislative resources about the issue. The revenue calculator, developed in collaboration with economist Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, from the University of Chicago, produces expected revenue by state, city, tax per ounce, and type of beverage. The Rudd Center hosted a webinar to discuss the rationale, relevant science, and economic and policy considerations of taxes, and the impact of taxes on obesity prevention.

Dr. Brownell has been interviewed by many news publications, such as the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, CBS Evening News, Washington Post, and CNBC Street Signs with Erin Burnett.

For more information, visit the Rudd Center’s Web page dedicated to sugar-sweetened beverage taxes.

Experts Gather at ‘Weight of the Nation’ Conference: National Obesity Strategy on the Agenda

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently hosted Weight of the Nation, its inaugural conference on obesity prevention and control. Policy makers, public health leaders, and obesity research experts gathered in Washington, D.C. to share ideas to support the development of a “National Road Map for Obesity Prevention and Control.” The road map will serve as a guideline for integrated obesity prevention and control initiatives.

Conference attendees explored four intervention settings – community, workplace, medical care, and school – and examined evidence-based strategies to reduce or prevent obesity in children and adults. During the conference the CDC presented “Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States,” a report that included 24 obesity-prevention strategies that focus on environmental and policy changes to promote healthy eating and physical activity. The economic factors of obesity were also analyzed, such as the cost effectiveness of prevention and the cost burden on the health care system. Research that suggests spending for obesity-related diseases is now about $147 billion per year was presented at the conference, highlighting the urgent need for effective strategies to address the obesity epidemic in the United States.

Weight of the Nation featured a discussion of regulatory approaches to the obesity issue. CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, suggested decreasing the price of healthy foods and increasing the price of unhealthy foods “would be effective.”

The Rudd Center stands firmly behind a soft drink tax proposal and menu labeling initiatives. Both are good public policies that should help individuals make better dietary choices and ultimately, reduce rising obesity rates.

Rudd Center Launches Food and Addiction Web Page

Food’s possible addictive properties may be playing a role in the obesity epidemic. To shed light on the growing field of food and addiction research, the Rudd Center has launched a Food & Addiction Web page. This new section of the Rudd Center Web site provides background on food and addiction studies and highlights the Rudd Center’s work on the topic, including the Yale Food Addiction Scale, related publications, and a report from the food and addiction conference held at the Rudd Center.

Most recently, preliminary validation results for the Yale Food Addition Scale were published in the journal Appetite. This new research tool measures and assesses food dependence issues. The Yale Food Addiction Scale is the first of its kind and was created by Ashley Gearhardt, a PhD student in Yale’s Clinical Psychology program; William Corbin, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University; and Rudd Center Director, Kelly D. Brownell, PhD.

Please visit the new Food & Addiction section of the Rudd Center Web site to learn more.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

September 9, 12:30 pm: 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 pm: 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 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, click here.

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Daylian M. Cain, PhD

Cain Daylian M. Cain is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. Dr. Cain’s research combines behavioral economics and philosophy to study decision-making, especially decisions that involve self-restraint. He is considered an expert on how people evaluate conflicts of interest. For example, Dr. Cain has shown that when people disclose their conflicts of interest, they relax their self-restraint. Disclosure makes people feel morally licensed to serve their own personal interests (at the expense of their obligations to their audience) after “the audience has been warned.”

In researching self-restraint, Cain also studies altruism, overconfidence, and indulgence. One of Dr. Cain’s projects involves what he calls “small-consequence decision-making.” Dr. Cain says that people often deviate far from their plans after one negligible digression. For example, dieters may think that “one piece of pie won’t hurt.” The problem, of course, is that the consequences of these deviations add up when they are repeated. Dr. Cain and his colleagues are searching for moderating variables that enhance self-restraint and reduce the temptation to repeatedly deviate from best-made plans.

Prior to joining the Yale School of Management, Dr. Cain was the Russell Sage Fellow of Behavioral Economics at Harvard University’s Economics Department. He has a long record of academic excellence. He holds master’s degrees from Dalhousie University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a PhD from Carnegie Mellon University.

Dr. Cain is the author of numerous articles and is coeditor of Cambridge Press’ Conflicts of Interest: Problems and Solutions from Law, Medicine and Organizational Settings. His research is widely discussed and he has won many awards, including the Herb Simon Dissertation Award for his work, The Dirt on Coming Clean: Perverse Effects of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest. Dr. Cain is developing a new Yale MBA course called “Business Ethics Meets Behavioral Economics.”

Read more about Dr. Cain's work.

Major Problem Calls for Major Action

In a review article in the September issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Rudd Center researchers outlined a public health approach to addressing obesity that involves making positive changes in the environments where people live. By creating optimal defaults in their communities, the researchers concluded, people can more easily make healthy choices and high obesity prevalence rates may be reversed. The article was co-authored by Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Director; Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director; Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; Kathryn E. Henderson, PhD, Director of School of Community Initiatives; and Jennifer Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives.

The authors identified five areas to address the primary forces behind the childhood and adolescent obesity epidemic: framing the obesity issue, treating versus preventing obesity, nutrition in schools, marketing, and weight bias and discrimination. Modifying default conditions can be a quicker, less expensive, and more effective strategy than the long-standing medical and education models.

“It is clear that prevention of obesity must be the priority,” said Dr. Brownell. “Good treatments are necessary for those who need help and such treatment should be delivered in kind and compassionate ways, but reducing the national prevalence of obesity can only come about by changing the conditions that are driving obesity.”

Get Social with the Rudd Center

Visit the Rudd Center’s new Social Media Web page to stay connected to the latest in food and obesity research and policies through tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Front Burner News

The Social Side of Obesity: You Are Who You Eat With

A study published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that the amount of food consumed among youth can be influenced by how much their friends weigh. While these findings suggest a link between social networks and obesity, "the complex causes of obesity are at risk of becoming simplified and these findings are prone to stigmatizing messages by the media," according to Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. Read the full article.

CDC Says Act Locally to Tackle Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a report that includes recommendations to help tackle obesity in the United States, with strategies to increase availability of healthier foods. The report is intended to help communities assess policy and initiate changes on a local level to deal with the problem. For the full article, click here.

Menu Labeling Bill Spawns Industry Fight

A restaurant trade group is pushing a federal bill that would require large chains to disclose the calorie counts of meals on the menu. But restaurant chains such as KFC and Dominos argue the calorie-labeling requirement should include individual eateries and small chains as well. For the full article, click here.

White House Garden Could Help Grow Push to Revamp Child Nutrition Act


When Michelle Obama and her fifth-grade partners harvested lettuce and peas in the White House garden in the spring, she made a point of saying that American children are "not eating right and not moving their bodies at all." She cited what they eat in school as part of the problem. For the full article, click here.

Soft Drink Makers Launch Anti-Tax Ads

U.S. soft drink makers say they have launched a $2-million advertising campaign to counter moves to fight obesity and fund health care by taxing sugary soda. Read the full article.

Calls to Tax Junk Food Gain Ground

With increasing vigor, public health experts and think tanks are calling for extra taxes on foods and drinks that are heavy in calories and light on nutrition. For the full article, click here.

New Emphasis on Nutrition

Lawmakers will consider the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants and Children Reauthorization Act, which funds school lunches and other feeding programs. The current law expires Sept. 30, and parents, school food workers, and others are hoping Congress does more than merely authorize spending additional money. Click here for the full article.

Subsidized School Meals Might Sky-Rocket This Year

The number of U.S. students who receive free and reduced-cost meals at school could soar to a 41-year high this school year. Record job losses and high unemployment are pushing thousands of children into poverty, many for the first time, making them eligible for the subsidized meals. For the full article, click here.

Severe Obesity Takes Years Away

Extremely obese people – those who are 80 pounds or more over a normal weight – live three to 12 fewer years than their normal-weight peers, a new study by RTI International has found. For the full article, click here.

New Targets in the Fat Fight: Soda and Juice

New York State has shelved the idea of a tax on sugary sodas and juice drinks. But New York City’s public health officials opened a new front in their struggle against high-calorie beverages, unveiling an ad campaign that depicts human fat in a soda bottle. For the full article, click here.

Illinois to Expand Snack Tax

Illinois residents are now paying higher taxes on sugary sports and energy drinks, certain fruit drinks, and some types of candy. The tax increase is part of a larger effort to fund a $31 billion public works program. For the full article, click here.


It's Time for Lunch -- School Lunch, That Is

Thirty million children eat school lunch every day. It’s a pretty big captive audience and plenty of healthy-food advocates want to see some changes in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. For the full article, click here.

Cereal Makers Face EU Crackdown over Health Claims


The European Union is trying to stop breakfast cereal firms and other manufacturers from dressing up products high in sugar, fat, and salt with bogus health claims. Food producers will not be able to disguise products by highlighting only the healthy ingredients in their marketing. For the full article, click here.