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

May 2012

Rudd Center Featured in HBO Series on Obesity Crisis

The_Weight_of_the_NationRudd Center researchers will be featured in a multi-part series on HBO that addresses the national obesity epidemic. Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director; Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director; Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; and Jennifer Harris, PhD, Director of Marketing Initiatives, will join other notable experts in obesity research and prevention to discuss one of the nation’s most pressing health issues and offer practical but far-reaching solutions.

The series, The Weight of the Nation, premiering on Monday, May 14 and Tuesday, May 15, spotlights the facts and myths of this urgent public health issue, showing how obesity affects the health of the nation and cripples the health care system.

“The HBO series captures the extent and consequences of obesity, possible solutions, and the touching human stories of the people affected,” Brownell said. “The films are powerful and much needed as the nation searches for ways to address this key issue.”

The series will be accompanied by a nationwide community-based outreach initiative.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Institute of Medicine Report Aims to Accelerate Progress in Obesity Prevention

The Institute of Medicine recently released a report that outlines strategies for addressing the obesity epidemic. The report, Accelerating Progress on Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation, was released at the Weight of the Nation Conference hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and highlights five key goals for reversing the epidemic:

  • Make physical activity an integral and routine part of life.
  • Create food and beverage environments that ensure healthy food and beverage options are the routine, easy choice.
  • Transform messages about physical activity and nutrition.
  • Expand the role of health care providers, insurers and employers in obesity prevention.
  • Ensure that schools are a national focal point for obesity prevention.

The report states that in order to achieve these goals, action must be taken by leaders in all sectors of society, including policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels; businesses; schools; doctors; and parents. In addition, the report suggests bold policy moves, including an excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, with the revenues being dedicated to obesity prevention programs.

 “This committee worked long and hard to help define priorities for the nation's efforts to prevent obesity,” according to Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. “They have reinforced the central importance of a number of efforts underway now by organizations around the country.”

Just Published by the Rudd Center

Food Marketing to Youth: Current Threats and Opportunities

Many stakeholders and strategies are needed to reduce the harm caused by child-directed food marketing, according to an editorial recently published by Rudd Center researchers in the Journal Childhood Obesity.

The editorial examines local, state, and federal actions that should be taken by government, schools, researchers, parents, the food and beverage industry, and media companies to prevent the harmful consequences of food marketing to children.

The editorial was coauthored by the Rudd Center's Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Deputy Director; and Amy Ustjanauskas, BA, Research Assistant.

Responding to the Supreme Court's Threat to Overhaul the Commercial Speech Doctrine

Commercial speech (e.g., marketing and advertising) and core speech (e.g., political and religious speech) are fundamentally different, according to Jennifer L. Pomeranz, JD, MPH, Rudd Center Director of Legal Initiatives, in an article recently published in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. Under the commercial speech doctrine, commercial speech receives less protection than core speech. This is based on the recognition that the two forms of speech require their own unique First Amendment protection and the government’s ability and need to compel and restrict them differs substantially. However, in a 2011 case, the Supreme Court conflated the two constitutional analyses, threatening to ovehaul the commercial speech doctrine.

The Court must uphold the distinction between commercial and core speech and reject all future opportunities to overhaul the commercial speech doctrine, according to Pomeranz.

“The current understanding of the First Amendment allows the government to effectively address misleading and deceptive commercial speech and protect consumers from overreaching by commercial actors,” said Pomeranz. “If the Court continues to chip away at the commercial speech doctrine, food marketers will have even more leeway to market unhealthy products to children and the government’s ability to deal with misleading claims may be thwarted.”

PepsiCo Imposes an Employee Sin Tax

PepsiCo charges its employees $50 a month if they smoke or have obesity-related medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure as part of a wellness program initiated several years ago. Workers can avoid paying the charge if they participate in classes to lose weight or quit smoking.

"Pepsi's policy is highly discriminatory and unfairly singles out people affected by obesity. This is also an unfortunate example of a company making products that can be harmful to health and then blaming the people who are suffering the harm. A parallel would be Philip Morris charging fees to their employees who smoke cigarettes,” said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives.

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Upcoming Seminar Speakers

May 11, 12:30 pm
Peter Kaminsky
Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well)

May 31, 1:30 pm
William H. Dietz, MD, PhD
Director; Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Adventures in Marketing Food to Children

Unless otherwise noted, seminars are held at the Rudd Center. The seminars are free and open to the public. Seating is limited. The full schedule for the Spring Seminar Series is available online and for download.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Peter Kaminsky

KaminskyPeter Kaminsky, journalist, author, and television producer, will present Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well) on May 11 during the Rudd Center’s Spring Seminar Series.

Kaminsky wrote Underground Gourmet for New York magazine for four years, and his Outdoors column appeared in The New York Times for twenty years. He is a longtime contributor to Food & Wine and the former managing editor of National Lampoon.

His books include Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine, The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass, The Elements of Taste (with Gray Kunz), Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (with Francis Mallmann), Letters to a Young Chef (with Daniel Boulud), Celebrate! (with Sheila Lukins), and John Madden’s Ultimate Tailgating.

He is a creator and executive producer of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, on PBS.

In his most recent book,Culinary Intelligence, Kaminsky shows readers how to eat in a healthy way without sacrificing the fun and pleasure in food. His advice includes: think before eating, choose good ingredients, understand how flavor works, and make the effort to cook.

Worst Marketing Practice

Domino's Smart Slice Program Delivers to Schools
Domino’s has created a pizza called Smart Slice that meets federal school lunch nutrition criteria. The pizza is on the weekly menu of nearly 3,000 participating schools – nearly triple the number of last year. “Domino’s presence in schools may establish brand loyalty among children at an early age,” according to Kelly Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. “However the chain's restaurants do not offer a comparable healthful option." Read more.

Poll Shows Voters Want Healthy Snacks in School

Eighty percent of U.S. voters favor national school nutrition standards that would make snack foods and beverages in schools healthier, according to a poll commissioned by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The poll shows that voters specifically favor standards that would limit calories, fat, and sodium in snack foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria à la carte lines.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to release updated national school nutrition standards that apply to snacks and beverages. The current school snack standards were set 30 years ago and do not reflect current knowledge about nutrition. After proposed standards are published, the USDA will accept public comments about them for 90 days. The final standards are expected to take effect in fall 2013.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Steven L. Gortmaker, PhD
Professor of the Practice of Health Sociology; Department of Society, Human Development and Health; Harvard School of Public Health

Jean Kilbourne
Senior Scholar, Wellesley Centers for Women

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U and through an RSS feed.

Front Burner News

Food Industry Dominates Policymaking

The food and beverage industry continues to dominate federal policymaking, despite Michelle Obama's efforts to curb childhood obesity. Read more.

Medical Care Costs of Obesity

Obesity accounts for nearly 21 percent of U.S. health care spending, which is more than twice as high as previous estimates, according to a study in the Journal of Health Economics. Read more.

Alarm over Sugar


Some health experts view sugar as a serious public health threat while others think the no-sugar solution is too simplistic. Sugar has taken center stage in recent nutrition debates with one health expert calling it a "toxic" substance. Read more.

Protecting Obese Individuals in the Workplace

Even though overweight workers have few legal protections in the workplace, a survey conducted by the Rudd Center finds that the majority of American workers would support a law that would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or deny a promotion or raise to a qualified person based on weight. Read more.

Consumer Groups Petition “Corn Sugar”

Several consumer groups have called on the Food and Drug Administration to “promptly deny” the Corn Refiners Association’s petition to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.” Read more.

Twenty-Year Forecast on Obesity Epidemic

Forty-two percent of Americans may be obese by 2030, and 11 percent could be severely obese, adding billions of dollars to health care costs, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Read more.

Obese Women Face Discrimination in the Workplace

Starting salary, leadership potential, and candidate selection are negatively affected for women who are considered obese, according to a study in the International Journal of Obesity. Read more.


Supporting a Soda Tax

A recent poll shows that a majority of American voters agree that local governments should have the right to tax sweetened beverages to fight obesity. Read more.

Sugary Drinks Are a Public Health Enemy

About 25 percent of Americans consume at least 200 calories a day from sugary drinks, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture. Some doctors and public health officials believe that soda should be treated as a public health enemy. Read more.

Detrimental Effects of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

The Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health addressed the detrimental effects sugar-sweetened beverages have on health and the fight against obesity. Read more.

Chicago Officials Debate Sugary Drink Tax

A proposal for a penny-per-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage tax was discussed at a recent Chicago City Council meeting. Read more.


War on Smoking Offers Lessons for Obesity Fight

In the fight against obesity, aggressive action is needed much like the anti-tobacco movement, according to public health advocates. Read more.

The FDA’s Promise

The Food and Drug Administration needs to deliver on the promise they made to provide accurate and useful information so consumers can choose a healthier diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity. Read more.

Healthy Food Means Healthy Profits

Companies are in business to make a profit and maximize their shareholder's returns. There is no better way for food and beverage companies to achieve this than to speed up the creation of healthier, lower-calorie options. Read more.


Restricting Food Marketing at the Olympics

Health campaigners from the U.K. Academy of Medical Royal Colleges are calling for companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's to restrict advertising at the Olympics. Read more.

Ronald McDonald Comparable to Joe Camel

Many activists in the fight against obesity believe that Ronald McDonald is comparable to Joe Camel and that the fast-food mascot is pushing products that are just as dangerous as cigarettes. Read more.

TV Ads Play Role in Obesity


Children who recognize fast-food advertisements on TV are more likely to be overweight, according to research from the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth. Read more.

Lawsuit Against Happy Meal Toys Dismissed

A California judge has dismissed a lawsuit that would ban toys from being included in Happy Meals. The suit claimed that Happy Meal toys coerced children into eating unhealthy food, contributing to childhood obesity. Read more.