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

February 2013

Rudd Center Video Gallery Offers Positive Footage
of Obese People

The Rudd Center has launched a free Video Gallery to aid members of broadcast media in the creation and delivery of fair, unbiased video coverage of obesity and weight-related topics on television, video, and online.


With more than one-third of U.S. adults obese, the media is an influential source of information about obesity and shapes the public’s attitudes. Several decades of research show that obese people are highly stigmatized in the United States and suffer from inequalities in employment, education, and health care as a result of weight discrimination.

Additional research shows that the media is an especially pervasive source of stigmatization of obese persons. A 2011 Rudd Center study of popular news websites found that 65 percent of video footage accompanying online news stories about obesity stigmatized overweight and obese adults, and 77 percent of news videos addressing childhood obesity portrayed overweight and obese youth in a stigmatizing manner.

The Rudd Center’s new Video Gallery provides more than 80 b-roll clips (supplemental footage) for use by content creators in the news media to help ensure that stigmatizing and pejorative portrayals of overweight and obese persons are avoided in broadcast media. The clips include footage of obese persons walking in public parks, gardening, shopping for produce at the supermarket, and in professional employment settings.

“We are pleased to now offer professional, high quality video footage that portrays obese individuals in non-stereotypical ways, and does not contribute to the depersonalization and stigmatization of overweight and obese persons,” said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives. “We encourage members of the media to accurately cover obesity-related topics and to avoid stigmatizing persons affected by obesity.”

The Rudd Center offers other free resources to help reduce weight stigma, including an updated Image Gallery with a current collection of almost 450 professional photographs that portray obese adults and youth in non-stigmatizing ways.

USDA Releases New Proposed Rules for Snacks Sold at School

The USDA released its landmark proposed standards for “competitive foods” sold in schools. Under the new rule, which is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, for the first time, foods that are sold outside of the regular school meal will have standards that limit calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. 

Standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches subsidized by the federal government, but most schools also have vending machines and "á la carte" lunch lines that sell foods. The new standards will cover foods sold in these venues, and any other foods regularly sold at school.

Among other proposed requirements, snacks would have to contain fewer than 200 calories, and only water, low-fat milk, plain or flavored fat-free milk, permitted milk alternatives, and 100% juice could be sold in elementary and middle schools. Only lower-calorie beverages would be allowed in high schools.

"These proposed regulations represent a critical step in promoting comprehensive school wellness. For decades, there has been a loophole in the regulations which allowed schools to be invaded by soda and junk food," said Marlene Schwartz, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director. "Finally that loophole will be closed, and food and beverage choices throughout the school will be in line with nutrition lessons taught in the classroom."

The public has 60 days to comment before the USDA writes the final rule. Once finalized, the rule will go into effect during the 2014 – 2015 school year.

Will Coca-Cola’s Public Service Campaign to Address Obesity Help or Hinder the Obesity Fight?

Research has shown that drinking soda and other sugary drinks increases people’s chances of becoming obese. In response, Coca-Cola has launched an ad campaign that promotes its efforts to fight obesity. The two-minute commercial, called “Coming Together,” airs on national cable news and highlights Coca-Cola’s low- and no-calorie beverages. It informs viewers that "all calories count no matter where they come from" and "if you eat and drink more calories than you burn off, you'll gain weight."

According to Coca-Cola, the company is reinforcing its efforts to work with American communities, businesses, and government leaders to find meaningful solutions to the complex challenge of obesity. But will this public service campaign actually make a difference?

Public service campaigns may increase the behaviors they are designed to discourage, according to a study by Yale researchers that evaluated the effects of public service announcements (PSAs) on health-related behaviors. The study, published in the journal Tobacco Control, examined the effect of anti-smoking PSAs on smoking behavior immediately following exposure and the findings have implications for all public service campaigns, potentially including Coca-Cola's recent effort to address obesity.

Researchers randomly assigned participant smokers to watch a short television show with a commercial break that included either a Philip Morris “QuitAssist” PSA, a Legacy “truth” anti-smoking PSA, or a control PSA. Smoking behavior was then assessed during a short break.

Participants who saw the Philip Morris anti-smoking PSA were significantly more likely to smoke during a break (42 percent) compared with participants in the control condition (11 percent), and participants in the “truth” condition were marginally more likely to smoke (33 percent).

These results suggest that almost any reminder of smoking, tobacco, or cigarettes could automatically trigger in smokers an immediate desire to smoke, despite the PSA’s stated goal to reduce unhealthy consumption, asserted the authors. While public health campaigns, such as “truth,” have proven to be highly effective in reducing cigarette smoking in the long-term, anti-smoking campaigns funded by tobacco companies should be viewed with skepticism.

“If anti-smoking PSAs cause smokers to smoke immediately after viewing, Coca-Cola’s anti-obesity campaign also has the potential to increase soda consumption among soda drinkers,” said lead author Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives. “In addition, Coca-Cola’s latest campaign and the tobacco industry’s anti-smoking campaigns are strikingly similar. They both purportedly encourage consumers to reduce consumption of unhealthy products, while the companies spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns to encourage young people to consume more of the same product that they admit can damage their health."

Upcoming Seminars

Tuesday, February 19, *Time change: 12:00 pm*
Robert S. Lawrence, MD
Director and Professor, Center for a Livable Future; Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Health Policy, and International Health; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Beyond Nutrition: The Public Health Impact of the U.S. Food System

Tuesday, February 26, 12:30 pm
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH, RD
Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
Promoting a Positive Body Image in Adolescents: Why and How?

Tuesday, March 5, 12:30 pm
Mike Daube
Professor of Health Policy and Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia; President, Australian Council on Smoking and Health
Winning the War: What Can Obesity Learn from the Long-Term Tobacco Campaign?

*Canceled – may be rescheduled for a later date*
Tuesday, April 16
Elizabeth S. Moore, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, University of Notre Dame
Options for Combating Childhood Obesity: An Assessment of the Aggregate Food Marketing System

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

Advocacy Opportunities

Carol Hazen, MS, is the Rudd Center’s Director of Advocacy Resources for the Food Marketing Initiative. She writes on MomsRising about marketing practices aimed at children, such as pop stars’ endorsements of soda and how parents can take action on issues such as Nickelodeon’s advertising to youth. is offering parents the opportunity to sign a petition to singer Beyoncé and Michelle Obama about Beyoncé’s contract with PepsiCo. Beyoncé has been a spokesperson for Obama's Let's Move campaign to improve children’s nutrition and fitness.

Just Published

Are "Food Addicts" Stigmatized?

In the first studies to examine what the public thinks about people with an addiction to food, Rudd Center researchers found that while this addiction is less vulnerable to public stigma than others, stigma against people with an addiction to food may increase the stigma already associated with obesity. The studies are published online in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.

The idea that food addiction is a contributing factor to obesity has gained increased attention from academics, health care professionals, and mainstream media. However, little research has been done on public perceptions.

Findings from both studies revealed that food addiction was viewed more favorably compared to other addictions. For example, attitudes toward food addiction were more forgiving and less stigmatizing than attitudes toward addiction to alcohol and tobacco. A person labeled a “food addict” was perceived to be more likeable and generated more empathy and less disgust and anger than those labeled with alcohol and tobacco addictions. The person with the “food addict” label was blamed less for the addiction compared to those labeled with smoking and alcohol addictions.

However, survey findings also showed that labeling an individual a “food addict” increased stigmatizing attitudes when this label was applied to an obese individual. Participants expressed more irritation, anger, and disgust toward an obese person described as a food addict. The findings suggest that the “food addict” label could increase blame toward obese individuals if the public views food addiction as a euphemism for out-of-control eating.

As discussions about food addiction continue in public health forums and popular culture, the authors asserted, more research is needed to understand how the use of a “food addict” label may influence public views and reactions.

The study was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Jenny DePierre, BA, former Research Assistant; Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives; and Joerg Luedicke, MS, Statistical Consultant.

Fast-Food Menus Rate Poorly in Dietary Quality

Fast-food menu offerings rate poorly in relation to federal dietary recommendations, despite industry initiatives to improve nutritional quality, according to a study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

Previous research has shown that fast-food consumption is linked to poor diet among adults and children, but this is the first study to pinpoint specific nutritional shortcomings of fast-food menus and provide steps that chains can take to improve the quality of their menus.

Using data from the Rudd Center’s Fast Food FACTS report, researchers from the National Cancer Institute assessed menu offerings at the top five fast-food chains during 2008 and 2009 using the Healthy Eating Index. The Index, a tool designed by the USDA to measure diet quality, allowed researchers to compare the foods offered at fast-food restaurants to dietary guidelines.

The majority of the fast-food menus received low scores for food groups and nutrients that tend to be problematic in the American diet, including fruit, dark green and orange vegetables, whole grains, sodium, and saturated fat. In contrast, all restaurants scored well on total grains, and meat and bean components. Subway’s menu had the highest score (50 out of 100 possible points) while Taco Bell’s scored the lowest (40 points). Value and dollar menus, as well as kids’ menus, scored somewhat higher than restaurants’ overall menus.

Some restaurant chains have recently pledged to improve the quality of their offerings and promote healthier defaults. McDonald’s has created healthier sides for its kids’ meals and other restaurants have joined the Kids LiveWell Program, which aims to help parents and children choose healthier menu options. Although these changes represent a step in the right direction, the authors questioned whether the traditional fast-food menu can be consistent with a healthy diet.

The findings indicate a need for restaurants to reformulate their menus to include more fruits, vegetables, and legumes; replace refined grains with whole grains; and reduce salt and added sugars and fats.

The study was co-authored by the Rudd Center’s Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, Director of Marketing Initiatives; Sharon I. Kirkpatrick, Jill Reedy, and Susan M. Krebs-Smith, National Cancer Institute; Lisa L. Kahle, Information Management Services, Inc., Rockville, MD; and Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, Arizona State University.

Employment Opportunity at the Rudd Center

If you would like to work toward improving the world's diet and preventing obesity, read about the summer Intern position in food marketing research at the Rudd Center.

Rudd Center Spotlight: Robert S. Lawrence, MD


Robert S. Lawrence, MD, Director and Professor for the Center for a Livable Future and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Health Policy, and International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will present Beyond Nutrition: The Public Health Impact of the U.S. Food System, on February 19 as part of the Rudd Center’s Spring Seminar Series.

The Center for a Livable Future supports research and develops policies related to the public health impact of industrial food animal production, improving food security, and adopting healthier diets.

Dr. Lawrence is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the Global Health Advisory Committee of the Open Society Foundation, is a founding director of Physicians for Human Rights, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.

He is the author of many publications that address issues such as promoting social justice through education in public health, sustainable agriculture, cancer screening, and nutrition. In 2009, he was awarded the Sedgwick Medal for Distinguished Service in Public Health, the American Public Health Association’s oldest and most prestigious award.

Dr. Lawrence graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Medical School and trained in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. He has been a faculty member of the schools of medicine at the University of North Carolina and Harvard.

Stigmatizing Obese Individuals is the Wrong Way to
Address Obesity

Placing more stigma on overweight people may help curb obesity rates in the U.S., wrote bioethicist Daniel Callahan in an editorial in The Hastings Center Report. While Callahan applauded efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity, and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children, he said that strategies to address obesity should also include stigmatization of obese persons.

“This proposal is problematic and concerning on many levels,” said Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center. “Considerable research shows that when individuals are exposed to weight stigmatization, they are at heightened risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even suicidal behaviors, as well as unhealthy eating behaviors, binge eating, increased calorie consumption, and avoidance of physical activity, which can reinforce weight gain and impair weight loss efforts.”

In addition, research by the Rudd Center shows that the American public does not view stigmatizing anti-obesity messages to be effective or motivating for improving health behaviors. People reported lower intentions to change their behavior in response to public health messages that shame, blame, and stigmatize them compared to messages that encourage specific behaviors to promote weight-related health.

“Callahan's argument that to successfully address obesity ‘it will be necessary to make just about everyone strongly want to avoid being overweight and obese’ fails to consider the already strong social pressure against obesity that exists in our society, and ignores the vital importance of the societal conditions that have created obesity in the first place,” said Dr. Puhl. “There is already extreme social pressure and stigmatization of persons who are obese, which has not helped to reduce prevalence rates of obesity.”

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Jane Martin, MPH
Executive Manager of Alcohol and Obesity Policy, Cancer Council Victoria
Pricing and Food Marketing in Australia
Front-of-Package Labeling in Australia

Tracy A. Fox, MPH, RD
President, Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, LLC
Public Policy Initiatives

Amy Yaroch, PhD
Executive Director, Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition
Food Insecurity and Obesity: The Dual Burden

The Rudd Center’s extensive library of podcasts is available for download on iTunes.

Front Burner News

HeLP America Act Promotes Improved Food Environments

Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention (HeLP) America Act, a comprehensive bill that calls for providing more fruits and vegetables in schools, guidelines for healthier food marketing to kids, sodium reduction in processed and restaurant foods, consistent front-of-pack labeling, healthier food on federal property, and other nutrition and physical activity efforts. Read more.

CSPI Petitions FDA to Set Sugar Limit for Beverages


The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) appealed to the FDA to determine safe levels of added sugar in soft drinks. Read more.

Sugar’s Impact on Body Weight

Increasing or decreasing the intake of sugar is associated with changes in body weight, according to a study by the World Health Organization. Read more.

New York Mayor Lauds Companies for Cutting Salt Content

In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that about 30 companies had signed on to reduce salt in foods by 25 percent within five years. Twenty-one companies, including Kraft, Goya, and FreshDirect, said they have met the first stage. Read more.

Consumers Want Lighter Menu Options at Restaurants

Restaurant chains are adding more nutritious choices and reducing portion sizes due to consumer demand and upcoming federal regulation, according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more.

Big Food Influences Dieticians

The nation’s largest group of professional nutritionists, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has close ties to food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola. This may influence the type of nutrition information we receive, according to a report by Michele Simon of Eat, Drink, Politics. Read more.

Weight Does Not Determine Success

Some question whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s weight impacts his job performance. “People should not make assumptions about Christie on issues such as ‘personal discipline, will power, ability, success, or a person's contributions to society,’” according to the Rudd Center’s Rebecca Puhl. Read more.

Improving Food Labeling

Improved labeling on food products can help consumers make healthier choices, according to a study by the Food and Drug Administration. Read more.

Inaccurate Calorie Counts at Restaurants

The calorie counts on nutrition labels and restaurant menus may be inaccurate, according to various leading health experts. Read more.

Differences in Childhood Obesity Rates among Cities

New York City is making more progress in the fight against obesity among low-income preschoolers than Los Angeles, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more.

McDonald’s to Launch New Packaging

McDonald's will launch new packaging that incorporates quick response (QR) codes to make nutrition information accessible from mobile phones. Read more.

Talking with Teens about Weight

More than one in three overweight teens is taunted by trusted adults, including their own parents, about their size, according to a Rudd Center study published in Pediatrics. Parents should communicate with their children about weight without criticism or judgment, said lead author Rebecca Puhl. Read more.


Refocusing on Let’s Move’s Initiatives

Despite some major advances in food policy, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign has dropped or delayed nutritional measures in order to appease the food and beverage industries. However, if the campaign brings back its focus on nutrition, progress is still within reach. Read more.

Smart School Food Policy

Food consumed at school accounts for between 35 and 50 percent of a child’s diet, according to a Robert Wood Johnson report. The USDA’s new standards to regulate the nutritional content of food sold in schools is a smart policy. Read more.

FDA Should Revamp Nutrition Labels

The FDA should revise the nutrition label to display calorie content more prominently. “Sugars” should include only refined sugars added to food and not the naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, and milk. Read more.

How Advertising Targets Our Children

Television is still one of the main ways foods are marketed to children, and parents may not realize that their children are also subjected to messages from advertisers coming in from other directions. Read more.


Taco Bell Pulls Disparaging Vegetable Ad

Taco Bell has pulled an ad that promotes fast food while disparaging vegetable consumption. The ad states that bringing vegetables to a party is a “cop-out” like “punting on fourth-and-one,” and that “people kinda hate ya for it.” Read more.

Fast-Food Sports Sponsorships

Children are subconsciously affected by fast-food ads that use sports sponsorships, according to a study in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Read more.

SNAP Restrictions Discussed in Texas

Texas lawmakers are discussing two bills that would ban people from buying junk food and energy drinks with food stamps. Read more.


Soda Tax Proposed in Texas


Texas State Representative, Joe Farias, is proposing a penny per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to fund public health education. Read more.

Vermont Will Reintroduce Soda Tax

Health advocates and legislators in Vermont will reintroduce a soda tax bill after the proposal failed in committee last session. Revenue from the tax would be used to subsidize healthy meals. Read more.

California Voters Support Soda Tax

A majority of California voters would support taxing sugar-sweetened beverages if those taxes were used for nutrition and physical education programs, according to a Field Poll. Read more.

Monster Energy Drink to Label Caffeine Content

The Monster Beverage Company plans to change the labeling on its products so they will no longer be considered dietary supplements, which would require the addition of caffeine content to the nutrition label. Read more.

Australian Campaign Pushes for Soda Tax

The Rethink Sugary Drinks campaign, run in conjunction with Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation, aims to tackle unhealthy levels of sugar consumption by pushing for a tax on soft drinks and restrictions on advertising directed at children. Read more.

NYC Sugary Drink Limit is Reasonable

New York City’s proposed limit on the size of sugary drinks is reasonable and necessary because of the obesity epidemic, according to Thomas Merrill, lawyer for the New York City Health Department. Merrill also stated that the health board had the authority to enact the measure. Read more.

Proposed Soda Tax in Hawaii

Hawaii senators have proposed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and want to use the revenue to fund community health centers and help trauma victims. Read more.

Pepsi Makes Changes to Gatorade

Pepsi will remove brominated vegetable oil from its Gatorade products after consumer complaints. Read more.

Food Stamp Soda Ban Discussed in South Carolina

Health leaders in South Carolina would like to disallow the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps in an effort to slow the obesity epidemic. Read more.