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

May 2009

United Airlines Begins Charging Obese People for Extra Seat

Obese people will now be forced to buy an additional ticket or upgrade to business class on United Airlines flights. The new policy was developed in response to complaints received by people "who did not have a comfortable flight because the person next to them infringed on their seat," according to a United Airlines spokesperson.

Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Director of Research & Weight Stigma Initiatives, said this policy discriminates against obese people and will be difficult to enforce fairly. She commented on this recent example of weight bias and discrimination on CBS’ The Early Show and on her blog, One Seat for the Price of Two. According to Dr. Puhl, important considerations in this debate include:

  • Other countries with obesity rates similar to the United States have faced the same situation but have approached it differently. The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that Canada’s largest airline (Air Canada) cannot charge obese persons for an extra ticket and ordered that all passengers pay the same fare regardless of their weight or disability. As a result of this ruling, more people will be able to afford to fly.
  • It is unclear how this new policy can be implemented fairly, especially if the airline requires ticket counter agents or flight attendants to judge which passengers should be charged for an extra seat.
  • It seems appropriate for airlines to provide seats that accommodate a reasonable percentage of passengers who do not fit the current seat sizes. Given that 34 percent of Americans are obese, why not make one-third of the seats larger?
  • The “emotional turbulence” of negative comments, fat jokes, or inappropriate remarks from other passengers is a reality for many travelers. The additional stigma that obese passengers will face with this new policy could lead many to avoid flying.

Weight bias and discrimination can reduce the quality of life for vast numbers of overweight and obese people and have both immediate and long-term consequences for their emotional and physical health. Click here to read the Rudd Center's recent publications on weight bias.

Media Coverage on the Case for Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

To combat the obesity epidemic, Rudd Center Director Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, and New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, advocated taxing sugared beverages in the April 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In their “Perspective” piece, they reviewed scientific studies that suggest the possibility that taxes could help reduce consumption of sugared beverages, cut caloric intake, and help prevent obesity, diabetes, and the consequences of these conditions. Noting that “taxes on tobacco have been highly effective in reducing consumption,” the authors wrote that a penny-per-ounce tax on sugared beverages could both reduce consumption and generate revenue for programs to prevent obesity among children and adults.

In his blog for Prevention, David L. Katz, MD, Director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, took issue with the American Beverage Association’s opposition to a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The trade group’s President said that the problem will not be solved by focusing on one product.

“Brownell and Frieden state explicitly in their article that taxing soda won't 'cure' childhood obesity on its own,” Dr. Katz wrote. “They recognize it as one small effort among many to contain the avalanche of obesigenic factors into our daily lives, and into the lives of our children.”

Listen to Dr. Brownell discuss the details of a soda tax in this podcast and on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson.

Weight Stigma Widespread in Lives of Obese Adults

The stigmatization of obese adults by employers, educators, healthcare providers, family members, romantic partners, and the media is rampant. Its prevalence is reported by Rudd Center researchers Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research & Weight Stigma Initiatives, and Chelsea Heuer, MPH, Research Associate, in the current issue of the journal Obesity. The study analyzed over 150 scientific studies published since 2000 that provide evidence of weight-based stigma, discrimination, social inequalities, and a range of harmful consequences for those who are obese, including vulnerability to depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders, and exercise avoidance. Read more about the study.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers:

May 13, 12:30 pm: Barry M. Popkin, PhD
Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition; Director, Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The World is Fat

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 Spring 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.

Weight Bias in Healthcare: An Important Clinical Concern

The Rudd Center has teamed up with Medscape, a part of WebMD Health Professional Network, to disseminate its research and educational videos about weight bias in healthcare (free Medscape online registration required). The first collaboration features commentary from Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Director of Research & Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center. The article answers the following questions: Do obese children and adults face weight bias from healthcare providers? What are the consequences?

Stay tuned for further work from the Rudd Center and Medscape about weight bias.

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Ravi Dhar, PhD

Ravi Dhar is the George Rogers Clark Professor of Management and Marketing and Director of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale University School of Management. He is also an affiliated Professor in the Yale Psychology Department.

His research involves using psychological and economic principles to investigate fundamental aspects about the formation of consumer preferences in order to understand and predict consumer behavior in the marketplace. One current research study examines how an initial choice influences subsequent choices.

Dr. Dhar has collaborated with the Rudd Center on understanding how consumers shop for grocery food products when they have limited mental resources (e.g., under stress or time pressure). Another project has examined the shopping behavior of low-income families for supermarket products.

He earned his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, and MS and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Dhar has written more than 40 articles and serves on the editorial boards of leading marketing journals, such as Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, and Marketing Science. He has been recognized numerous times in marketing research, including as a finalist for the Paul Green Award and recipient of the William O'Dell Award.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Kelly D. Brownell, PhD
Director, Rudd Center
A Perspective on Taxing Sugared Beverages

Christina Economos, PhD

New Balance Chair, Childhood Nutrition; Associate Director, John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University

Our collection of podcasts is available for download on iTunes U, under the Yale University Health & Medicine – Nutrition & Obesity section, or you may subscribe to a RSS Feed that will automatically update whenever new content is released. Podcasts can be listened to on a computer or downloaded to a music player.

Front Burner News

Weight Loss Higher through Fewer Sweetened Drinks

Greater weight loss is achieved by reducing calories from liquids such as sugary drinks than from solid foods, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers said solid foods may satiate an appetite better than beverages. For the full article, click here.

Cut Out Soda to Fight Childhood Obesity

By drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, children reduce the number of calories they consume per day, according to a study at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. The researchers reported that 10 percent to 15 percent of calories consumed by children per day are from sugared beverages. Read the full article.

Nutrition Experts Propose New Class of Low-Sugar Beverages

Strong evidence developed at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and elsewhere shows that sugary drinks are an important contributor to the epidemic rise of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the United States. Faced with these growing public health threats, experts from the Department of Nutrition at HSPH believe beverage manufacturers, government, schools, worksites, and homes must take action to help Americans choose healthier drinks. Read the full article.


Lobby for Removal of Junk Food in Schools

In a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on school nutrition, groups, including the American Dietetic Association and National Parent Teacher Association, urged legislators to mandate removal of sugary beverages, candy, and high-fat snacks in schools. Click here for the full article.

UK Chains Posting Calories

Some United Kingdom restaurant chains, including Pizza Hut, Burger King, and KFC, have posted calorie counts of their menu items in response to a recommendation from the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency. Some in the restaurant industry oppose the change because of the financial cost. Click here for the full article.

Diets Ranked According to Heart Health

Consuming vegetables and nuts and following a Mediterranean diet are heart-disease fighters, according to an article in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers said that heart disease risk was associated with a Western-style diet (including processed meats, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products) and with foods with trans-fatty acids and a high-glycemic index. For the full article, click here.


News Coverage of Trans Fat Prompts Shoppers to Avoid Certain Products

News coverage about the harmful effects of trans fat, combined with labeling information, may influence consumers' short-term purchases of foods high in trans fat. But it is not enough to prompt shoppers to avoid these potentially artery-clogging purchases over the long term, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. For the full article, click here.

U.S. Life Span Could Shorten because of Childhood Obesity

The Robert Wood Johnson Commission reported that the average life expectancy of the current generation of children could fall five years due to childhood obesity. To combat the epidemic, the commission recommends offering healthier school meals, improving access to fresh food in low-income neighborhoods, and requiring physical education for all K-12 students. Read the full article.

Fructose-Sweetened Beverages Linked to Heart Risks

Some research has suggested that consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, used as a sweetener in a wide variety of foods, may increase the risk of obesity and heart disease, according to an online article that appeared in The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Click here for the full article.

All Sugars Aren't the Same: Glucose Is Better, Study Says

Think that all sugars are the same? They may all taste sweet to the tongue, but it turns out your body can tell the difference between glucose, fructose, and sucrose, and that one of these sugars is worse for your health than the others. Click here for the full article.