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Recent Alerts

Weight Discrimination: Public Supports Disability and Civil Rights Legal Protection

April 9, 2014

Public support for policies that prohibit weight discrimination and even provide disability and civil rights protection for obese individuals has grown in the past few years, according to a new study by researchers from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The study is published online in the journal Obesity.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,000 people in 2011, 2012, and 2013 to assess their support for proposed legislation that would prohibit weight discrimination, extend disability protection for individuals with obesity, and add body weight as a protected class under the federal civil rights statutes.

Support for laws prohibiting weight discrimination were consistent, with least 75% of those surveyed in favor of laws that would make it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on their weight.

Furthermore, support for extending disability protections for individuals with obesity grew from 62% in 2011 to 69% in 2013. And support for adding body weight as a protected class under the civil rights laws grew from 70% to 76% in the same time period.

“The trends we observed have important implications for existing and future policy initiatives,” said Rebecca Puhl, Rudd Center deputy director and co-author of the study. “Legislation could reduce inequities for millions of Americans who are vulnerable to unfair treatment because of their weight, and improve their quality of life.”

Currently, there are no federal laws making it illegal to discriminate against a person based on his or her weight. Michigan is the only state that has a law preventing discrimination on this basis. In 2013, Massachusetts also proposed a law to prohibit weight discrimination.

“Legal measures to prohibit weight discrimination could help rectify employment inequalities, facilitate public health efforts to improve the health and well-being of individuals with obesity, and reduce the social acceptability of weight prejudice,” Puhl explained.

Despite Conflicting Coverage of CDC Findings Evidence Suggests Policy Changes Having Positive Impact on Children’s Health

March 21, 2014

A CDC press release in February pointed to indications that obesity among young children is decreasing. The study, using nationally representative NHANES data, found that though obesity rates remained stable across most age groups, rates decreased from 14% to 8% among children aged 2 to 5 years, which translates to the 43% decrease that made headlines.

The CDC study was widely reported in the press, and many experts, including Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz, PhD, speculated that this change could be in part due to improvements in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC). 

A Reuters story released on March 16th dismissed the study, quoting a number of experts pointing to the sample size and the margin of error.  It is important to note however, that the authors of the CDC paper acknowledged these limitations and specifically warned that “these results should be interpreted with caution” (Ogden 2014 ).

The Reuters story also cited studies that indicated there is little to no improvement to children’s health due to improvements in the WIC food packages.  We examined these studies more closely, and found that the data suggest a number of positive effects of the WIC package changes.  In fact, the authors generally conclude that federal changes to the WIC policy have improved nutrition, and are showing signs of reducing obesity among young children.” 

Smart Snacks Product Calculator Launched

April 14, 2014

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has launched the Smart Snacks Product Calculator, a tool that takes the guesswork out of evaluating products based on the new USDA Smart Snacks in School Guidelines.

Users can enter product information, answer a few questions, and determine whether a snack, side, or entrée item meets the new USDA guidelines. Results from the calculator have been determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be accurate in assessing product compliance with the federal requirements for Smart Snacks in School.

Impact of Financial Incentives for Employee Wellness Programs

March 7, 2014

The majority of employers who offer health insurance also offer employee wellness programs such as smoking cessation groups and walking programs to encourage employees to set and achieve health goals in exchange for financial perks. One approach that is increasingly being used to incentivize employees is to pay them (through insurance rebates) for achieving health goals.

In a recently published commentary in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, authors Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center Deputy Director, and Lenny Lesser, MD, MSHS, Assistant Research Physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, discuss the effectiveness of these programs.

According to the authors, monetary incentives can help employees start to make healthy changes, but these changes are difficult to sustain in the long term. “These programs do not address key factors that impact public health: marketing, pricing and the easy availability of unhealthy food,” according to lead author, Lenny Lesser, MD, MSHS. “It also unfairly places the responsibility on individuals to change health indices over which they have little personal control. Ignoring environmental and biological forces that contribute to obesity can undermine a program’s ability to help people reach weight outcomes or change health behavior.”

The authors suggest that employers create a healthier work environment. Tactics like providing time and space for physical activity or removing sugary drinks would make it easier for employees to engage in healthy behavior in the workplace, and these strategies would prevent the stigmatization and ethical problems associated with incentivizing weight loss.

Rudd Report Shows that Children Need to Be Protected from Unhealthy Food Marketing Until at Least Age 14

March 5, 2014



Current food marketing practices present a significant public health threat for older children and teens
, according to a report recently released by the Rudd Center.  The report suggests that children ages 12 to 14 are highly vulnerable to influence from unhealthy food marketing, and policy solutions are needed to protect children until at least age 14.

The food industry’s self-regulatory program, the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, recognizes that companies should not target advertising for unhealthy foods to children 11 years and younger due to their greater vulnerability to advertising.  However, the industry currently considers children ages 12 and older to be appropriate targets for marketing that encourages consumption of unhealthy products. 

Yet, according to the report, this age group remains extraordinarily susceptible to the influence of food advertising, and middle school-age is a period of unique vulnerability.

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