May 2015 Newsletter

Rudd Center Recent Publications

Views on Classifying Obesity as a Disease

In the first assessment of public opinion in the United States since the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease in 2013, a study by the Rudd Center published May 13 in the journal Obesity found that a majority of Americans support the designation. "For decades, the message to the individual has been to eat less and exercise more, and for a number of reasons that has not been effective," said author Rebecca Puhl, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center. "Obesity is a much more complex issue, and the disease classification formally acknowledges this."

Rudd Center in the News

As food companies and restaurants increasingly remove artificial ingredients and GMOs from their offerings, "It's important that people still pay attention to things like portion size and calories even though the restaurant may have actually made some important changes," Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz said in a May 29 NBC News piece.

The Rudd Center's March study on the increasing health hazard that energy drinks pose to young people was cited in a May 19 article in Digital Trends on how players of video games are being targeted for marketing by energy drink makers.

Rudd Center Deputy Director Rebecca Puhl's study assessing public opinion about the classification of obesity as a disease was highlighted in the May 13 edition of UConn Today. A May 14 commentary piece in Medscape by Dr. Puhl, "Obesity as a 'Disease' - What Americans Think, and Why That's Important," included a section on how her findings may inform relationships between healthcare providers and patients. She noted that many patients may not be aware that obesity is now considered a disease. "Healthcare providers may want to inform patients of the disease classification and discuss the implications that this has as a paradigm for diagnosis and treatment," Puhl wrote.

The May 11 edition of The New York Times quoted Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz about making sure you get enough volume of food when you eat at a restaurant to feel satisfied when you leave. The tip appeared in an article by writer Josh Barro called "How to Eat Healthy Meals at Restaurants."

Reuters ran a hard-hitting piece May 8 on a study showing that the vast majority of TV commercials during shows aimed at kids under age 12 are for unhealthy foods with too much added sugar, saturated fat or sodium. The ads don't meet proposed federal voluntary guidelines for the nutritional quality of foods advertised to children. Jennifer Harris, Rudd Center Director of Marketing Initiatives (who was not part of the study), told Reuters: "This paper is interesting because it shows that the industry's definition of what is healthy and should be marketed to kids is completely out of whack with the opinions of government experts."

New York Magazine published a provocative piece on May 4 called "Willpower (or Lack of It) Is the Wrong Way to Think About Weight." Writer Melissa Dahl quoted Rudd Center Deputy Director Rebecca Puhl and cited her recent multi-national findings that, when people believe the cause of obesity is lack of willpower, they express stronger weight bias, on average, than those who believe biological or environmental factors play major roles. "...I think the way to think about this is that obesity is a very complex puzzle and personal behavior is just one of those pieces," Puhl said in the article.

The Rudd Center was featured in UConn Magazine's Spring 2015 edition in an article on our work to reverse the obesity epidemic. The piece, "National Disaster," quotes Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz on putting research into action. "If all I'm doing is publishing in a journal, that's not helping anybody else." Deputy Director Rebecca Puhl talks about challenging the assumption that obesity is a matter of personal choice. "That's a false assumption," she says, pointing out that the American Medical Association now classifies obesity as a disease.

Rudd Center Director Marlene Schwartz appeared May 4 on WNPR's radio program "Where We Live" to discuss "Is Fast Food Going Out of Style?". The wide-ranging interview touched on topics including why McDonald's is struggling, how Americans are eating out more often, and policy options like taxing unhealthy foods while providing incentives for healthy foods.

What's Simmering With Our Friends 

Voices for Healthy Kids and others shared information in a May 19 #SaludTues tweetchat about "How to get more healthy drinks in Latino communities." The weekly social media chats focus on a variety of Latino health topics. These chats are co-hosted by @SaludToday, the Latino health social media campaign and Twitter handle for the Institute for Health Promotion at the University of Texas Health Center at San Antonio, which directs Salud America! Salud America! is The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children.

Following public pressure from the Center for Science in the Public Interest,, and other advocacy groups, Dairy Queen became the latest major fast-food chain to remove soda and other sugary drinks from children's menus. McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's had already made this change in response to pressure campaigns. The change at Dairy Queen franchises will take effect Sept. 1. "We hope chains like Applebee's and Chili's will choose to exercise the same kind of corporate responsibility that DQ has," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan., a project of the American Heart Association dedicated to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic, highlighted a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that found that children have a tough time recognizing healthy foods in fast food television advertising. "Although leading fast food restaurants agreed to include healthy foods in their marketing targeted to kids back in 2009, marketers are often misleading in how they present those foods, researchers say." Only 10 percent of kids surveyed could positively identify apples in a Burger King ad - likely because the apples were sliced like french fries and placed in a french fries container, the piece noted.

News to Chew On

San Jose Mercury News
Berkeley soda tax: First month’s take, $116,000
Is The War On Fat Harming Our Children?
The Relationship Between Bullying and Childhood Obesity
Dairy Queen Removes Soda from Kids' Meals
Our food system is still a toxic mess: Mark Bittman on changing the way America eats