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

October 2009

Health Experts Unite in Support of a Soft Drink Tax

A prominent group of public health and economics experts have called for taxes to be levied on sugar-sweetened beverages. Their report, “The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages,” suggests that such taxes could lower obesity rates, recoup some of the nation’s enormous obesity-related health care costs, and generate revenue for child nutrition and obesity-prevention programs. The authors cited numerous studies that link weight gain to increased consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The authors of the report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, include Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director; Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Director of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH, Harvard School of Public Health; Barry M. Popkin, PhD, University of North Carolina; Frank J. Chaloupka, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago; Joseph W. Thompson, MD, MPH, Arkansas Surgeon General; and David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, Harvard Medical School.

Major media organizations gave coverage to the report, including Bloomberg, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

A California lawmaker plans to hold hearings in November to examine the connection between obesity and the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. His announcement coincides with the release of a study of 40,000 California adults showing that those who drank at least one soda per day were more likely to be overweight than those who did not.

Dr. Brownell said a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would be unique because of four features: “It would have immediate impact. It would have a beneficial effect on the nation’s diet. Unlike education programs, it costs nothing. And it would generate considerable revenue that could support key health programs. I know of no other approach that meets all these criteria.”

Rudd Center Releases New Policy Brief on Soft Drink Taxes


The Rudd Center’s new policy brief, a resource for policy makers and concerned citizens, offers results of scientific research on issues concerning soft drinks and consumption trends, health effects, price change effects, and public support. It outlines policy recommendations for a soft drink tax, suggestions for use of the revenue, and arguments for and against such taxes.

Institute of Medicine Points to Local Governments for Childhood Obesity Prevention

In its September report, “Local Government Actions to Prevent Childhood Obesity,” the Institute of Medicine (IOM) highlighted a number of strategies including menu labeling, taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, and improving WIC participants’ access to healthy foods.

The IOM report recommends approaches to enable local leaders to act promptly and effectively “to improve the places where children live and play.” The community focus is essential, the report says, because it is where many decisions are made about “land use, food marketing, community planning, transportation, health and nutrition.”

“Local governments are ideally positioned to promote behaviors that will help children and adolescents reach and maintain healthy weights,” according to the report, which was written by the IOM’s Committee on Childhood Prevention Actions for Local Governments.

The report, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, outlines six goals and strategies to achieve them. The report is organized into two overarching themes, “actions for healthy eating” and “actions for increasing physical activity,” and reflects the strongest, evidence-based, childhood obesity prevention information available. For example, the strategy for improving access to healthy foods involves awareness, education, and policy measures such as taxes, incentives, and land use and zoning regulations.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers

October 14, 12:30 pm
Elaine D. Kolish, JD
Vice President and Director, Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
Linda J. Nagel, MSSA
President and CEO, Advertising Standards Canada
The Changing Face of Food Advertising to Children in North America

October 21, 12:30 pm
Elissa Epel, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry; Founding Co-Director, Center for Obesity Assessment and Treatment; University of California at San Francisco
Stress and Sugar: Why the Candy Industry Thrives When the Economy Dives

October 28, 12:30 pm
Lisa A. Sutherland, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics; Senior Nutrition Scientist, Hood Center for Families and Children; Dartmouth Medical School
Rated S for Soda and F for Fast Food: The Prevalence of Food and Beverage Product Placement in Popular Movies

November 4, 12:30 pm
Joel Gittelsohn, PhD
Associate Professor, Center for Human Nutrition, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Changing the Food Environment by Working with Food Stores

Our seminars are 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 Fall Seminar Series is available online and for download as a PDF document.

To receive a weekly E-mail from the Rudd Center detailing upcoming seminars and schedule changes, click here.

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Melinda L. Irwin, PhD, MPH

IrwinMelinda L. Irwin is Associate Professor in the Division of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Social, and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health. Her primary research interests include energy balance and cancer prevention and prognosis.

Trained in cancer epidemiology and exercise physiology, Dr. Irwin’s research examines the effect of exercise and weight loss on breast and ovarian cancer prognosis. She is currently the principal investigator of two randomized controlled trials funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The studies look at the impact of exercise on side effects of aromatase inhibitors, which lower estrogen levels and slow cancer growth, in breast cancer survivors and ovarian cancer prognosis and survivorship.

In addition, Dr. Irwin is involved in the Health, Eating, Activity and Lifestyle (HEAL) Study. The prospective study of 1,182 women with breast cancer, funded by the NCI, examines associations among weight, physical activity, diet, quality of life, serum hormones, and other prognostic factors on survival. Dr. Irwin is also a co-investigator on the NCI-funded Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Study, which focuses on research related to energy balance and cancer risk and prognosis.

Dr. Irwin has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, and has presented her research nationally. She has served on various research review committees for the NCI, Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the American Cancer Society, as well as on advisory committees to develop consensus statements on physical activity and cancer prognosis.

Dr. Irwin holds degrees from the College of William and Mary, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of South Carolina in Columbia, and University of Washington in Seattle.

USDA Provides $65 Million to Improve Access to Healthy Food

The USDA has launched “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” a new initiative to support local agriculture. With an initial $65 million, the program will support local and regional food systems and help strengthen sustainable agricultural ventures.

“Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

Some of the funds will be used to select Community Food Projects in 14 states to help improve food security and to develop local food systems. Sustainable agriculture components of the 2008 Farm Bill inspired this initiative. The USDA plans to continue investing in opportunities that will help local agriculture grow and prosper.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is also promoting an exchange of ideas among Americans. The USDA is asking people to share their thoughts via E-mail and YouTube. The Rudd Center invites you to join the conversation.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

David B. Abrams, PhD
Executive Director, Steven A. Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies, American Legacy Foundation
Changing Systems to Improve Health
Lessons Learned from the Tobacco Wars

Alison E. Field, ScD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School; Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health
Preventing Weight Gain: What Should We Recommend?

Tim Smith
Chief Executive, UK Food Standards Agency
Nutrition Labels on Food Packaging
Food Marketing to Children

Joshua Freedman, MD
Associate Clinical Professor, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; Co-Founder and Chief Scientist, FKF Applied Research, LLC

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 an 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

A Plan to Add Supermarkets to Poor Areas, with Healthy Results


The Bloomberg administration has removed trans fats from New York City restaurants, deployed fruit vendors to produce-poor neighborhoods, and encouraged corner bodegas to sell leafy green vegetables and low-fat milk. Officials want to establish new supermarkets in areas where fresh produce is scarce and where poverty, obesity, and diabetes rates are high. Read more.

Obama Says New Tax on Sugary Drinks Worth ‘Exploring’

President Obama said he is willing to consider taxing soda and other sugary drinks as Congress debates overhauling the U.S. health care system. Read more.

New PSAs to Combat Childhood Overweight and Obesity

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Ad Council launched a new series of public service advertisements designed to address childhood overweight and obesity. Read more.

Mid-Life Obesity Predicts Women's Later Health Woes

A study published online in the British Medical Journal shows that women who are overweight in midlife are at increased risk of various health problems, from chronic diseases to cognitive impairment, once they pass age 70. Read more.

Obesity Increases the Risk of Developing a Second Breast Cancer

A new study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that obesity, alcohol use, and smoking all significantly increase the risk of second breast cancer among breast cancer survivors. Read more.

Michigan Grocery Store Tax Incentive Has Many Benefits

The Michigan Departments of Agriculture and Treasury released information on an amendment to the Commercial Rehabilitation Act. It is geared to support grocery store development and give citizens better access to fresh food through tax incentives. Read more.

In TV Series, Some Reality on Weight

A new dramatic series challenges conventional notions about dieting and willpower and depicts more accurately the emerging science of weight loss. Read more.

Streamline Access to School Meals: USDA's Vilsack

When Congress updates the U.S. school lunch program, it should remove paperwork barriers to enrollment to free or reduced-price meals, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read more.

Children with Emotional Difficulties at Higher Risk for Adult Obesity

Research published in the journal BMC Medicine indicates that children with emotional problems are at higher risk for obesity in adult life. Read more.

'Smart Choices' Food Label: A Sign of Nutrition or Marketing?

A new logo is intended to highlight healthier groceries -- selected by food giants in partnership with a nonprofit group. Critics say a program that includes Froot Loops is too lenient. Read more.

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking

Many advocates for better, healthier school food have begun to believe that the only way to improve what students eat is to stop reheating processed food and start cooking real, fresh food. Read more.

At Some Schools, Tastier Trays Come at a Price

How much will it cost to fix school lunch? Congress will seek the answer this fall as it budgets for childhood nutrition programs, which include about $12 billion annually for school meals. Read more.

Coke Says it Will Help Calorie Counters

Amid pressure on lawmakers to tax sugary sodas, which some health experts implicate in rising obesity rates, Coca-Cola Co. will alter packaging on almost all of its products to display nutritional information more prominently. Calories-per-serving and servings-per-container details will appear on products sold in more than 200 countries. Read more.


School Lunch Punch


The Child Nutrition Act, which supplies breakfast and lunch to 31 million students at an annual cost of $12 billion, is up for reauthorization by Congress in October. Read more.

An Anti-Tax Argument That’s Hard to Swallow

Proposals to tax sugary drinks as a way to fight obesity and finance health care reform have found support from medical experts and some interest from President Obama, while meeting resistance from the beverage industry in general and the Coca-Cola C.E.O. Read more.