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The Rudd Center Health Digest

January 2009

'Soda Tax' Proposed in New York



New York Gov. Paterson proposed an 18 percent sales tax on non-diet sodas and juice drinks in an effort to reduce the state's budget deficit. The tax, which would not affect bottled water, diet soda, coffee, tea or milk, is estimated to raise more than $400 million in the first year.

The beverage industry says the proposal would harm industry jobs in New York. Others are critical of the government’s involvement in food and drink consumption.

"One complaint about the concept of a food tax is that government should keep out of personal behavior such as what people eat. But government is involved in what we eat, often in negative ways," said Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. "It has allowed sugared beverages to be promoted in schools, failed to restrict marketing of unhealthy foods to children (brand loyalty develops early) and subsidizes corn, making it very inexpensive to sweeten beverages with high-fructose corn syrup."

The public health implications of the proposal could be significant.

"More than for any category of foods, research has shown that consumption of sugared beverages is associated with poor diet, increased rates of obesity and risk for diabetes," said Brownell.

Work on price elasticities of soda consumption suggests that an 18% increase in price would lead to a drop in consumption of about 18%. As Brownell notes, there are many unknowns that will have to be examined if the tax is passed in New York. Among these issues are whether companies will lower costs to help offset the tax, consumers will migrate from brand name to generic versions (thus saving money but not improving nutrition), there will be a large switch from sugared to diet beverages and how industry will adjust its marketing practices.

Rudd Center Staff Develops Food Addiction Scale

Yale University researchers are developing a way to assess a person's dependence on food, which can influence treatments for food addiction and food marketing, especially to children.

The Yale Food Addiction Scale would represent the first measurement tool in the field, and is described in a forthcoming article by Ashley Gearhardt, a PhD student in Yale’s Clinical Psychology program, William Corbin, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale, and Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director. Their article, "Preliminary Validation of the Yale Food Addiction Scale," will be published in the journal Appetite.

Initial findings suggest that the scale can help identify people with addictive inclinations toward food that is high in fat and sugar.

"Evidence is building that excess food consumption can closely resemble substance dependence. For research in this area to progress, it will be necessary to develop well-validated tools to identify those most likely to be experiencing symptoms of dependence," said Gearhardt.

In commenting on this work, Brownell noted, “There is now a critical mass of work on the issue of food and addiction and it looks more and more like certain foods, or constituents of food such as sugar, may be capable of triggering an addictive process. This scale will help clinical researchers examine the concept of dependence more thoroughly.”

When the article on the scale is published, information will be provided in a subsequent newsletter. Information on the issue of food and addiction is available from a Rudd Center Report.

Rudd Center Holds Steering Committee Meeting on Food Marketing to Youth Study

In early December, the Rudd Center and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation hosted a distinguished group of public health, public policy and marketing experts for the first meeting of the Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity Steering Committee. Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, Rudd Center Director, and C. Tracy Orleans, PhD, Distinguished Fellow and Senior Scientist at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, hosted the meeting. The diverse group included leaders in public health research in the fields of economics, medicine, nutrition and the law; officials responsible for public health at the local and national government levels; members of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Standing Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention and the IOM Food Marketing to Children taskforce; experts on health promotion in African-American and Hispanic communities; and experts on childhood obesity. Staff from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rudd Center Senior Leadership Team and Marketing Group also attended.

The goal of the meeting was to obtain expert advice about project plans for the Rudd Center’s $6.4 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study food marketing and childhood obesity. The meeting involved discussions of key issues related to the project. The key issues included methods to evaluate the nutritional quality of foods marketed to youth and the tactics used to market them, how to measure youth exposure to food marketing across all media and how to interact with the food industry to encourage them to reduce the harm associated with food marketing to youth. The committee also discussed strategies to assess racial and ethnic disparities in exposure to food marketing and ways to educate policy makers about food marketing to children.

According to Brownell, “The level of enthusiasm and support for the project among the steering committee members was extremely encouraging. In addition, the suggestions and insights they provided will be invaluable in our ongoing implementation of the project and our ability to positively impact public health.”

Rudd Center Launches Spring Seminar Series


Brian Wansink, PhD, Executive Director of the USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion; John S. Dyson Endowed Chair in the Applied Economics and Management Department at Cornell University; and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, spoke at the Rudd Center's Seminar Series last fall.

Since the Rudd Center was founded in 2005, the organization’s ongoing Seminar Series has welcomed many prominent experts in academics, public policy and the media to discuss their work and its implications for the study of obesity and food policy. The Spring 2009 Seminar Series will be no exception. Among the guests will be Juliet Schor of Boston College, an expert on marketing to children; David Wallinga from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Michael Hamm from Michigan State University, both experts on food and sustainability issues; and David Ludwig from the Harvard Medical School, a leader on issues of childhood obesity.

Upcoming Seminar Speakers:

January 14, 12:30 pm: Lori Dorfman, DrPH
Director of Berkeley Media Studies Group, a project of the Public Health Institute
The Eyeballs Have Moved: Marketing to Children and Youth in the Digital Age

January 21, 12:30 pm: Gary A. Taubes
Science Journalist and Author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control and Disease”
Adiposity 101: Why We Get Fat and the Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity

January 28, 12:30 pm: Marcia L. Pelchat, PhD
Associate Member, Monell Chemical Senses Center
Human Food Addiction?

February 4, 12:30 pm: Juliet B. Schor, PhD
Professor of Sociology, Boston College
The Impacts of Consumer Culture on Children's Well-Being

Our seminars are held at the Rudd Center, located at 309 Edwards Street in New Haven, Connecticut. 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.

Spotlight on Rudd Center Affiliated Faculty: Margaret Grey, DrPH, RN, FAAN

Margaret Grey is the Dean of the Yale University School of Nursing, the Annie Goodrich Professor of Nursing and the founding Director for the Yale Center for Self and Family Management of Vulnerable Populations. She is a pioneer in addressing issues of obesity and diabetes in youth.

Grey’s research focuses on childhood diabetes and primary care of children with chronic illnesses. Her current studies include completing a community-based trial of an intervention to reduce obesity and prevent diabetes in high-risk youth, and a multi-site study of an Internet-based coping skills program for teens with type 1 diabetes. As a principal investigator, she has been awarded grants totaling more than $25 million.

Grey received her MSN in pediatric nursing from Yale University and her Doctorate in public health and social psychology from Columbia University. She teaches courses on leadership and methods for intervention research. Grey has published research in dozens of peer-reviewed journals, including Diabetes, Annals of Family Medicine and Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

She has received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Nurse Scientist Award from the Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science, the Achievement in Research Award from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties, the Outstanding Nurse Researcher Award from the Eastern Nursing Research Society and the Virginia Henderson Award for Outstanding Contributions to Nursing Research from the Connecticut Nurses' Association. She was elected to the American Academy of Nursing in 1990 and the Institute of Medicine in 2005.

The Latest Rudd Center Podcasts

Michael S. Kaufman, JD
Chairman of the National Restaurant Association Board of Directors and Co-President of Enovo Restaurant Ventures LLC
America’s Restaurants: Serving Our Nation

Eric A. Finkelstein, MHA, PhD, MA
Health Economist and the Director of the Public Health Economics Program at the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International
The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It

James Gustave Speth, JD
Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy at Yale University
The Coming Transformation: America, Capitalism and the Environment

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

Media Screentime Linked to Childhood Obesity

A new systematic review by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and California Pacific Medical Center found a strong link between children’s exposure to media and negative health outcomes such as obesity. Of the 173 studies evaluated, three-quarters established a correlation between increased exposure and obesity. Click here for the full article.

New Relationship Found between Thyroid and Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity may cause deficient thyroid hormones, which control metabolism, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Researchers were previously aware only of the effect of inactive thyroids on obesity. Click here for the full article.

Surprisingly High Salt Levels in Food

Many food products have higher sodium content than expected, according to an evaluation by Consumer Reports. The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests that while some companies have reduced the salt content in food in recent years, others have increased the amount. Read the full article.

Obesity Contributes to Louisiana's Poor Health

Louisiana’s high obesity rate is one reason it was labeled as the unhealthiest state by the United Health Foundation. The popularity of high-fat food and inactive lifestyles contribute to the rising obesity rate. For the full article, click here.

Psychological and Behavioral Factors Differ between Weight Loss Treatments

Research published in the International Journal of Obesity evaluated post-treatment behavioral differences between patient groups who lost weight through surgical and non-surgical interventions. While no major differences occurred in caloric intake or weight regain, those who lost weight after surgical methods reported higher rates of depression, stress and fast food consumption and were less likely to engage in the recommended amount of physical activity or follow eating management strategies. Read the full article.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup No More Harmful than Sugar

New research published in a supplement to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that high-fructose corn syrup doesn't play any greater role than sugar in fueling obesity. A 2004 paper had suggested that the sweetener might play a significant role in the rising obesity rates. For the full article, click here.

Child Eating Speed Linked to Genes and Obesity

A new study by scientists at the Health Behaviour Research Centre at University College London has shown that children’s eating speed is connected to their genes. The research also demonstrated that overweight and obese children eat more bites per minute than normal weight children. Click here for the full article.

High Fat Consumption Seen in Children with Obesity Gene

Investigators at the University of Dundee in Scotland found that children with the newly discovered obesity gene, FTO, may be more inclined to eat high-fat foods. While the gene does not cause obesity directly, its effects could be linked to the accessibility and low price of unhealthy food. Read the full article.

Financial Encouragement in Weight Loss

Cash incentives may motivate obese people to lose weight, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The weight loss for those who earned money for their weight loss and participation in the program was more than four times greater than those who received no incentives. Read the full article.

Obesity Connected to Genetic Variations

Six gene variations associated with a predisposition to obesity were discovered, according to research published in the journal Nature Genetics. The mutations are linked to metabolism and overeating. Click here for the full article.

Weight Bias Law Passed in Binghamton, New York

A law was passed in Binghamton, New York, against discrimination based on weight or height in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. The local change sets a standard for statewide weight bias protection. Read the full article.

Sugar Addiction Shown in Recent Study

Princeton University scientists have found evidence of sugar addiction, based on increased intake, withdrawal, craving and relapse. The findings have implications in the treatment of eating disorders. For the full article, click here.

Childhood Obesity is Set by Age Five

A new article in the journal Pediatrics shows that a child’s risk of obesity is established before age five. The researchers suggest reducing the risk through breastfeeding and parents role modeling healthy eating and activity. Read the full article.