Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
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Recent Alerts

Weight Bias Hinders Obesity Solutions

October 6, 2014

The neglected problem of societal bias, stigma, and discrimination toward individuals with obesity impedes progress toward evidence-based solutions, according to a commentary by Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Rudd Center’s Deputy Director and Theodore Kyle, RPh, MBA, member of the Roundtable on Obesity Solutions and Advocacy Advisor of The Obesity Society.

“We must separate the disease of obesity from the people who are affected and implement solutions for obesity while maintaining respect and dignity for children and adults with this disease,” assert the authors in an Institute of Medicine Perspectives piece.

Combating weight bias requires efforts to increase public awareness of weight stigma and its health impacts, challenge societal stereotypes and attributions of blame for body weight, combat harmful messages in the media that promote obesity stigma, disseminate interventions that support and empower rather than stigmatize or shame persons with obesity, and implement stigma reduction efforts in settings where weight bias is prevalent, such as in schools, the workplace, and in health care, say the authors.

Strategic Science and Communications can Improve Food Marketing Practices

October 6, 2014

Prominent organizations like the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization have warned that food and beverage advertising contributes to childhood obesity. To address these concerns, food companies have pledged to advertise only ‘healthier dietary choices’ in ‘child-directed media’.  However, many public health advocates question whether the food industry’s pledges will improve their child-targeted marketing practices in a meaningful way.

In a paper recently published in the journal Critical Public Health, Rudd Center researchers evaluate the progress made by manufacturers of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals in promoting nutritious choices to children through their pledges.  Researchers also evaluate the potential role of scientific research to influence corporate behavior.

The analysis is the first of its kind to provide a case study of the potential for success, as well as the limitations, of a public health strategy to incentivize food companies to voluntarily improve child-targeted marketing practices through strategic research and communications.

Researchers conducted a series of studies beginning in 2008 to evaluate child-targeted marketing by cereal companies using a variety of research methods. One report, called Cereal FACTS, aimed to understand the extent and impact of cereal marketing to children; disseminate these findings to parents, the media, the public health community, policy-makers, and industry representatives; and encourage cereal companies to shift child-targeted marketing toward the more nutritious products in their portfolios. Additional studies examined the impact of that marketing on children’s eating behaviors.

In 2012, a follow-up analysis of Cereal FACTS demonstrated some improvements in the nutritional quality and marketing of child-targeted cereals, although child-targeted cereals remained the least healthy products in company portfolios.

According to the researchers, cereal companies have implemented more improvements than most other food and beverage categories most likely due to scrutiny from researchers, advocacy groups, and government initiatives.

Rudd Center Joins the University of Connecticut

September 12, 2014

The Rudd Center, its faculty, and staff will to move to the University of Connecticut (UConn) in January 2015. It is one of the first major initiatives of UConn’s Academic Vision, which prioritizes health, wellness, and obesity prevention research as an integral part of the University’s mission.

The collaboration was announced today during a ceremony at Goodwin Elementary School in East Hartford, Connecticut that emphasized the importance of research in preventing obesity and improving the health of young people.

“The Rudd Center has developed an outstanding national and international reputation for sound science and strategic policy advocacy,” said Mun Choi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut. “We are thrilled to have the Rudd Center join UConn as we build a growing record of excellence at our institution.”

Recently ranked as one of the nation’s most effective nonprofits working on nutrition policy, the Rudd Center is  a leader in conducting cutting edge research to inform pressing public policy issues and its work is  widely used by policy makers and health advocates.

“We are excited to join UConn and the community of world-class researchers whose work is relevant to childhood obesity and weight stigma,” said Schwartz. “By joining UConn during this monumental time of growth, the Rudd Center will remain a leader in addressing how home environments, school landscapes, neighborhoods, and the media shape the eating attitudes and behaviors of children.”

The move will allow Rudd Center researchers to expand their work and build new collaborations with UConn experts on nutrition, public policy, psychology, agriculture, economics, and obesity – many located within the University’s Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), where the Rudd Center will be situated.

CHIP, which is led by Jeffrey Fisher, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology, has received more than $100 million in external funding to support its health-related research, and has a proven track record of fostering interdisciplinary collaborations between many of these research areas. Its Obesity Research Group boasts 130 members from more than 20 UConn departments and multiple campuses.

Importantly, the Rudd Center’s relocation to Hartford’s Constitution Plaza positions its resources near policymakers.

The alignment between UConn and Rudd provides a new platform for researchers to elevate their work on obesity, investigating such varied questions as: economic incentives and the role of marketing in food choices; genetic and neurophysiological moderators of risk for obesity; chemosensory perception in humans and how it influences food preference and intake; worksite health promotion programs; weight management interventions for adults and children; faith-based interventions; identifying food deserts and measuring health outcomes in those areas; effects of cholesterol-lowering medications on muscle performance; obesity prevention policies; and weight-based stigma and bullying.

Rudd Center and the University of Connecticut to Announce Collaboration

September 12, 2014

The Rudd Center and the University of Connecticut (UConn) will announce a new collaboration that focuses on obesity prevention, health, and wellness during a press conference today at Goodwin Elementary School in East Hartford, Connecticut.

The collaboration will allow Rudd Center researchers to expand their work and build new collaborations with UConn experts on nutrition, public policy, psychology, agriculture, economics, and obesity.

Teens’ Neural Response to Food Commercials Predicts Future Weight Gain

September 11, 2014

Children and adolescents see thousands of food commercials each year and most of them advertise junk foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. Yet, researchers know almost nothing about how food marketing impacts the brain, especially for teens.  New research published in the journal Obesity suggests that food commercials “get under the skin” of teens by activating reward regions when they are viewing ads for milk shakes, or burgers, or colas. The bad news is that this can result in weight gain and obesity, assert the authors. 

In the first prospective longitudinal study to investigate neural response to unhealthy food commercials, Oregon Research Institute (ORI) scientists, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Michigan, the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and Duke University, used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to scan 30 adolescents (14-17 years old) while they watched the television show “Mythbusters.” The television show included 20 food commercials and 20 non-food commercials that are frequently advertised to adolescents.

The researchers found that adolescents showing elevated responses in reward regions to food commercials gained more weight over one year follow-up compared to those with less activation in these brain regions. The magnitude of these effects is much larger than the effects for established risk factors for future weight gain, such as parental obesity.

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