has changed dramatically, mainly in unhealthy ways,” he says,
“and we are paying a predictable price.”
Through his work with the Rudd Center, Brownell fights for
policies that limit food companies’ reach and improve nutrition
for children and adults, by regulating marketing, for example.
“The food industry has become ever more effective at marketing
its unhealthy products, especially to children,” he says.
The average U.S. child sees about 5,500 food commercials a
year, according to Rudd Center statistics. The vast majority of
those are for snacks and beverages filled with sugar, salt and fat.
Brownell’s work has raised awareness of the problem, boosting
support for efforts that reduce food marketing’s pull. In a recent
study, for instance, Brownell and colleagues found that kids eat
more unhealthy snacks and fewer fruits and vegetables after
playing “adver-games” featured on food company websites
(Children and Media, 2012).
The Rudd Center has also spearheaded the push for a tax
on sugar-sweetened beverages to limit soda consumption.
Several countries outside the United States have passed such
taxes, and Brownell believes many communities and states are
close to enacting soda taxes of their own. In a 2011 analysis,
he and his colleagues estimated that a penny-per-ounce tax
on sugar-sweetened drinks could reduce consumption by 24
percent, effectively cutting 45 to 50 calories per day from a
soda drinker’s diet (Preventive Medicine, 2011).
Brownell believes policies must
change to curb the obesity epidemic.
“Individual behavior change can be
difficult when personal responsibility
is overwhelmed by the environment,”
he says. He is encouraged by two recent
pieces of legislation. The 2010 health-care reform legislation includes a
mandate that chain restaurants must post
calorie content on restaurant menus and
menu boards. That same year, President
Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which improves nutrition
standards for any food sold in schools,
[initiatives], so it feels good to see that
change is occurring,” Brownell says.
The picture of obesity in the United
States has changed considerably since
Brownell and Wing launched their
careers. “In those years, there’s been an
explosion of obesity,” Wing says. More
people are overweight and obese today
than ever before, and the average BMI of
people enrolling in weight-loss programs
has also increased, she says.
Yet our understanding of obesity has also come a long way.
When Wing began her research in the 1970s, she says, “many
people believed that obesity was just a cosmetic disease.” Today,
few would dispute that it’s a medical crisis.
After a lifetime of achievement, both Wing and Brownell say
work remains to be done. The good news, Brownell says, is that
social norms are beginning to change. “The more citizens care
about these issues, the more they can be mobilized to create
social change,” he says.
Interestingly, both give the same answer when asked what
they’re most proud of: their students and protégés who will
carry on this important work in the years and decades to come.
“Both of their perspectives are important,” Johnson says
of Wing and Brownell. “And we should be very proud that
they’re both psychologists.” n
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