Author: Jenny Brown

A vicious cycle: Stigmatizing photos fuel obesity problem

A study recently published in the Journal of Health Communication reports that negative images of obese or overweight people in the media are contributing to the obesity problem. After studying five major online news sources, researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that almost 75 percent of stories about obesity or weight loss included an image that depicted an overweight person in a negative or stigmatizing light. The researchers claim that these images contribute to the problem of obesity.

In an interview with the LA Times, Rebecca Puhl, director of research and weight stigma initiatives, asserts that prior research has shown that when people view negative or stigmatizing images of overweight people, they are more likely to hold prejudices against overweight or obese people. Furthermore, she says,

“When they’re stigmatized by their weight, they’re more likely to engage in unhealthy eating…stigma is a form of stress and a common coping method is eating food.”

If part of the solution to combating the obesity epidemic is to not allow unhealthy weight to become the social norm, what are some ways we can do that that does not portray overweight or obese people as sloppy or unprofessional? What images would instead empower those to maintain or reach a healthy weight?




Food marketers use online games to target children

Childhood obesity is something often discussed on Upstream. And with the growth of this public health problem, people continue to seek answers as to what contributes to this epidemic. As written about in the NY Times, online games that serve as advertising ploys by food companies to sell often unhealthy food may be one contributor.

Many argue that the internet offers a new way for marketers to engage children and criticize their use of online games to sell products like sugary cereals and other fatty foods. Susan Linn, professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, says,

“Food marketers have tried to reach children since the age of the carnival barker, but they’ve never had so much access to them and never been able to bypass parents so successfully.”

But as always, there are two sides to the story. In 2006, 17 large companies (McDonald’s and Pepsi included) made a voluntary pledge to reduce marketing of their least nutritious foods to kids. Although the Better Business Bureau reports that compliance with this pledge is high, one wonders whether the options being marketed are any healthier than the other “less healthy” options that these brands tout.

Research shows that children do not fully understand advertising until ages 11 or 12. What responsibility do we have to advocate for children in the area of food marketing? Should we work towards more stringent regulations or find ways to counter the current advertisements?



Scholar in the spotlight: Interactive games for health

Interactive games for health are becoming more and more popular as technology advances and the number of video game platforms on the market increase. The national program, Health Games Research, has established itself as a leader in the field of interactive games for health. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, Health Games Research provides support and leads initiatives that aim to expand upon the existing research, models, and effectiveness of the digital games and technologies that are being used to promote health.

The use of interactive media for health promotion is something that Dr. Debra Lieberman, Health Games Research Director, is passionate about. Her current research focuses on learning processes and behavior change mechanisms that can work in collaboration with interactive media to promote health and well-being.

Continue Reading

Global health alert: Sunbed use outlawed for minors in the UK

With the summer fast approaching and people prepare to emerge from their winter shelters wearing bikinis and swim trunks, that sun-kissed look is coveted.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that it is now illegal in England and Wales for anyone under the age of 18 to use indoor tanning devices. The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 prevents minors from being allowed access to tanning beds, being offered the use of a sunbed, and being in an area that is constructed for sunbed users. This law comes at a time during which Cancer Research UK is launching the2011 SunSmart Campaign. Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, touches upon the importance of this new law,

Continue Reading

U.S. obesity epidemic and patient-provider communication

More than two-thirds of adults (68 percent) in the United States are overweight or obese.

How does patient-provider communication relate to this statistic?

STOP (Strategies to Overcome and Prevent) Obesity Alliance recently commissioned a study that was conducted by Harris Interactive that surveyed 290 primary care physicians. They found that although 89 percent of primary care physicians recognize the importance of addressing obesity in their practice, 72 percent also report they do not have sufficient weight management resources at hand. This is in line with previous news stories that report that many physicians receive inadequate training on nutrition during medical school.

Continue Reading


Radiation, risk, and sources of exposure

With the Japanese emergency at Fukushima nuclear power plant still in the headlines, radiation exposure is on the minds of many. The United States Environmental Protection Agency have several air monitors that have detected low levels of radioactive material in the US, said to be due to the defective nuclear reactors in Japan. Although this finding is not surprising, according to the EPA, and the levels are not high enough to be a reason for alarm, it is a timely moment to talk about the common ways we are exposed to radiation and whether or not it affects our health.

Continue Reading

The Very Hungry Caterpillar book

Hungry caterpillar encourages discussion on healthy eating

The Very Hungry Caterpillar– one of my favorite children’s books and soon to be an installment in pediatricians’ offices around the country.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has partnered with the American Academy of Pediatricians to fight childhood obesity by introducing a new campaign. The campaign includes distributing 17,500 of Eric Carle’s beloved book to pediatric offices across the nation.

Continue Reading

Hospitals use social media

social media logosSocial networking tools are becoming increasingly popular resources for hospitals, both in the United States and abroad.

Edward Bennett, director of web strategy at the University of Maryland Medical System, has compiled a list of U.S. hospitals that use social networking tools. These tools include YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Four Square, and blogs. His list includes 906 hospitals total that collectively utilize 3,087 social networking sites. Bennett asserts that hospitals can use social media in a variety of ways such as for customer service, community outreach, patient education, public relations, and crisis communications.

Continue Reading

Journalists, readers, and development workers partner to save lives

boys playing in UgandaThe news media have consistently tackled international development and global health issues – disease or malnutrition, for example – getting attention and providing viewers with opportunities to take action.

But recently a few news organizations have taken a more in-depth approach to these issues by partnering with donor agencies to show the big and small picture of international aid, tracking development from the dollar received to the remote village where it is spent.

Continue Reading