The Redesigning Wellness Podcast

024: Food Industry, Soda Tax and Obesity with Dr. Kelly Brownell


As wellness and HR professionals, we tend to get focused in our bubble of where we work and how we can make an impact on our employees. But there are many forces outside of the worksite that impact individual’s total health. That’s why I wanted to expand our worksite lens and talk to Dr. Kelly Brownell.

Dr. Brownell tells us about the work he oversees as the Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. The Sanford School focuses on four broad areas: hunger/food insecurity/malnutrition; obesity/over nutrition; impact of agriculture on the environment (GMO’s, biodiversity); food safety and security. He is working to set up the World Food Policy Center that would work at the intersection of these four areas (from local to global).

He drops some interesting facts about how the world population is expected to double in the next 50 years and that will put a tremendous strain on agriculture. China is now having a problem with obesity…more than with malnutrition.

We talk a bit about the agriculture subsidies for corn and soybeans and how they are complicated issues. He gives me a history lesson on why they were put into place in the first place. Although not always the case, the hope is that government policy would benefit the farmers, human health and the environment all at once.

We discuss how Philadelphia recently passed the soda tax and Dr. Brownell gives his input into the effect on other cities. He compares these soda taxes to tobacco taxes. In fact, other countries such as France, Mexico, Pacific Island nations have had soda taxes and Berkeley, CA was the first city to pass the soda tax in U.S.

The typical tax proposal is a tax of a penny per ounce tax on soda and that’s expected to decrease consumption by 15-20%. The tax is one of many things that need to be included to make a true impact.

I ask him what he thinks of the angle Philly used to pass the soda tax (using bringing in more revenue vs. health implications) and what he thinks of the personal responsibility story when it comes to junk food?

Finally, I ask him if the soda tax replicate for the worksite, if obesity in adults can be solved or if we need to focus on prevention and how can cities/communities/employers can start a movement around health and wellness?