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Food guru Kelly Brownell heads to Duke

Food and obesity guru Kelly Brownell is leaving Yale for Duke University.

Brownell, the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, is a national expert on why we are so fat, how it harms us, and what we can do about it. His short answer: focusing on individual choices and willpower ignores our "toxic food environment," engineered by industry to make us eat more. 

He will become the dean of Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy on July 1, the North Carolina university announced.

A Duke press release says the school's public policy major "is one of the most popular among Duke undergraduates and its master's in public policy is ranked among the country's top 10 policy analysis programs."

Says Duke president Richard Brodhead '68, '72 PhD (a former Yale professor and administrator): "Kelly Brownell will make a perfect leader for a school dedicated to using knowledge to make a difference in the world. A world-class researcher, he has established himself as the major public voice on obesity—one of the world's most rapidly emerging issues—and has been an influential policy advisor at city, state and national levels."

Human beings, like other animals, are biologically programmed to take in as many calories as possible, Brownell argues. That works in our favor when food is scarce.

But in our "toxic" environment of too much food laden with too much fat and sugar, "we are literally eating ourselves to death," he told the Yale Alumni Magazine in a 2004 feature article. "And our government leaders are doing almost nothing about it."

Among Brownell's ideas for what government should do: crack down on marketing of sweet cereals and beverages to kids, and slap a "fat tax" on high-calorie, low-nutrition foods.

Filed under Kelly Brownell, Rudd Center, food, Duke University
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