Sanford dean lends expertise to film on nation's food industry
Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, is featured in “Fed Up”—a recent documentary co-produced by broadcast journalist Katie Couric that addresses the nation’s obesity epidemic. The film examines the effect of added sugar in the American diet has had on children, with Brownell noting that schools have become dependent on the junk food industry for money, making “a bargain with the devil.” Brownell, who specializes in food and health policy, came to Duke this past year after 22 years at Yale University. He spoke with The Chronicle’s Rachel Chason about his involvement with the film and his first year at the University.
The Chronicle: Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in the film Fed Up?
Kelly Brownell: The film’s producer Laurie David—who had previously produced Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth—got in touch with me and mentioned that she was doing the film in conjunction with Katie Couric. She asked me to do an interview for the film, as I have done for a number of other similar projects.
TC: What do you think was the biggest takeaway from the movie?
KB: Americans live in a food environment where it is very difficult to make healthy choices, and this is especially true of people who live in poverty. The consumer environment needs to be improved. My work has centered on how to improve that food environment in places like schools, but also in society at large.
TC: How have you used your background in food and health policy in your work in Sanford?
KB: Sanford is a very exciting place with highly talented faculty and students and a real commitment to make the world a better place. My aim is to help the school create even more good for the world and to help harness the power of the scholarship and teaching in order to create social change.
TC: How do you think your first year as the Dean of Public Policy went?
KB: It’s been a very exciting year for me. I’ve been impressed with the University because of its willingness to try new things, its interdisciplinary nature and its global presence. My colleagues at Sanford are working on a variety of the world’s largest problems and devoting their time to changing the world. It’s hard not to be energized by that.
TC: What do you think were some of your biggest successes?
KB: The largest success of the year was probably the completion of the strategic vision. Faculty, students and staff have helped lay out an overall vision for the school and have focused on some exciting new initiatives for the future.
TC: What are some challenges you faced?
KB: The largest challenge would be not having enough hours in the day. There simply isn’t enough time to meet all the alumni and people around the University that I would have liked to. I’m actually in San Francisco now, meeting with a variety of Duke alumni, who are an interesting, devoted group of people that share very interesting ideas about things we might do in the future.
TC: What are your goals for next year and future years?
KB: My general goal is to help the school create more good in the world, and I hope to put forth concrete new initiatives in order to accomplish this goal.