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Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D. - University of Connecticut. Storrs, CT, US

Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D. Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D.

Professor of Allied Health Sciences | University of Connecticut


Expert in the psychology of social media, technology, and health


Dr. Pagoto is a Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist and Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. Her research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, focuses on leveraging mobile technology and social media to improve health. She has published over 190 papers on these topics. Devoted to science communication she has 25K followers on Twitter and a contributor to Washington Post, Boston Globe, Salon, US News and World Report, Chronicle of Higher Education, STAT News, MedCityNews, and Psychology Today. Her work has been featured in major news outlets including CNN, NPR, NBC News, ABC News, and Good Morning America.

Areas of Expertise (8)

Sun Safety Behavioral Science Diet Digital Health Obesity Social Media Exercise Skin Cancer Prevention

Education (4)

University of Illinois at Chicago/Hines VA Hospital: Post-Doctoral Research Fellow 2003

Western Michigan University: Ph.D., Clinical Psychology 2001

Western Michigan University: M.A., Clinical Psychology 1998

Oakland University: B.A., Psychology 1995

Affiliations (2)

  • National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention: Co-Director, Tan-Free Skin Smart Campus Initiative
  • Society of Behavioral Medicine: Board of Directors

Accomplishments (3)

Mentoring Women Faculty Award (professional)

Awarded by the Women’s Faculty Committee, UMass Medical School

Distinguished Service Award (professional)

Awarded by the Society of Behavioral Medicine

Obesity Society mHealth/eHealth Pioneer Award (professional)

Awarded by the Obesity Society







Dr. Sherry Pagoto - UMass Medical School 5 Keys to Weight Loss


Media Appearances (13)

Facebook urges gay men to give blood, which can be a painful reminder they aren’t allowed to

CNBC  tv


One public health expert who has advised Facebook told CNBC that the blood donation feature is a positive tool overall, especially when there are critical shortages of blood in various regions. But there are implications in targeting everyone that Facebook might not have fully considered.

“This is an unfortunate side effect of a promising tool,” said Sherry Pagoto, a professor at the University of Connecticut, who specializes in technology and public health. “It’s a good example of Facebook trying to do something with a good intention, but perhaps not playing through the various unintended consequences.”

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Ladies, even in your love life, you better get that commitment to gender equality in writing

USA Today  print


Amazon released season two of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" this month, prompting women everywhere to abandon responsibility for a binge-watching therapy session. Although we were not alive in 1958, we did not come of age in the upper west side of Manhattan and our only access to the Catskills was when someone tried to put Baby in a corner, something resonates. Midge, the main character, experiences a deep tension between marriage and career that is all too familiar.

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Does Work/Life Balance Exist in the Gig Economy?

SELF Magazine  print


While you can’t always curb your angst, you can drop the idea that being with your fam less than other moms is going to scar your kids. “Women are operating under two sets of expectations—one for work and one for parenthood—that cannot possibly both be met and are a setup for chronic stress and guilt,” Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media and president of the Society of Behavior Medicine at the University of Connecticut, tells SELF. “The concept of work/life balance seems to center around how much time we spend in each activity. If we shifted our metric of success from quantity to quality, we might have an easier time achieving success.”

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Gyms with tanning beds send mixed message

UPI  online


Since indoor tanning raises the risk of skin cancer, this common combo sends a conflicting message to gym users, University of Connecticut researchers say.

"By pairing exercise with tanning beds, gyms send the message that tanning is part of a healthy lifestyle. It is not," said study author Sherry Pagoto. She's a professor of allied health sciences.

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How diet can affect mental health: The likely link between food and the brain

ABC News  online


Diet decisions that improve the rest of the body may improve the brain’s outlook on the world.

"When people are feeling better by dieting and losing weight or resolving symptoms that they’re having, that could have an impact on mood," said Dr. Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and University of Connecticut professor. "When people do engage in healthy lifestyle changes, we do see improvements in depression."

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Tans — even from a new drug — aren’t the way to prevent skin cancer

STAT  online


The media had fun reporting on a new tanning drug that causes the skin to darken in much the same way that the sun does. Headlines told us that “Scientists have created a safe sun-free tan,” proclaimed “Suntans for all,” and predicted “Tanning drug could prevent skin cancer.” The science is interesting. But what it means for sun-loving humans remains to be seen.

Last month, a team of Boston-based researchers reported that applying a compound called topical salt-inducible kinase (SIK) inhibitor to skin cells stimulated them to produce melanin, the pigment that determines skin color and provides some protection against cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. The team had previously used this technique to give mice a tan and now has successfully used it in human skin cells.

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Why Tracking Your Weight Loss on Social Media (Like Ciara) Can Actually Help

Health magazine  print


There's no question that encouraging words can go a long way when you're trying to make a big change. And it might be easier to get that kind of support online: Posting about your weight loss journey on social media may feel less intimidating than talking about it IRL, points out Sherry Pagoto, PhD, co-founder of the UMass Center for Health and Social Media.

“Some people say they like the anonymity [online],” she explains. “On Twitter, you can choose a handle and use an avatar on your profile, which makes some people feel like they can speak more freely and not be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their weight.”

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How to silence your phone's noisy, unrelenting alerts

USA Today  online


I wondered then and I still wonder now — am I being too sensitive? Should I say something or sit seething in the ding-ping-buzz interrupted silence? Is this a generational thing? “Etiquette is always generational,” Dr. Sherry Pagoto says. She’s a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and founder of the UMass Center for mHealth and Social Media. “While a person over 25 years old may find it rude that a companion is checking notifications in their presence, a person under 25 years old might not at all.”

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Home tanning beds: convenient but dangerous, health experts say

USA Today  print


“This is a radiation-emitting device,” says Sherry Pagoto, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts. “And radiation can be a very dangerous thing.”

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How to Break Your Tanning Habit For Good

Cosmopolitan  print


“Addictive behaviors are often motivated by mood,” says psychologist Sherry Pagoto, PhD, professor of preventive and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. If you use UV rays to deal with stress, get that tanner’s high from a healthier source: Hit the gym, watch a comedy, or have sex (solo counts).

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21 Days to Change a Habit? Why It’s Not That Simple

U.S. News & World Report  online


As a clinical psychologist, I have worked with hundreds of people on weight loss. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is investing energy in the wrong habits, meaning those habits that aren’t most likely to help them achieve their goal. The right habit should meet two criteria: First, it should address a major impediment to your progress; second, it should have a measurable return on investment, or ROI.

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F.D.A. Announces Stricter Rules on Tanning Beds

New York Times  print

Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, cautioned that users may not read labels, especially if they are not prominently displayed on tanning beds. She said it was vital to get the message out to parents that children should not use tanning beds, “because in most states, there are parental consent requirements where there aren’t bans.”

Ideally, she said, states will include information about the federal warning on consent forms. “That would be really important information for a parent’s decision,” Dr. Pagoto said. “We can’t just expect them to know.”

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Colleges cautioned on tanning salons

Boston Globe  print

In a study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, Sherry L. Pagoto, a researcher and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and her team examined 125 top universities, and found that 12 percent had tanning beds on campus. At 42 percent of the schools, tanning beds operated in off-campus apartment complexes that catered to students, almost always offered as part of the rent. At 14 percent of colleges and universities, tanning salons were among the vendors accepting the school’s cash card.

“I doubt there’s a university that’s intentionally doing something they know is harmful,” Pagoto said. But until recently, she said, the issue just was not on administrators’ radar.

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Articles (5)

Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sun Safety JAMA dermatology


Overexposure to the sun is associated with an increased risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, but indications of improvements in sun protection behavior are poor. Attempts to identify emerging themes in skin cancer control have largely been driven by groups of experts from a single field. In December 2016, 19 experts from various disciplines convened for Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Skin Cancer, a 2-day meeting hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. The group discussed knowledge gaps, perspectives on sun exposure, implications for skin cancer risk and other health outcomes, and new directions. Five themes emerged from the discussion: (1) The definition of risk must be expanded, and categories for skin physiology must be refined to incorporate population diversities. (2) Risky sun exposure often co-occurs with other health-related behaviors. (3) Messages must be nuanced to target at-risk populations. (4) Persons at risk for tanning disorder must be recognized and treated. (5) Sun safety interventions must be scalable. Efficient use of technologies will be required to sharpen messages to specific populations and to integrate them within multilevel interventions. Further interdisciplinary research should address these emerging themes to build effective and sustainable approaches to large-scale behavior change.

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Tanners’ awareness and perceptions of legislation for tanning bed use Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine


Indoor tanning is a group 1 carcinogen. Many states have enacted legislation to restrict the use of tanning beds by minors, limit exposure to the manufacturer's recommendation, require customers to sign written warnings, and require use of protective eyewear. The present study explores whether tanners in the US are aware of tanning legislation in their state, how strict they perceive their state's legislation to be, and how they would change their behavior if indoor tanning was completely banned.

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Teens, Tweets, and Tanning Beds: Rethinking the Use of Social Media for Skin Cancer Prevention American Journal of Preventive Medicine


The incidence of skin cancer is rising in the U.S., and melanoma, the deadliest form, is increasing disproportionately among young white women. Indoor tanning is a modifiable risk factor for all skin cancers and continues to be used at the highest rates in young white women. Adolescents and young adults report personal appearance–based reasons for using indoor tanning. Previous research has explored the influences on tanning bed use, including individual factors as well as relationships with peers, family, schools, media influences, legislation, and societal beauty norms. Adolescents and young adults also have high rates of social media usage, and research is emerging on how best to utilize these platforms for prevention. Social media has the potential to be a cost-effective way to reach large numbers of young people and target messages at characteristics of specific audiences. Recent prevention efforts have shown that comprehensive prevention campaigns that include technology and social media are promising in reducing rates of indoor tanning among young adults. This review examines the literature on psychosocial influences on indoor tanning among adolescents and young adults, and highlights ways in which technology and social media can be used for prevention efforts.

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A Call for an End to the Diet Debates JAMA


As the obesity epidemic persists, the time has come to end the pursuit of the “ideal” diet for weight loss and disease prevention. The dietary debate in the scientific community and reported in the media about the optimal macronutrient-focused weight loss diet sheds little light on the treatment of obesity and may mislead the public regarding proper weight management. Numerous randomized trials comparing diets differing in macronutrient compositions (eg, low-carbohydrate, low-fat, Mediterranean) have demonstrated differences in weight loss and metabolic risk factors that are small (ie, a mean difference of

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Inhibiting Food Reward: Delay Discounting, Food Reward Sensitivity, and Palatable Food Intake in Overweight and Obese Women Obesity


Overeating is believed to result when the appetitive motivation to consume palatable food exceeds an individual's capacity for inhibitory control of eating. This hypothesis was supported in recent studies involving predominantly normal weight women, but has not been tested in obese populations. The current study tested the interaction between food reward sensitivity and inhibitory control in predicting palatable food intake among energy-replete overweight and obese women (N = 62). Sensitivity to palatable food reward was measured with the Power of Food Scale. Inhibitory control was assessed with a computerized choice task that captures the tendency to discount large delayed rewards relative to smaller immediate rewards. Participants completed an eating in the absence of hunger protocol in which homeostatic energy needs were eliminated with a bland preload of plain oatmeal, followed by a bogus laboratory taste test of palatable and bland snacks. The interaction between food reward sensitivity and inhibitory control was a significant predictor of palatable food intake in regression analyses controlling for BMI and the amount of preload consumed. Probing this interaction indicated that higher food reward sensitivity predicted greater palatable food intake at low levels of inhibitory control, but was not associated with intake at high levels of inhibitory control. As expected, no associations were found in a similar regression analysis predicting intake of bland foods. Findings support a neurobehavioral model of eating behavior in which sensitivity to palatable food reward drives overeating only when accompanied by insufficient inhibitory control. Strengthening inhibitory control could enhance weight management programs.

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