Dr. Pagoto is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and social media researcher. She is currently a Professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut and Director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media. In 2019, she was President of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the leading organization for research at the intersection of behavioral science and health. Her research focuses on leveraging technology in the development and delivery of behavioral interventions targeting diet, physical activity, and cancer prevention. She has developed two mobile apps for weight management and a comprehensive weight loss program that is deliverable via social media platforms. She has had federal funding for her program of research for 17 consecutive years and has published 200+ papers in peer-reviewed journals. She has received several awards for her work including The Obesity Society Pioneer in mHealth/eHealth Award in 2014, Society of Behavioral Medicine Early Career/Young Investigator Award in 2006, and the Western Michigan University Psychology Department Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011. Devoted to science communication, she has bylines in the Washington Post, USA Today, US News and World Report, Chronicle of Higher Education, STAT News, Times Higher Education, MedCityNews, and Psychology Today.
Areas of Expertise (8)
Skin Cancer Prevention
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
- National Council for Skin Cancer Prevention: Co-Director, Tan-Free Skin Smart Campus Initiative
- Society of Behavioral Medicine: Board of Directors
Mentoring Women Faculty Award (professional)
2017 Awarded by the Women’s Faculty Committee, UMass Medical School
Distinguished Service Award (professional)
2016 Awarded by the Society of Behavioral Medicine
Obesity Society mHealth/eHealth Pioneer Award (professional)
2014 Awarded by the Obesity Society
Media Appearances (30)
Experts: Zoom meetings could cause body image issues
Hearst Connecticut Media print
Specifically, Sherry Pagoto is concerned about people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. “One of the characteristics of people with BDD is that they do spend a lot of time looking in the mirror, and it's a source of a lot of anxiety,” said Pagoto, a psychologist and director of the University of Connecticut’s Center for Health and Social Media. “To the extent that Zoom has become an all-day mirror, I don't think that's a great mix.”
Facebook's Plan to Dominate Virtual Reality—And Turn Us into 'Data Cattle'
In spite of all the controversies that have plagued Facebook, none has led to an exodus of users or advertisers, or otherwise slowed the company down. A great majority of the hundreds of millions of Americans who use Facebook visit the site daily—and their numbers continue to grow. "It's popular to bash the company and create negative hashtags," says Sherry Pagoto, who runs the University of Connecticut's mHealth & Social Media program. "But if there are frustrations with Facebook, they don't seem to be affecting people's use of it.
Meaningful engagement key to weight-loss success in social media intervention programs
With more people gravitating to social media each year, providers may be able to use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to create successful, online-only weight-loss intervention programs, according to a presenter. During a presentation at ObesityWeek Interactive, Sherry Pagoto, PhD, professor in the department of allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut, said the number of social media users in the U.S. has steadily increased since 2006 across nearly all gender, ethnicity, age and socioeconomic groups. Additionally, a survey of Facebook users conducted by Pagoto and colleagues last summer showed that 69% posted about their health in the past year.
As QAnon Conspiracy Theories Draw New Believers, Scientists Take Aim at Misinformation Pandemic
Sherry Pagoto, a psychologist and social-media expert at the University of Connecticut, has been developing solutions built around those very strategies of resonant messages delivered by trusted messengers. She hasn't tackled QAnon head on, but instead has focused her lab on winning over those who have been taken in by health misinformation—a group that has some overlap with QAnoners, given the latter's ties to the antivax and COVID-is-a-hoax communities.
15 Things Therapists Do When They're Anxious Watching The Debates
Huffington Post online
“I was on the fence about whether to watch the debate, but ultimately I decided to tune in with the plan to shut it off if and when I start feeling aggravated,” said Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and professor of allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut. Having this boundary upfront helped her control her emotions so it didn’t disrupt her mood, she added. “About 40 minutes into the debate, I turned off the TV and switched to a more pleasant and relaxing activity so that the aggravation I had felt didn’t interfere with my sleep,” she said.
Coronavirus Conversation: Why The Pandemic Matters In The 2020 Election
Connecticut Health I-Team online
At this time, nearly 34 million people have contracted the virus and over a million have died worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. In the United States alone, more than 207,000 people have died due to the virus. In order to better grasp the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic, we enlisted the help of professors who taught a free, one-credit class on the pandemic during UConn’s summer term.
Higher Ed's Moment of Truth
Inside Higher Ed online
Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Connecticut who has conducted focus groups with students about their thoughts on quarantining, contact tracing, symptom tracking and mask wearing on campuses, said the conversation about responsibility needs to be expanded beyond students. She noted the mixed messages sent to students by telling them not to party while cities and towns allow bars to stay open. "The conversation when we talk about responsibility should not be entirely focused on students," Pagoto said. "It should be focused on decision makers who are creating these rules, and most of that comes from the cities and the states. Those legislators have the power to undermine or bolster whatever’s going on in the university campus by the policies that they make around this. It could make or break it."
If your state is a coronavirus hot spot, is it your fault?
Deseret News online
But there’s another reason Americans should be careful about responsibility rhetoric, says Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor in the Department of Allied Health Science at the University of Connecticut. Pagoto said talk of personal responsibility is an “intellectual dead end” because there are myriad reasons that people make the choices they do, even when they conflict with what others believe is right.
How to stop friends and relatives from spreading misinformation about Covid-19
Sherry Pagoto, a professor in the department of allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut, has been thinking about this topic quite a bit. Pagoto, who studies human behavior, has seen false information spreading on her own social media feeds at an accelerated pace during the pandemic. Her advice to others is to avoid making the person posting the information feel stupid by embarrassing them publicly. That will likely just make them more defensive, which is counter-productive if your goal is to change their mind. Instead, send a private message instead or set up a time to talk one-on-one, depending on how close you are to that person.
Do You Still Need Sunscreen If You're Spending the Day Inside?
Shape Magazine online
"It's great to see people getting out of the house to exercise because this is a fantastic way to cope—exercise reduces stress and so does exposure to nature," says psychologist Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a professor of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut. "But now, many people are doing it during peak UV light, which is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—a time that most people are used to being inside during the week." Add to that: Now that's it's warming up outside, layers are coming off and exposing more of skin.
What Is Havening Therapy and Is It Legit?
Shape Magazine online
But there's a reason you probably hadn't heard about Havening until Seasons. Unlike Bieber's chart-toppers, Havening isn't mainstream. At this point, it hasn't been supported by research studies (FWIW, havening.org has a disclaimer about this on its website), leaving some mental health experts skeptical of the approach. "Given the availability of evidence-based psychotherapies, they should be the first line of treatment ahead of alternative approaches that have not yet been tested in clinical trials," says Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a professor in the department of allied health science at UConn. "Sometimes we assume that there is no harm to trying a new therapy, but this is not always the case. Harm can result from unsubstantiated therapies; for example, they could delay a patient from getting a treatment that works."
Gyms across America promote risky tanning beds with health and wellness
FOX Business tv
“Gyms are giving tanning beds a health halo. Everyone’s going for their New Year’s resolution to get healthy and it sends a confusing message,” Dr. Sherry Pagoto, a lead author on the study, told FOX Business. Tanning indoors increases a person’s risk of developing life-threatening melanoma by 75 percent before age 35, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And exposure to ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds causes genetic damage to cells and the outmost layer of skin and the damage can start from tanning just once.
Despite Danger, Tanning Beds Still a Fixture in Many Gyms
US News & World Report online
"Gyms appear to be the new tanning salons," said Sherry Pagoto, a clinical psychologist and professor of allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, who led the study. Between June 2018 and February 2019, her team reached 1,700 gyms in the three chains by phone. More than three-quarters said they offered on-site tanning. "We found that 78% of the gyms had tanning beds (on average)," Pagoto said. Branches in the Midwest were most likely to have them.
Doctors and techies are clashing at digital health companies, and one start-up exec is seeking a fix
Sherry Pagoto, a behavioral scientist who has previously consulted with digital health companies like Fitbit, said she’s heard this sort of feedback from others in her field. One particular challenge, she said, is that there’s been a wave of books from non-medical authors that delve into pop science and dietary strategies. “People in the tech world will read one of these books, or they’ll hear a story about someone losing weight or eating better, and think they are an expert,” said Pagoto, a professor at the University of Connecticut.
The Skinny on Weight-Loss Apps
"People who are tracking their calories — and hitting their calorie goal — tend to lose weight. But the million-dollar question is: How do you get people to do it consistently?” says Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut who researches behavioral weight management and advises Fitbit.
Facebook urges gay men to give blood, which can be a painful reminder they aren’t allowed to
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.”
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.
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.”
Gyms with tanning beds send mixed message
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.
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."
Tans — even from a new drug — aren’t the way to prevent skin cancer
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.
12 Little Things That Will Improve Your Health in Just One Minute
No, you don't have to devote every minute of your life to getting healthy. Sometimes just one minute will do. All it takes to adopt new good-for-you habits is a bit of creativity and a willingness to do them whenever—and wherever—you can. "There are so many things you can do for your health right now that give you a nice return on a quick time investment," says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
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.”
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.”
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.”
How to Break Your Tanning Habit For Good
“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).
Fitness trackers can backfire when it comes to weight loss
The Verge online
They think it’ll solve all their problems, so they pay less attention to how much or what they eat. And everyone likes novelty, so it’s common for people with a new device to get “tunnel vision” and focus on that instead of on the counseling or dieting, says Sherry Pagoto, a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
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.
Why you shouldn’t trust the calorie estimates on your fitness tracker
"A highly trained runner who is 120 pounds likely burns less calories than a newbie who is 120 pounds and running the same distance and pace," explains Sherry Pagoto, co-founder of the UMass Center for mHealth and Social Media. "This will bear out in their heart rate data — the more conditioned one gets, the lower the heart rate during the same activity, and the fewer calories burned."
Why Being A People-Pleaser Is Bad For You (And How to Stop)
Yahoo! Life online
“People pleasers value taking care of other people, and that’s a great thing to value,” Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, tells Yahoo Health. “It would be a better world if we all did, but [for people pleasers] it’s to a point where it can be self-destructive.”
Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sun SafetyJAMA dermatology
2017 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.
Tanners’ awareness and perceptions of legislation for tanning bed usePhotodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine
2017 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.
Teens, Tweets, and Tanning Beds: Rethinking the Use of Social Media for Skin Cancer PreventionAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine
2017 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.
A Call for an End to the Diet DebatesJAMA
2013 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
Inhibiting Food Reward: Delay Discounting, Food Reward Sensitivity, and Palatable Food Intake in Overweight and Obese WomenObesity
2011 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.