April 2020 Newsletter

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Fresh Faces: New Staff & Faculty

Dr. Caitlin Caspi

We are delighted to share that Dr. Caitlin Caspi will be joining the Rudd Center, Department of Allied Health Sciences, and InCHIP at the University of Connecticut as an Associate Professor in the fall of 2020. Dr. Caspi completed her ScD at the Harvard School of Public Health in social epidemiology, and she has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota since 2014. She currently serves as the Principal Investigator on an NIH-funded group-randomized study evaluating the impact of a behavioral economic intervention in food pantries on dietary outcomes of adults experiencing food insecurity. 

What is the basic premise of your research?

My work builds on decades of research identifying persistent disparities in health outcomes. In the U.S., our policies and environments have contributed to the disparities we see in nutrition and obesity-related outcomes. What I hope to do in my work is move beyond documenting disparities towards identifying interventions and policies that reduce these disparities and improve overall population health. For instance, I am leading an ongoing study evaluating the effects of an increase in the minimum wage on obesity-related outcomes.

To learn more about Dr. Caspi, read the full Q&A here

The Rudd Center is also excited to announce our second cohort of postdoctoral fellows, who are working with our faculty to continue expanding our key research areas. 

Leah Lessard

What is the basic premise of your research?

My research focuses on how peer experiences contribute to educational and health trajectories during the adolescent years – a developmentally critical time when the stakes of achievement rise and health behaviors are established. In particular, to support healthy development for youth at heightened risk for peer mistreatment (e.g., those with high body weight), I seek to identify relational and contextual factors that promote social inclusion within the school setting.

Read the full Q&A here

Abiodun Atoloye

What is the basic premise of your research?

The unifying theme underlying my research is the contribution of socio-ecological factors to address disparities in food access, behaviors, and health outcomes. Using both qualitative and quantitative research approaches, I formulate a research agenda with two main foci: multi-dimensional impact of health-promoting opportunities and epidemiological investigation of health disparities. Specifically, my research explores the utilization and impacts of behavior change interventions including nutrition education, environmental nudges, and incentives.

Read the full Q&A here. 

Melissa Jensen

What is the basic premise of your research?

The food environment influences people's dietary behaviors and therefore, their long term health outcomes. Food policies can help improve the food environment, and research can help us determine what policy designs work best while also helping narrow disparities. Specifically, food marketing influences children's food attitudes, choices, and consumption, at a life stage where they are most vulnerable to these influences. Policies that effectively restrict marketing of unhealthy foods to children can help prevent its consequences.

Read the full Q&A here

Recent Publications

Children’s Fruit “Juice” Drinks and FDA Regulations: Opportunities to Increase Transparency and Support Public Health

Given the wide range of drinks marketed to and consumed by children that may contain juice, it is important that caregivers are able to differentiate among product types and identify drinks that are recommended for children. While the FDA regulates these drink labels, it also permits a wide range of names, claims, and fruit images on packaging that do not necessarily reflect the drink’s ingredients.
This study examined the labels and ingredients of top-selling children’s juice drinks, including brands with at least $10 million in annual sales, and found that nearly all drinks showed images of fruit on the front of the package, even if they did not contain juice from the fruits pictured or any juice at all.

Read the full study here

Bias-Based Bullying and School Adjustment Among Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents: The Role of Gay-Straight Alliances

Adolescents identifying as sexual and/or gender minorities face many challenges at school due to frequent peer harassment, which can not only lead to social and emotional distress, but also to lower college enrollment and poorer economic wellbeing. Because of this, it is important to examine the different types of social mistreatment these adolescents face and ways that schools can create safer environments to mitigate these outcomes.
Findings from this study indicate that schools with gay-straight alliances have lower levels of multiple forms of bias-based bullying (based on body weight, gender, religion, disability, and sexuality), higher perceptions of school safety, higher grades, and reduced school suspension.

Read the full study here

Weight Stigma and Weight-Related Health: Associations of Self-Report Measures Among Adults in Weight Management

Approximately 20-40% of persons with obesity report experiencing weight discrimination, which can result in self-blame and internalization of society’s negative messages about their weight. Recent studies suggest that individuals who internalize weight stigma may also have worse weight management outcomes. 

In the largest investigation of the relationship between weight stigma and weight-related health, researchers found that participants in weight-management programs with higher levels of weight bias internalization had lower odds of achieving weight loss and higher odds of gaining weight. Self-blame and internalization were also associated with less physical activity and poorer mental health. 

Read the full study here

Rudd Center In The News

Is There Really Fruit Juice in That 'Juice' Drink?
Featured: Jennifer Harris, Senior Research Advisor, Marketing Initiatives

Juice Labels Are Too Tricky About Juice vs. Junk
Featured: Jennifer Harris, Senior Research Advisor, Marketing Initiatives

Research Spotlight: Looking at Food Policy With UConn's Rudd Center
Featured: Marlene Schwartz, Director

What Does Junk Food Have to Do With COVID-19 Deaths?
Featured: Jennifer Harris, Senior Research Advisor, Marketing Initiatives

What's Simmering With Our Friends?

Impact of Increasing SNAP Benefits Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Healthy Eating Research

With unemployment currently at a record high as a result of COVID-19—an unprecedented public health crisis with significant economic effects—SNAP participation is expected to increase significantly. A new issue brief from Healthy Eating Research provides evidence on the potential positive impact of a SNAP benefit increase on SNAP households and the economy. It considers a benefit increase in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and reviews SNAP provisions in recent COVID-19 aid bills.

Read more here

COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Opportunity
Voices for Healthy Kids

Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, recently announced the launch of the new Voices for Healthy Kids COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Opportunity. 

These grants are meant to support policy and systemic changes at the state, tribe, or local, level, and are targeted at safety net issues most closely related to the Voices for Healthy Kids body of work. Preference will be given to community-based organizations with demonstrated experiences working to build power in communities most impacted by health inequities including Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Alaskan Native or from families who have low income. 

For deadlines and steps to apply, click here.

RIDGE Program Spotlight

The Tufts University/University of Connecticut Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics (RIDGE) Program is a USDA extramural grants program supporting research in economics aimed at understanding and enhancing the nation’s nutrition assistance programs. 

The latest feature in a series of briefs highlighting grantee work is research by Dr. Erica Kenney, Assistant Professor of Public Health Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Her RIDGE-funded project evaluates the impact of revisions to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) on children’s dietary intake and provider’s food spending in child care homes. Read the full RIDGE Program Spotlight here.

News to Chew On

Food Navigator
USDA Eases Eligibility for Retailers, Foods to Comply with WIC Requirements as Shortages Hinder Access

NY Times
How Poor Diet Contributes to Coronavirus Risk
Civil Eats
Food Distribution 101: What Happens When the Food Supply is Disrupted 
The Hill
Court Blocks Trump Administration Rollback of Some School Nutrition Standards

Washington Post
Avoiding Sodas May be Good for Your Heart, New Research Suggests 

Millions of Low-Income Children are Still Waiting for Federal Food Aid 

Huffington Post
After Coronavirus, Nearly Half of the Day Care Centers in the U.S. Could Be Gone

CT Mirror
Coronavirus is Breaking the Food Supply Chain