Research Spotlight: Looking at food policy with UConn’s Rudd Center

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Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD Director, Rudd Center for Obesity & Food Policy (Principal Investigator) Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies.  Photo courtesy of the UConn    InCHIP website   .

Marlene B. Schwartz, PhD Director, Rudd Center for Obesity & Food Policy (Principal Investigator) Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Photo courtesy of the UConn InCHIP website.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center are studying a breadth of topics surrounding food policy and obesity. 

Dr. Marlene Schwartz, professor of human development and family studies at UConn and Director of the Rudd Center, explained their goals covered many different subjects involving food. 

“Our mission is to do research that will inform policies that will improve children’s nutrition, prevent childhood obesity and protect people from weight bias and discrimination,” Schwartz said. 

This wide reaching mission means the center does research on everything from food marketing to food in schools to food bank policies. 

One recent example of their research is the center’s research on toddler formula, which is a drink marketed to be similar to baby formula but for children older than one year.

“Typically you give baby formula until a child is one and then they start drinking regular milk, but what’s happened is the companies were selling less formula so they kind of invented this product of these formulas that you give older kids. It’s really just a marketing strategy to create a product and convince people they need it to sell it,” Schwartz explained. 

The full report can be found at the Rudd Center’s website. From there, the center takes the research and tries to create policies with it.

“We’ve been trying to work with other advocates to see if we can get the government to start having some requirements for those products,” Schwartz said.

The Rudd Center also does work on health policies in schools. Schwartz has been working with Neag professor of educational psychology Sandra Chafouleas on what schools are doing to promote healthy living.

“We’re basically looking at how school districts have policies that address everything from nutrition, physical activity, as well as things like staff wellness, social and emotional health, school climate, things like that,” Schwartz said.

From there, the center tracks the progress of the policies. 

“We have projects with students where we’ve been looking at policies in districts around the state of Connecticut. We have a coding system we use to score their policies and then we go in and do interviews to see how they’re influencing their policies,” Schwartz says. 

The research that the Rudd Center does goes beyond just these examples. Dr. Rebecca Puhl, the Deputy Director for the Rudd Center, does research on weight biases. Dr. Tatiana Andreyeva, the director of economic initiatives for the Rudd Center, focuses on soda taxes and a federal program called the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Numerous other projects have come out of the Rudd Center.

The Rudd Center is part of a larger collaboration at UConn called the Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP). This program brings a number of different research areas from across campus together. 

Part of what makes the Rudd Center unique is its intersection of fields. Faculty and students from economics, human development and family studies, public health, communications, psychology, nutrition and political science have all been involved in the center. Schwartz said she even worked with a geography major recently. 

“It just makes for much better science when you have people with different backgrounds because you just cover more bases,” Schwartz said.

More information about the Rudd Center can be found at the Rudd Center Website.

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Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at grace.mcfadden@uconn.edu.  

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