Food & Nutrition
The School of Public Health is a food research powerhouse and we cover food in a more comprehensive way than anywhere else in the country.
Our prominent work is steering policymakers toward better decisions and helping people reclaim food as the basis for health.
More than 1-in-7 U.S. households don’t have enough to eat; an estimated 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses; and 30 million people suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their lives.
Across the globe, 44 percent of countries are experiencing very serious levels of both hunger and obesity. A record number of people in the United States are obese (35.7 percent) and undernourished.
We are determined to change this picture.
How we eat, why we eat, what we eat, and the consequences of these decisions, are factors we investigate to lead our country toward a healthier future.
Learn more about our research
Minnesota leads the nation in the rapid detection of and response to foodborne illness outbreaks and our school focuses on food safety from farm to table.
The risk of foodborne diseases is increasing for a variety of reasons, including climate change and a growing global food supply. To protect consumers now and into the future, we use evolving technology to help secure our food. In 2016, for example, we designed an app that uses videos and interactive features to train limited English-speaking workers in food-safety practices. And we are investigating social media as part of a food safety and food terrorism surveillance system.
Our work builds on a close and historic partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health and collaborations across the University. We were instrumental in creating the national gold standard for dealing with food-borne pathogen infections — the “Minnesota Model” for food safety. Our students run its rapid response and investigative Team D and have been responsible for discovering the source of national food-illness outbreaks.
We strive for a world where access to safe and nutritious food is an unquestioned human right.
Our research is changing the way people view hunger in America by uncovering unexpected pockets of need. A recent study found that more than 1-in-4 of our newest military veterans reported food insecurity and the finding was cited in Congressional hearings on the challenges veterans face.
We support policy changes to increase food availability and encourage healthy eating. For example, we found that low-income people in programs like SNAP, which provide money to buy food, may eat a healthier diet when policies offer financial incentives for buying fruits and vegetables.
Food insecurity and hunger are risk factors for obesity, a present and growing threat to health worldwide. Research shows that by 2030, an average of 42 percent of Americans will be obese and 11 percent will be severely obese. Because of our decades-long work in obesity prevention, we have the foundation to radically change those predictions.
Dietary patterns developed during adolescence and young adulthood may contribute to obesity and eating disorders, and increase the risk for chronic diseases later in life. We lead the country in investigating the eating patterns of adolescents and their attitudes toward food to disrupt the path toward obesity.
We are helping to secure a healthier future for everyone by shining a light on issues like the increasing ethnic/racial disparities in obesity prevalence, particularly among boys; how food insecurity affects how mothers raise adolescent children; and whether the media contributes to poor dietary intake among young people.
Explore our work in food & nutrition
(* asterisk marks student, post-doc, or SPH researcher)
- Disordered eating in ethnic minority adolescents with overweight, (International Journal of Eating Disorders). Rachel F. Rodgers, Allison W. Watts*, S. Bryn Austin, Jess Haines, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. The study found that overweight White and Hispanic girls reported the highest risk for dieting, while the highest risk for unhealthy weight control behaviors was among overweight Black girls, and for overeating among overweight White and Asian girls.
- Higher Diet Quality in Adolescence and Dietary Improvements Are Related to Less Weight Gain During the Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood. (Journal of Pediatrics). Tian Hu*, David R. Jacobs, Jr., Nicole I. Larson*, Gretchen J. Cutler, Melissa N. Laska, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. This study found that higher diet quality, based on an assessment of dietary patterns in and after adolescence, was associated with reduced weight gain during the next 10 years.
- Understanding the Relationships Between Inspection Results and Risk of Foodborne Illness in Restaurants. (Foodborne Pathogens and Diseases). Petrona Lee *, Craig W. Hedberg. This study found that routine health inspections in a restaurant chain that was associated with a large Salmonella outbreak would be unlikely to detect or predict the outbreak because there are no Food Code items in place to stop the introduction of contaminated food from an otherwise approved commercial food source.
- Results of a 2-year Randomized, Controlled Obesity Prevention Trial: Effects on Diet, Activity and Sleep Behaviors in an At-risk Young Adult Population. (Preventive Medicine). Melissa N. Laska, Leslie A.Lytle, Marilyn S. Nanney, Stacey G. Moe*, Jennifer A. Linde, Peter J. Hannan*. This study was the first of its kind to evaluate a weight gain prevention intervention among young adults at two-year community colleges. The interventions tested (an academic course and social network support) were effective in reducing consumption of fast food, but were not entirely beneficial for sleep.
- Young adults’ responses to alternative messages describing a sugar-sweetened beverage price increase. (Public Health Nutrition) Sarah E. Gollust, Xuyang Tang*, James M. White, Simone A. French, Carlisle Ford Runge, Alexander J. Rothman. The study looked at whether the rationale provided for a sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) price increase affects young adults’ intentions and attitudes towards SSB. It found that the rationale could influence consumers, but it may depend on individuals’ level of SSB consumption.
- Dianne Neumark-Sztainer: 2016–2019, NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “EAT 2010-2018: A Longitudinal, Multi-Contextual Study of Weight-related Problems,” Principal Investigator; Melissa Laska and Richard MacLehose, Co-Investigators
- Jennifer Linde: 2012–2017, NIH/NIDDK, “Weight Tracking and Weight Loss Outcomes: Establishing the Standard of Care,” Principal Investigator
- Craig Hedberg: 2012–2017, Minnesota Department of Health, “Food Safety Center of Excellence,” Principal Investigator
- Lisa Harnack, 2013–2017, NIH NIDDK, “Designing a Food Benefit Program to Optimize Diet Quality for Obesity Prevention,” Principal Investigator; Simone French and Michael Oakes, Co-Investigators
- Jamie Stang: 2015–2018, HRSA Maternal and Child Health, “Public Health Nutrition Training Grant,” Principal Investigator; Melissa Laska, Co-Investigator
- Margarines now nutritionally better than butter after hydrogenated oil ban
Student Cecily Weber found that margarine and butter-blend products now contain substantially less saturated fat and […]
- Severe food insecurity linked with disordered eating behaviors in young people, including binge eating five years later
New research by postdoctoral fellow Vivienne Hazzard shows food insecurity has a lasting harmful effect on the people […]
- Switching to plant-centered diet reduces risk of cardiovascular disease for young and middle adults
The study, led by postdoctoral researcher Yuni Choi and Professor David Jacobs, showed that people who most frequently […]
- Designing online grocery stores to support those striving to eat healthy for weight loss
Professor Lisa Harnack led the study that identified three features online grocery stores could include, such as a […]
- Are plant-based ground beef alternative products healthier than ground beef?
Professor Lisa Harnack analyzed 37 different plant-based products and found they tend to be good sources of nutrients, […]
- The COVID-19 pandemic has been linked with six unhealthy eating behaviors
A University of Minnesota Medical School and School of Public Health study shows a slight increase in eating disorders, […]
- More research needed on how food insecurity affects parent feeding practices
Faculty Katherine Arlinghaus and Melissa Laska say experiences with food insecurity can influence the behaviors and […]
- Emerging adults are struggling with food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic
Lead researcher Nicole Larson says the study results reveal a need to expand food assistance benefits for people ages […]
- Cross-sectional association between food security and BMI in minority populations of rural Minnesota (Environmental Health)
- Assessing urban American health: a community based approach to understanding obesity normalization (Public Health Policy & Administration)
- Intrasexual Competition and Disordered Eating (Community Health Promotion)
- Minneapolis Healthy Food Shelf Initiative: Improving Healthy Food Access (Public Health Administration & Policy)
- Socioeconomic Factors Associated with SNAP Participation (Public Health Administration & Policy)
Faculty in Food & Nutrition
SPH2030 New Faculty Hires
Assistant Professor Linda Frizzell advises on health care policy and long-term care for tribal health. She was recently named to the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Advisory Committee on Minority Health.
Associate Professor Nancy Sherwood studies behavioral obesity prevention and interventions with a focus on engaging lower income, ethnically diverse children and their parents. Additionally, she’s exploring new science methodologies to deliver ‘the right intervention to the right person at the right time.