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
Laska begins first-of-its-kind study exploring college student food insecurity
Professor Melissa Laska says college food insecurity has been linked with adverse health and academic outcomes for […]
Fostering food justice
SPH students founded Twin Cities Food Justice, a growing volunteer organization that rescues produce from small grocery […]
Many young adults value sustainably produced foods, leading to healthier food choices
A Project EAT study co-authored by researcher Nicole Larson shows sustainable diet practices are related to more […]
Risk Factors for Adolescent Binge Eating Vary By Family Socioeconomic Status
A Project EAT study co-authored by Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer shows food insecurity and other risk factors are […]
Mothers with Higher Quality Diets Have Slimmer, Leaner Babies
Research from postdoctoral fellow Muna Tahir and Professor Ellen Demerath found mothers who had a higher diet quality […]
Measuring Appetite-Regulating Hormones in Breast Milk
Professor Ellen Demerath recently published a new study showing that levels of leptin, insulin, and adiponectin in […]
Diet Generally Improves as Adolescents Age into Young Adulthood
Findings from a study by postdoctoral researcher Mary Christoph show that dietary intake of vegetables and whole grains […]
Certified food manager training and third-party inspections reduce restaurant safety violations
Research from recent doctoral graduate Xarviera Appling (PhD '18) studied the effect of food safety management […]
- 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.