Healthy Eating Research

Building Evidence to
Prevent Childhood Obesity

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Senior Program Advisers

Robert Jeffery, PhD

Senior Adviser

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Dr. Jeffery is a psychologist by training and has done research on the treatment and prevention of obesity for approximately 30 years. He has published over 315 peer-reviewed articles in the area and is widely recognized particularly as an expert in community approaches to obesity management. His work in this domain includes a number of large-scale studies directed toward assessing whether intervention efforts aimed at the population as a whole can be effective in achieving weight loss or prevention of weight gain. The studies included several projects in which attempts were made to reach the population with educational messages about diet and exercise behaviors for weight control via mass media, worksites, public health departments, and health care providers. More recently he has also been involved in several studies that have examined non-educational factors related to diet and exercise choice, such as food availability and price. In 2010, he was awarded an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein-NRSA training grant in obesity prevention. Dr. Jeffery is the Director of the University of Minnesota Obesity Prevention Center (OPC), which was established in 2004 as part of the Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Presidential Initiative.

Melissa Laska, PhD, RD

Senior Adviser

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Dr. Melissa Laska is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Dr. Laska’s primary research interests are in environmental, social and behavioral determinants of obesity among young people. Her current work focuses primarily on excess weight gain among adolescents as they transition into young adulthood, as well as on neighborhood access to healthy foods, particularly in underserved communities. Dr. Laska received a BS with Honors in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University, and a PhD in Nutrition with a concentration in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition, she has trained at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and is currently a registered dietitian.

J. Michael Oakes, PhD

Senior Adviser

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Dr. Oakes is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He is also Co-Director of UMN’s Census Research Data Center, a fellow of the Minnesota Population Research Center, and an Adjunct Professor of Sociology. His professional interests center on quantitative methodology, social epidemiology and research ethics. He is an active researcher and frequent Principal Investigator on studies addressing a vast array of methodological, health and ethical topics. Dr. Oakes has authored over 75 papers exploring problems at the intersection of social and medical sciences; his first text entitled Methods in Social Epidemiology was released in 2006. He is widely known for his seminal work on how social stratification and social interaction complicates inferences drawn from many common research designs and statistical methods in public health research. Among other duties, he is vice-chair of the University of Minnesota’s IRB system and its conflict of interest committee. Dr. Oakes teaches several graduate-level courses in statistical methods and social epidemiology, including group-randomized trials and advanced epidemiologic methods. He is Associate Editor of Health and Place and is on the editorial board of the Journal of Causal Inference.