Month: September 2014

Networking Event for Children’s Health Behavior!

Are you interested in research in Children’s Health Behavior?
Come to the

CHIP-CCMC Networking Event!

Thursday, October 9th, 2014
Wood-N-Tap Bar & Grill
99 Sisson Ave., Hartford

You are invited to an evening designed to foster collaborations between researchers at the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) and CT Children’s Medical Center (CCMC).

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Rudd Center’s Move to UConn from Yale Makes News Statewide

On Friday, Sept. 12th, the University announced the nationally renowned Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity would move from Yale University to UConn, where it will become a center-within-a-center at CHIP starting in January 2015. Officials from UConn and the Rudd Center discussed the center’s new affiliation with UConn during a ceremony at Goodwin Elementary School in East Hartford that emphasized the importance of research in preventing obesity and improving the health of young people. Below is a round-up of the new coverage of the announcement.

“Yale’s Rudd Center Plans Major Move to Downtown Hartord,” WNPR

“Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Moving to UConn,” Hartford Courant

“Rudd Center on Food Policy, Obesity Moving from Yale to UConn,” New Haven Register

“Prominent Obesity Center Moves from Yale to UConn,” Connecticut Post

“UConn Poaches Non Profit Food Policy Think Tank from Yale,” Hartford Business Journal

“Rudd Center Announces Move to University of Connecticut,”



Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Moves to UConn as Center Within CHIP

The Rudd Center's four core faculty members
The Rudd Center’s four core faculty members, from left to right: Tatiana Andreyeva, Marlene Schwartz, Rebecca Puhl, and Jennifer Harris.

For Immediate Release: Sept. 12, 2014

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut’s flagship public university today announced a new partnership with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, a nationally recognized nonprofit research center dedicated to informing policy decisions surrounding obesity prevention.

Officials from the University of Connecticut and the Rudd Center discussed the center’s new affiliation with UConn during a ceremony at Goodwin Elementary School in East Hartford that emphasized the importance of research in preventing obesity and improving the health of young people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children in the United States are obese or overweight, causing both immediate and long-term effects on their health and well-being.

“The Rudd Center has developed an outstanding national and international reputation for sound science and strategic policy advocacy,” said Mun Choi, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Connecticut. “We are thrilled to have the Rudd Center join UConn as we build a growing record of excellence at our institution.”

Previously located at Yale University, the center and its faculty will move to UConn in January 2015. It is one of the first major initiatives of UConn’s Academic Vision, which prioritizes health and wellness research as an integral part of the University’s mission.

Recently ranked as one of the nation’s most effective nonprofits working on nutrition policy, the Rudd Center is a leader in conducting cutting edge research to inform pressing public policy issues; its work is widely used by policy makers and health advocates.

The Rudd Center is currently anchored by four core faculty members, all national experts in their fields: Marlene Schwartz, Rudd Center director; Rebecca Puhl, deputy director; Jennifer Harris, director of food marketing initiatives; and Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives.

“We are excited to join UConn and the community of world-class researchers whose work is relevant to childhood obesity and weight stigma,” said Schwartz. “By joining UConn during this monumental time of growth, the Rudd Center will remain a leader in addressing how home environments, school landscapes, neighborhoods, and the media shape the eating attitudes and behaviors of children.

The move will allow those researchers to expand their work and build new collaborations with UConn experts on nutrition, public policy, psychology, agriculture, economics, and obesity – many located within the University’s Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP), where the Rudd Center will be situated. CHIP, which is led by Jeffrey Fisher, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology, has received more than $100 million in external funding to support its health-related research, and has a proven track record of fostering interdisciplinary collaborations between many of these research areas. Its Obesity Research Group boasts 130 members from more than 20 UConn departments and multiple campuses.

Importantly, the Rudd Center’s relocation to Hartford’s Constitution Plaza, near UConn’s Graduate Business Learning Center, positions their resources near Connecticut policymakers. Rudd Center researchers have participated in meetings with the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, provided expert testimony in state and senate legislative hearings on proposed laws, and their research has provided essential support for federal, state, and local governments and NGOs in establishing evidence-based public health policy. Their research grants hail from government agencies and private foundations, including the Rudd Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Heart Association, and Horizon Foundation.

The alignment between UConn and Rudd provides a new platform for researchers to elevate their work on obesity, investigating such varied questions as: economic incentives and the role of marketing in food choices; genetic and neurophysiological moderators of risk for obesity; chemosensory perception in humans and how it influences food preference and intake; worksite health promotion programs; weight management interventions for adults and children; faith-based interventions; identifying food deserts and measuring health outcomes in those areas; effects of cholesterol-lowering medications on muscle performance; obesity prevention policies; and weight-based stigma and bullying.

CONTACTS:     Kristen Cole, University of Connecticut
(860) 486-2997 or

Megan Orciari, Rudd Center
(203) 432-8520 or

* * *

More information

About the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

Press Kit materials — released 9/12/14

A Community-Based Approach to Preventing Obesity

Kim Gans

By Beth Krane

Obesity prevention efforts increasingly are targeting young children, but few researchers are bringing interventions to childcare settings.

Professor Kim Gans, who joined UConn’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) in late August, is one of only two researchers nationwide bringing such interventions to home-based childcare and the only researcher providing such interventions in both English and Spanish, she said.

Gans, one of two new faculty experts in obesity recruited from Brown University to UConn by its Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), is a nutritionist known for bringing nutrition, physical activity, and weight loss interventions to the communities that need them most.

She has partnered with a variety of organizations, including YMCAs, housing projects, churches, schools, and work sites. By providing interventions for children, families, adults, and the elderly, Gans’ work “spans the lifespan,” she said. Much of her research also has focused on low-income and ethnically diverse populations.

Her work helping home-based childcare settings in Rhode Island to improve their nutrition and physical activity environments is funded through a new National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) grant in conjunction with Patricia Risica, an assistant professor of epidemiology in Brown University’s School of Medicine. The project will begin this month.

“You have to catch kids when they are younger and still establishing their diet and their physical activity and television viewing habits,” said Gans, who also possesses a background in behavioral and social sciences. “If kids start out overweight, it is very difficult to reverse later in life.”

Half of the 132 home-based childcare sites in the study will receive the nutrition and physical activity intervention and half will be in the control arm of the study and receive a school readiness program. Gans will conduct assessments of the home environments and learn how each provider structures the children’s day and then provide customized intervention content, including print materials and video clips. She also will train peer counselors and community health workers to deliver the interventions and will host monthly meetings to bring home childcare providers together. She expects that at least 40 percent of the providers will be Hispanic.

“Low-income and ethnic minority populations are disproportionately affected by obesity and related chronic diseases, so it’s very important to create culturally appropriate interventions that are effective for these populations,” says Gans.

All of the home childcare providers receiving the intervention will receive training in the same basic topics and receive the same dose of information, but some details, such as the specifics of some information and the order of topics covered, may vary based on the individual home childcare site’s needs, she said. For instance, some may work on eliminating juice first while others work on adding more active play time.

“We’ll tailor some of the nuances to better suit each daycare provider’s needs,” Gans said. “They will not receive a one-size-fits-all intervention.”

Another active research project Gans is bringing to UConn is called Live Well: Viva Bien and involves bringing fresh fruit and vegetable markets into Section 8 public housing sites for low-income, elderly, and disabled individuals. The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

For the study, which brings the markets to eight sites in Rhode Island, Gans works directly with distributors to offer produce at prices 15 to 20 percent lower than found in grocery stores. Gans said the intervention seeks to reduce often cited barriers to healthy eating in public housing, such as the high cost of produce and food deserts, or lack of accessible grocery stores. The study also provides educational programming including newsletters, DVDs, taste-testing and recipes, and campaigns. The other seven sites in the study are a comparison group and receive physical activity and stress programming.

Preliminary results from Live Well: Viva Bien indicate the nutrition intervention has been particularly successful with disabled and elderly participants, an important finding given the aging population, Gans said.

“Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with reduced risk of mortality among older adults and reduced risk of health outcomes across the lifespan, including the prevention and management of chronic illnesses, so it’s very important for older adults to eat enough fruits and vegetables. It’s never too late to improve your eating habits,” Gans said.

Gans has another NCI study, Good to Go, in 21 worksites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that also involves bringing discount produce markets to worksite settings. In this study, seven worksites receive markets only, seven worksites receive markets plus educational programming, and seven worksites are comparison sites that receive physical activity and stress programs. Gans has done several studies at worksites, where an often-cited barrier to healthier habits is lack of time, and worksite wellness is an area in which she would like to continue her research.

Another emerging area of interest to Gans – and a possible area for collaboration at CHIP and UConn – would be using technology, particularly mobile technology, for broader dissemination of effective interventions.

“Dr. Gans is an accomplished researcher. Her work addresses some of the most important questions in the field of obesity prevention and treatment – how to translate efficacious interventions into cost-effective programs and have them reach the communities in most need,” said CHIP Principal Investigator and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology Amy Gorin, who chairs CHIP’s Obesity Research Interest Group.

CHIP, which is dedicated to the study of health behavior and health behavior change, has created a thriving obesity research interest group boasting more than 130 members from 20 UConn departments across multiple campuses.

Gans cited UConn’s “vibrant group of obesity researchers” and CHIP’s highly collaborative atmosphere as key reasons for her move to UConn.

Using Behavioral Economics and Social Gaming to Promote Weight Loss and Maintenance

By Beth Krane

Tricia LeaheyBehavioral economists know why consumers always want to buy the next iPhone upgrade: the novelty factor.

“A lot of consumer behavior is studied and applied to advertising and marketing of products, but the same principles are not commonly applied to health behavior change and definitely not to obesity,” said Associate Professor of Allied Health Sciences Tricia Leahey, who joined UConn’s faculty in the School of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources last month.

Leahey, one of two new faculty experts in obesity recruited from Brown University to UConn by its Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), however, is using the novelty factor, plus financial and other incentives, as she designs weight loss and maintenance interventions. She delivers many of her interventions online and uses Web-based social gaming and social media platforms.

“Applying these principles from behavioral economics is a way of promoting engagement and thereby helping people lose weight and keep it off,” Leahey said. “The latter is the real Achilles’ heel; it’s extremely difficult to eat healthy, be active, and, thus, maintain weight loss long term.”

Through a recent pilot study, Leahey discovered that using the novelty factor and financial incentives to encourage participants to maintain weight loss yielded big results: Those who received an intervention based on novelty and incentives continued to track their eating and physical activity long-term and lost an additional five pounds during maintenance whereas those who didn’t receive the intervention stopped tracking and gained eight pounds back.

Leahey capitalized on the novelty factor by switching what participants monitored every two weeks, such as pedometer steps, high calorie or high fat foods, and restaurant foods. She also offered a modest financial incentive of $3 a week if participants tracked at least five days. The participants signed contracts to maintain or continue to lose weight and reported their progress to a health coach.

In a separate study designed to keep people using an Internet weight loss program, Leahey used another behavioral economic principle known as loss aversion message framing.

Again, participants were offered modest financial incentives to submit their information and the amount of the incentives varied week-to-week to keep it more interesting, akin to using a slot machine, Leahey said. But, in this intervention, they also received reminder messages using loss aversion language such as “Don’t lose out on your money, be sure to monitor your intake and submit your information!”

“People are very motivated not to lose things they already have,” Leahey said. “It is even more of an incentive than gaining something.”

Participants who received the incentives and loss aversion messages had more significant weight loss, including clinically meaningful weight loss associated with lowering their disease risk, and improved online engagement than those who participated in the Internet weight loss program alone, Leahey said. The findings are currently under review in the journal Obesity.

Leahey’s approach to obesity prevention recently caught the attention of the chief executive officer of an Internet company interested in using social gaming to promote weight loss.

She has been consulting with the company,, which uses a social media platform, as well as behavioral economic principles, to encourage people to make a game of losing weight with their friends. currently offers two options: a four-week program for groups interested in losing four percent of their body weight (what Leahey called the “before beach season” crowd) and a six-month program for groups trying to lose 10 percent of their body weight.

To join a game, participants must contribute at least $10 to the pool of money they are hoping to win and they must do regular weigh-ins.

“The website is bringing together the convenience of online weight loss programs, financial incentives, and the important social support aspects of weight loss. Plus, it makes weight loss into a game and potentially more fun,” Leahey said.

Leahey estimates has reached 30,000 to 40,000 people in just 6 months. She currently is submitting a National Institutes of Health (NIH) small business grant to help with further development of the website.

Other projects Leahey will bring to UConn include an NIH grant to test whether engagement in a lower intensity weight loss program can be improved with reduced intensity e-health coaching and another NIH grant targeting young adults ages 18 to 25, a high risk but difficult to reach group, with an intervention comparing the effectiveness of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for weight loss.

“Dr. Leahey is a very creative researcher. Her work addresses one of the most important questions in the field of obesity prevention and treatment – how to support people in maintaining healthy behavior change over the long run,” said CHIP Principal Investigator and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology Amy Gorin, who chairs CHIP’s Obesity Research Interest Group.

CHIP, which is dedicated to the study of health behavior and health behavior change, has created a thriving Obesity Research Interest Group boasting more than 130 members from 20 UConn departments across multiple campuses.

Leahey said CHIP’s established obesity research community in her department and other departments, the research support services the Center provides its affiliates, and the University’s commitment to expanding its faculty and investing in research, especially obesity research, drew her to UConn and CHIP.

“UConn seems to be going through a very exciting period of growth and commitment to research,” Leahey said. “In addition, there are many excellent faculty already doing obesity research and it’s wonderful to see that even more are coming on board. I’m really delighted to join this group and bring my research to UConn.”

From the Director: Welcome back to exciting developments at CHIP

September 3, 2014

A special message from CHIP’s Director, Jeff Fisher:

Jeff FisherCHIP is anticipating an exciting and fulfilling academic year. We recently surpassed $100 million in external grants since our founding in 2002, and we now have over 250 faculty research affiliates from every school and college at UConn and from over 50 other institutions. Our team has curated a wonderful CHIP Lecture Series for the coming academic year, featuring internationally recognized scholars in diverse health domains, including a new lecture subseries on Genomics and Health Behavior. Some lectures will be accompanied by additional workshops and events to provide further engagement with our exceptional speakers.

In addition to CHIP’s existing strengths, we have developed remarkable capacity in obesity, obesity prevention, and obesity policy in the past few years. In August, Professors Kim Gans and Tricia Leahey, both from Brown University, joined UConn and CHIP’s obesity prevention researchers. And we await the move of the internationally recognized Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity to become a center-within-a-center in CHIP in January 2015. The press conference announcing their move from Yale to UConn will be in East Hartford on September 12th; please contact me if you would like to attend. The Rudd Center consists of four faculty and 13 professional employees who will be joining UConn, CHIP, and the CHIP/CICATS Obesity Research Interest Group.

CHIP is developing many new partnerships, including with the Psychiatry and Pediatrics departments at UConn Health; with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CT Children’s) in Hartford; with the Connecticut Institute for Primary Care Innovation (CIPCI) in Hartford; and with UConn’s Global Training and Development Institute, an entrepreneurial unit within the Office of Global Affairs. We are also actively exploring opportunities with UConn’s Department of Engineering and School of Pharmacy, among others. The theme of CHIP’s Annual Meeting on the September 11th is “new collaborations,” and speakers from CT Children’s and the Rudd Center will discuss opportunities for CHIP affiliates to collaborate with their research groups. A new seed grant opportunity will be offered this year to fund collaborative research involving CHIP affiliates and faculty at CT Children’s, and a second will fund collaborations with CHIP affiliates and faculty in the department of Psychiatry at UConn Health. Those seeking funding for collaborative research involving the Rudd Center can apply through the general CHIP seed grant program. These, as well as other exciting training and seed grant opportunities to support junior faculty in writing external grants, and to support CHIP graduate student research, will be announced at the CHIP Annual Meeting on September 11, and on our website.

CHIP now has several active Research Interest Groups (RIGs) — in eHealth/mHealth, cancer, and obesity — the purpose of which are to support new collaborations and increase external funding in these three areas. RIGs meet periodically, host speakers and events, broadcast relevant funding announcements, and form sub-specialty groups to respond to major external funding announcements. If you want to join one or more CHIP interest groups, please visit the RIG homepage.

You can find more information on CHIP’s activities during the past year in the 2013-2014 CHIP Annual Report. Many more exciting developments are likely to emerge at CHIP in the coming months. I look forward to working with you and to seeing you at the CHIP Annual Meeting and at our other events during the year!

Best regards,

Jeff Fisher
Director, Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention