Who We Are
Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Nutrition, at UNC-CH
Barry M. Popkin, PhD, is the W. R. Kenan, Jr. distinguished professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). He has a PhD in economics and established the Division of Nutrition Epidemiology at UNC and later established and ran the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has developed the concept of the Nutrition Transition, the study of the dynamic shifts in our environment and the way they affect dietary intake and physical activity patterns and trends and obesity and other nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases. His research program focuses globally (both the US and low and middle income countries on understanding the shifts in stages of the transition and programs and policies to improve the population health linked with this transition (see www.nutrans.org and also his global food research program–http://globalfoodresearchprogram.web.unc.edu/) He has played a central role in placing the concerns of global obesity, its determinants, and consequences on the global stage and is now actively involved in work on the program and policy design and evaluation side at the national level, including collaborative SSB/junk food tax evaluation research in Mexico(with the National Institute of Public Health) in evaluating the impact of the Mexican SSB and nonessential food taxes and similar work with the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile in evaluating an SSB tax and marketing/FOP controls. He is working with 8 other countries currently in developing tax and regulatory policies to create healthier diets and prevent obesity and other nutrition-related NCD’s and is consulted by countries and multinational agencies across the globe on large-scale regulatory approaches to preventing obesity. Popkin’s many major awards for his global contributions include the 2018 Obesity Society Atkinson-Stern Award for Distinguished Public Service; the 2018 American Heart Association Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Council David Kritchevsky Memorial Lecture and Award; the 2016 World Obesity Federation Population Science and Public Health Award; the Chinese government’s first award in 2015 for significant foreign contributions to Chinese nutrition; the 2015 Conrad A. Elvehjem Award for Public Service in Nutrition; the 2011 Gopalan Oration Award, the top nutrition prize in India; the 2011 Obesity Society Mickey Stunkard Lifetime Achievement Award; in 2010 elected a fellow of the Obesity Society; the 2010 United Kingdom Rank Prize for Science; the 2010 E. V. McCollum Lecturer for International Nutrition Award; the 1998 American Society of Nutrition Kellogg International Nutrition Research Award the 1992 UNC School of Public Health Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Leadership Endowment Award; in 1965 elected a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation; and the 1965 Wisconsin King Christian IV Award for Civil Rights Contributions. He has chaired the dissertation committees of over 60 doctoral students at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and has served as principal investigator on grants totaling more than $165 million in direct costs, many funded by the NIH. He has published over 640 refereed journal articles and PLOS rated him as one of the top cited scholars in the world among 7 million scholars in 2017 (rated number 203 or in the top 0.003% scientists in the world).
The craziest things I’ve ever eaten range from fish eyeballs to dozens of kinds of fried spiders and insects to poison-removed Japanese blowfish.
My family’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving when my entire Popkin family gets together for a 4-5-day period.
My favorite drink is great red wine.
Shu Wen Ng
Shu Wen Ng is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Trained as a health economist, she is interested in studying the role of dietary change and shifts in physical activity patterns in weight gain among those experiencing rapid economic and social change. Her work involves investigated the design and use of food pricing policies and food assistance programs to encourage healthier food offerings, purchases and dietary consumption while narrowing disparities and inequities. On the Global Food Research Program, Shu Wen leads studies that use commercial food purchase, food sales data and Nutrition Facts Panel data, as well as publicly available household income-expenditure, price and census data. Shu Wen has extensive modeling experience with multi-level and instrumental variable models, survival analysis/ hazard modeling, propensity scoring, time-series and dynamic panel estimation analyses. She teaches National Nutrition Policy.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make avocado soup! Puree 3-4 ripe avocados with ~1 cup skim milk (adjust based on preference), dash of cayenne & black pepper, hint of salt, and juice of ½ a lime. Top with cooked shrimp and/or cilantro for garnish, and voila! Best if made a few hours ahead, chilled and served cold (great on a hot summer day!)
The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is fried tarantula (in Cambodia)
After a good workout, nothing beats a glass of cold chocolate almond milk.
Lindsey Smith Taillie
Lindsey Smith Taillie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Lindsey is a nutrition epidemiologist whose work focuses on evaluating food policy efforts in the US and globally, and how these influence disparities in diet and obesity. Current projects focus on evaluating sugary beverage taxes, front-of-package warning labels, and marketing restrictions in a number of Latin American countries, including Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. She has also conducted a number of studies on the nutrition transition in China, including fieldwork on diet behaviors and diet assessment technology. In the US, her research focuses on changes in marketing and labeling of unhealthy foods and beverages, their association with the nutritional profile of food purchases and disparities in food purchases, and whether marketing and labeling policies can help consumers make healthier choices, especially in vulnerable populations such as Latino and low-income parents. She also conducts nutrition epidemiology studies on food behaviors, diet intake, and obesity using large population-level datasets such as the National Health and Nutrition Survey and American Time Use Study.
When I’m feeling down, my “go to” comfort food is a bowl of iceberg lettuce, no dressing. Just kidding. A buttery, perfectly browned grilled cheese sandwich, all the way.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make salad. Chopping veggies is a great stress reliever, and I like to use frozen veggies, quinoa, or beans when I’m short on time. Add a splash of olive oil and balsamic and you’re good to go!
My favorite food for fall is: I love orange foods in the fall: stuffed sweet potatoes, butternut squash soup, pumpkin “pie” smoothies, apple cider…I can’t get enough!
My favorite condiment or topping is Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, by the gallon.
Emily Yoon manages the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team of Research Assistants and helps coordinate the many team activities and tasks. Prior to working with the Global Food Research Program @ UNC, Emily worked as a Registered Dietitian in Pediatric Diabetes. After years translating current literature for her patients, Emily wanted to help do the research. She returned to school to pursue a Master’s in Public Health at UNC-CH. During that time she met the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team and began working as a grad student on the team. She quickly embraced the research environment and ever since has worked on the team of Research Assistants.
When I’m feeling down, my ‘go to’ comfort food is home-made mac and cheese.
My favorite combination of food and drink is a good glass of red wine with high quality cheese, bread and chocolate.
Favorite Quote about food by Wendell Berry: “Eating with the fullest pleasure – pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance – is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living in a mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
My favorite food comes in summertime, but I crave it year-round: fresh summer tomatoes (with a hefty dose of fresh basil)
Jessica is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She is a Research Assistant for the Global Food Research Program @ UNC, with particular interest in supporting work that analyzes high quality data to evaluate nutrition policies, food environments, and health behaviors in populations around the world.
Favorite quote related to food: “As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” ~ Leslie Newman
My favorite food for fall is butternut squash.
My favorite food to cultivate is mushrooms.
Bridget is a Registered Dietitian with her Master’s Degree in Public Health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-CH. She joined the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team as a Research Assistant after several years working in Community Health Centers as a Public Health Nutritionist. She enjoys learning about all things food-related, and with the Global Food Research Program @ UNC is constantly discovering new things about foods and drinks available in the US.
My least liked food is Brussels sprouts.
My favorite food for fall is a baked Sweet Potato with cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar.
The first thing I learned to cook was Chili! When I was 3 or 4 years old, my father taught me the secret ingredient to his delicious chili – after I was in on the secret, I loved to join him at the Chili Cook-Off competitions and help cook and sell to the judges.
Julie is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science and a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition/Dietetics. Before joining the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team as a Research Assistant, Julie worked in the food industry as a Nutrition Labeling Consultant. Her interests include research related to dietary intake and public health, such as trends in health behaviors and physical activity.
The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is kangaroo in Australia.
My least liked food is a toss-up between olives and pickles.
After a good workout, nothing beats Greek yogurt and fruit.
My favorite food-related smell is freshly baked banana bread.
Emily is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and a Master’s degree in Public Health from UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. Emily worked as an editorial and marketing designer at several publications before pursuing a career in nutrition and joining the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team as a Research Assistant. Her interests include research related to obesity prevention and treatment, improving and alleviating health disparities, and how the food retail environment and marketing can influence personal and population nutrition.
The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is cricket flour muffins (made by myself and fed to some very good sports at UNC).
My favorite things to bake are scones — adaptable and forgiving to bake, delicious to eat.
Foods I must have in my home are coffee, dark chocolate, and yogurt, in that order.
My favorite food-related smell is onions cooking in butter — the beginning of many home-cooked dinners in my house, growing up.
Leonela Munoz Connolly
Leonela joined the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team as a Research Assistant after earning her Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Meredith College. Her interest in nutrition developed organically from researching the effects of nutrients on physical activity, particularly long distance running. She enjoys learning the myriad effects of food on long term health and is interested in research related to disparities in food environments across cultures.
After a good workout, nothing beats chocolate milk (with salty potato chips if the workout was a long run).
Foods I must have in my home are dark chocolate, blueberries, garlic, olive oil.
Fernanda completed her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition Science at North Carolina State University. After working as an EFNEP Educator in Orange County for a few months, she joined the Global Food Research Project as a Research Assistant. She is a firm believer that many health problems can be prevented through food and physical activity, so her interests include nutrition education, research related to chronic diseases and public health.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make chick peas salad with grape tomatoes, olive oil and salt.
Foods I must have in my home are eggs and avocado.
After a good workout, nothing beats a fruit/protein smoothie.
Cindy P. Evans
Cindy P. Evans, is a Registered Dietitian originally from Bogota, Colombia. She obtained her first degree in Human Nutrition and Dietetics at the National University of Colombia and then moved to the United States in 2012. After obtaining a second degree in Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Alabama, she completed her dietetic internship at Meredith College.
Cindy joined the Global Food Research Program as a clinical and social research assistant to focus mainly in the international projects, particularly Latin American countries. Having the opportunity to immerse herself in the fascinating world of the dietetics and nutrition in two different countries, has reaffirmed her passion for her career, particularly for the field of research and public health in nutrition.
Under this perspective, her interests are related to support high impact initiatives and efforts that promote health, and seek to improve the quality of life of all populations, especially ethnic groups prompted to be affected by health disparities.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make sunny side up avocado toasts.
Foods I must have in my home are eggs, avocados, fruits, arepas and COFFEE (of course, I’m Colombian)
My favorite food for winter is ajiaco, a Colombian traditional chicken and potato soup
Isabella Higgins joined the Global Food Research Program at UNC as a Project Manager after earning her Master in Public Policy degree from George Washington University. Prior to entering into food policy research, she engaged in research and nonprofit work in the field of sexual and reproductive health. Her research interests include research focused on policies that promote and work to achieve health equity.
My family’s holiday favorite is my mom’s peanut butter pie. It’s amaaazing.
My favorite food for summer is a fresh salad with produce purchased from the NC Farmer’s Market.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make avocado toast. I mix mashed avocado with cumin, chili powder, hot sauce, lime juice, salt, pepper, and a little bit of olive oil, then I put it on top of toasted ezekiel bread.
Christina Chauvenet is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Global Food Research Program. She primarily works on a study on the intersection of diet and climate change with Lindsey Smith Taillie. Christina is conducting experiments on the effects of warning labels on the purchase of red and processed meat. Christina recently received her PhD from the UNC in Maternal and Child Health with a minor in Health Behavior. As a doctoral student, Christina worked at the UNC Center of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention on studies related to federal nutrition programs and food insecurity. She has mixed methods training, and is interested in qualitative approaches to inform food policy and health behavior. Before her PhD, Christina worked for Share Our Strength and Community Foodworks on food policy issues in Washington, DC. In her spare time, Christina races Windmill sailboats with her father and serves as the commentator for UNC gymnastics.
My favorite song about food is “Be healthy” by Dead Prez
Foods I must have in my home are Peanut butter, fresh fruits and veggies, and beans.
Favorite quote related to food: “For now I ask no more than the justice of eating.” Pablo Neruda
My favorite food-related smell is bread baking.
Frances Dancy Burton
Frances is the Business Officer of the group, holding a business degree from North Carolina Central University. She has been working for the Popkin group for 29 of the 39 years that she has been working for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Needless to say, she knows pretty much all the ends and outs of the university and has seen a lot of the changes that has happened over the years. She has also experienced the “nutrition transition” within the Popkin group.
Being newly married, she now does more food preparing than she used to as her husband enjoys home cooked meals.
My most favorite vegetables are a mixture of fresh turnip and mustard greens (southern style). I also like collards and cabbages. I have learned to enjoy broccoli and asparagus in the past several years!
Ariel joined the Global Food Research Program @ UNC team as a Project Coordinator after nine years with the UNC School of Nursing. She has a Master’s Degree in International Studies and is soon to complete her Master’s in Business Administration, both from NC State University. She loves to learn something new every day. Her interests include communications, marketing research, and leadership. Ariel loves supporting the team to be able to do their best!
Foods I must have in my home are tomatoes, limes, and noodles.
The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is grasshopper or pig kidney.
When I’m in a time crunch, I love to make pico and guacamole.
Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a master’s degree in Public Health from UNC Chapel Hill. She is a doctoral student in the Nutrition Department working with Dr. Lindsey Smith-Taillie. Her current research focuses on the labeling and marketing of unhealthy beverages and their association with the nutritional profiles and consumer purchases of those beverages. Prior to returning to UNC Chapel Hill, Emily worked at Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, where much of her work was focused on nutrition in early childhood.
My family’s holiday favorite is green salad – not the healthy kind with lettuce or other leafy greens. This is my grandma’s 1950’s inspired lemon-lime Jell-O salad with pineapple, cottage cheese, walnuts etc. It is fluorescent green. Don’t knock it till you try it 😊
The first thing I learned to cook was grits, which was my afterschool snack of choice for most of my elementary school years.
Melissa Lorena Jensen
Melissa is a doctoral student in Nutrition Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She obtained her Master of Science in Public Health (Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior) at the University of South Carolina, and her Bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition at the University of Costa Rica (UCR). Prior to joining UNC, Melissa was an instructor and researcher at UCR. She is currently interested in obesity prevention policies in the context of Latin America, and how improvements in nutrition surveillance systems can help justify, design and evaluate these policies. At the Global Food Research Program, Melissa is collaborating with the evaluation of Chile’s regulatory policies, including front-of-package labelling and food marketing restrictions.
After a good workout, nothing beats a cheese and vegetable omelet, with a side of fruit, a couple of pancakes, and a cup of coffee… delicious after a super long run or race!
My family’s favorite is my home-made Spring Rolls, which I learned to make from my Vietnamese housemate during grad-school in SC
Allison Maria Lacko
Allison Lacko is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, with a concentration in Epidemiology. She is interested in understanding the systemic causes of diet and health disparities in the U.S. and how to enact public health policy that is scalable and equitable. Currently, she is working on her dissertation research to understand trends and disparities in the nutritional quality of household packaged food purchases over time and across states and the impact of local and state-level policies on food purchases. Her work integrates methods from nutrition science, epidemiology, econometrics and spatial analysis. Outside of research, Allison is one of the student leaders of Amigas en Salud, a group under UNC SHAC that supports health and wellness among Latinas in Orange County. She is also involved in the Orange County Food Council’s Food Access Workgroup and in launching a Food Justice Group at UNC.
The craziest thing I’ve ever eaten is fried baby scorpion, which tastes like popcorn (Beijing night market)
My family’s holiday favorite is a Thanksgiving wild rice with pecans and turkey liver my Mom makes. Although our favorite holiday is our annual summer Cuban pig roast.
Foods I must have in my home are: a rainbow of vegetables; arroz y frijoles; salt, pepper, ginger and hot sauce; sardines; fresh eggs; creamy, golden butter and olive oil; 100% dark chocolate; coffee.
My favorite food-related smell is caramelizing onion with ginger and garlic and the world of possibilities that lay before this combination
Caitlin Lowery is a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill. She obtained her Master of Science in Public Health in International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2016. Caitlin was first exposed to the field of public health as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Georgia (2011-2013). Prior to coming to UNC, Caitlin worked on an evaluation of the Philadelphia beverage tax, which examined the impact of the tax on prices, purchases and consumption of sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages. Her primary research interest is nutrition policy for obesity prevention, including beverage taxes, front-of-package (FOP) health warning labels, and food marketing restrictions. As part of GFRP, Caitlin will be working with researchers at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia on an evaluation of the impact of FOP warning labels on consumer perceptions and food purchases in Peru.
When I’m feeling down, my “go to” comfort food is chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
After a good workout, nothing beats a cold, refreshing wheat beer.
My most interesting food habit is eating a spoonful of peanut butter (or almond butter… or Nutella) when I’m having a bad day. Or when I’m super hungry.
Fernanda is a Psychologist with her Master’s Degree in Health Psychology from the Catholic University of Chile. Before joining the Global Food Research Program at UNC as Research Assistant she worked in the Ministry of Health of Chile contributing to the drafting and implementation of a new food law for regulating the labeling, marketing and sale of food with high levels of energy, sugar, sodium and saturated fat. She is also part of the research group INFORMAS-Chile an International Network for Food and Obesity research, at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology of the University of Chile. She is interested in the study of the food environment, particularly food marketing and mass communication affecting the preferences and eating behavior of the population.
My favorite song about food is “Aceitunas” Silvio Rodriguez.
My favorite food-related smell is fresh peaches
Natalia is a Nutritionist with experience working with dietary data. She is currently finishing her Master’s degree in Nutrition and Food from the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA), University of Chile.
She is a Research Assistant for the Global Food Research Program @ UNC. Her central interest is to study the impact of food related government regulations in Chile to prevent obesity and reduce related health problems.
My favorite food for summer is porotos granados with chilean salad (tomato with onion and coriander), a typical Chilean plate.
Foods I must have in my home are avocados, always avocados!!
Favorite quote related to food: “For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”― Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.