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Healthy Eating Research Releases 2013 Call for Proposals

March 22, 2013

A Conversation with Mary Story and Karen Kaphingst

Mary Story, PhD, RD, directs Healthy Eating Research (HER), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). HER recently released its 2013 Call for Proposals and we thought this would be a good opportunity to ask Mary and Karen M. Kaphingst, MPH, deputy director for HER for an update on the program. Mary and Karen are based at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, which houses the program.

AJPM: Thank you both for taking a few moments to share some news with our readers. First, tell me what I need to know about this year’s Call for Proposals issued by the Healthy Eating Research program. I understand this program of annual research funding began in 2005. Is that right?

Mary: Yes, and thank you for helping us draw attention to our eighth year of annual research funding. Our first call for proposals was in 2005, and since then Healthy Eating Research has funded 121 studies, totaling $19.3 million.

But for those who might not know, I’d like to highlight a few aspects of the program. Our program, Healthy Eating Research: Building Evidence to Prevent Childhood Obesity, supports research on environmental and policy strategies with strong potential to promote healthy eating among children to prevent child obesity, especially among lower-income and racial and ethnic populations at highest risk for obesity.

From the beginning we’ve kept our sights on our three overall program goals: one, to create a research and evidence base for policy and environmental strategies to inform policy; two, to build a multidisciplinary and diverse network of researchers; and three, to communicate our results effectively to inform policies and guide the development of effective solutions. We have made progress on all three goals as shown by our program evaluation.

Karen: The evaluation that Mary mentions was a 5-year, comprehensive, external program evaluation commissioned and funded by RWJF. The evaluation team, White Mountain Research Associates, released their final reports in September 2011. The reports cover a lot of ground, but to highlight just a few points, the evaluation found that HER has helped to develop and legitimize this field of research, and has also helped to build the field by fostering an expansion of professional networks in this area of research, including strong growth of research and policy networks.

One example of how HER fosters network development is the RWJF New Connections grants we award to early-career investigators from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. To date, a total of 12 RWJF New Connections grants have been awarded through Healthy Eating Research.  Our 2013 Call for Proposals includes the RWJF New Connections funding opportunity through HER.

In terms of our accomplishments, we are proud that Healthy Eating Research, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and RWJF’s parallel Active Living Research program (directed by Jim Sallis, PhD), received a Pioneering Innovation Award for Applied Obesity Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at last year’s Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, DC.

Mary: Yes, and speaking on behalf of our great HER team we’re delighted to have received this honor. I’d like to add that RWJF deserves so much credit as well as our HER-funded researchers who are doing such remarkable work.

But of course much work remains to be done. I would also like to emphasize that our current Healthy Eating Research 2013 Call for Proposals contributes to four of the Foundation’s six current priority areas in childhood obesity funding: improving the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages in schools, reducing consumption of sugary beverages, protecting children from unhealthy food and beverage marketing, and increasing access to affordable healthy foods in underserved communities.

Most of this year’s funding will go to research focused on at least one of these four RWJF food-related policy priority areas. The remaining funding will support research on other topics of established or emerging importance, such as child-care policies and environments, front-of-package labeling, and menu labeling. We are looking forward to funding more innovative and promising studies to help identify solutions to prevent childhood obesity.

For Further Reading

Two related articles in AJPM:

Active Living Research and Active Living by Design Supplements

— Michael Lytton, AJPM Blog Editor

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