NOPREN: Networking to Improve Nutrition Policy

by Hilary Seligman, MD, MAS Associate Professor of Medicine and of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco Director, CDC’s Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN) Senior Medical Advisor and Lead Scientist, Feeding America

Researchers are often faced with the dilemma of how to step outside their own institutions. How do I connect with others conducting similar research? How do I collaborate with others in order to maximize my impact? Policy researchers have the additional burden of translating and disseminating their findings to non-traditional audiences in hopes of making meaningful change.

Nutrition and obesity policy researchers find themselves asking these questions with the understanding that tackling these tough issues cannot be done alone. Fortunately, the CDC’s Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN) is providing a space and a platform for researchers in this field to collaborate, share ideas, and work together to improve national nutrition and obesity prevention policies.

The CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention (DNPAO) created NOPREN as special project of the Prevention Research Centers in 2009 to help foster understanding of the effectiveness of policies to prevent obesity through improved access to affordable, healthier foods and beverages in child care, schools, worksite, and other community settings. The mission of NOPREN is to conduct transdisciplinary practice-based policy research and evaluation along the continuum of policy identification, development, and implementation by:

• Identifying relevant policies that foster or inhibit healthier lifestyles;
• Describing the process of developing and implementing policies;
• Evaluating adopted policy content, intent, and enforcement;
• Evaluating outcomes, co-benefits, and consequences of policies; and
• Translating and disseminating research findings and lessons learned to diverse audiences.

The purpose of this network approach, as opposed to individual research centers working in isolation, is to collaborate and share expertise and resources in order to strengthen network members’ capacity approaches to measurement and evaluation of policies and share knowledge of different policy environments across the country.

NOPREN members and partners engage community partners and local and/or state health practitioners in policy related research and evaluation activities including the design and implementation of studies and provision of technical assistance. Information from completed research and evaluation is disseminated to a variety of audiences including, other practitioners, community partners, state and local health departments, federal, state, and local policymakers, and advocates.

The NOPREN network consists of a Coordinating Center (hosted at University of California San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations), four member centers funded to conduct specific nutrition policy research projects, many affiliate member centers at academic institutions across the country, 6 working groups focused on specific topics (hunger safety net, rural food access, school wellness, drinking water access; and two work groups co-hosted with RWJF — early childcare & education and healthy food retail), and advisors from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. NOPREN hosts expert-led webinars each month to disseminate and discuss cutting edge topics and supports the development of resources and tools via the smaller working groups. Demonstrating the appetite for collaboration, NOPREN has quickly grown to a network of over 200 researchers and practitioners working together with the common goal of improving and advancing nutrition policies that can better the health and well-being of all Americans.

We are pleased to collaborate with Feeding America in achieving our shared goals.

For more information about NOPREN or to join the network, visit our website: www.nopren.org or contact NOPREN’s Director, Dr. Hilary Seligman (hilary.seligman@ucsf.edu), or Coordinator, Melissa Akers (melissa.akers@ucsf.edu)

Hilary Seligman MD MAS is Lead Scientist and Senior Medical Advisor for Feeding America and Associate Professor of Medicine and of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF, where she directs The Food Policy, Health, and Hunger Research Program at the Center for Vulnerable Populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.  In addition to this work, Dr. Seligman serves as Director of the CDC’s Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN) and founded EatSF, a healthy fruit and vegetable voucher program for low-income residents of San Francisco. She is one of the nation’s foremost experts in the health implications of food insecurity. Her expertise includes federal nutrition programs (such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the charitable feeding system, food affordability and access, and income-related drivers of food choice.  Dr. Seligman is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.

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