Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP) Wed, 01 Jul 2015 14:14:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 CHIP Affiliate’s Research Works Toward Personalized Medicine Tue, 30 Jun 2015 15:29:03 +0000 Tania Huedo-Medina, an assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, hopes her research will allow medical experts to tailor prevention efforts and treatments to individuals.

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Letter from the Director Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:02:59 +0000 Jeff Fisher

CHIP Director Jeff Fisher

This spring, CHIP continued to play a pivotal role in fostering new interdisciplinary research collaborations for the University in the areas of health behavior and behavior change.

A second high-profile research enterprise became a center within CHIP. UConn HOPES, an interdisciplinary research collaborative involving many CHIP principal investigators and affiliates, recently received a five-year federal contract to serve as one of 13 designated Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs) nationwide and joined CHIP soon after the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity did so. EPCs are tasked with providing healthcare providers, insurers, and policy makers comprehensive reviews of the latest research and advising them on best practices based on their scientific analyses.

New joint seed grants, detailed in a Research Highlights article below, are another way CHIP forms collaborations and shares its proven formula for securing significant external research funding with its affiliates.

To launch this year’s joint seed grant competitions with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and UConn Health Psychiatry, CHIP hosted two networking events, where researchers each presented two slides about their expertise and then discussed possible projects with those with similar interests.

Two years ago, CHIP and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) at Yale University held a similar networking event and awarded a joint seed grant of $50,000 focused on HIV/ AIDS, which led to CHIP PI Debarchana Ghosh, a UConn assistant professor of geography, winning a nearly $1 million career development award from the National Institutes of Health/ National Institute on Drug Abuse.

CHIP has funded its own annual seed grant competition with smaller awards for graduate students, junior faculty members, and senior researchers moving into new health areas for the past 14 years (this year’s winners are announced in a separate column in this newsletter). Since the inception of CHIP’s annual seed grant program and the more recent joint seed grants, approximately $34 in external funding has been returned to the University for every $1 invested in the program through new grants that used seed grant pilot data.

In addition to seed grants and related events, CHIP fosters new collaborations through its research interest groups (RIGs) focused on obesity, cancer, and eHealth/ mHealth. With 142, 109, and 118 members respectively, the groups are thriving and now creating their own three-to-five-year strategic research plans to identify overlooked problems in their health areas and to compete for funding to address those problems.

A full-time boundary spanner at CHIP also connects CHIP affiliates with similar interests, helps the RIGS recruit new members, facilitates meetings and networking events between CHIP and potential new research partners, and circulates relevant external grant opportunities. This year, in addition to the networking events, CHIP’s boundary spanner facilitated meetings with UConn’s Schools of Business, Engineering, and Dental Medicine, the Connecticut Institute for Primary Care Innovation and the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace.

I wish you a wonderful summer and look forward to seeing you at CHIP’s Annual Meeting Thursday, Sept. 10th (where, perhaps, more new collaborations will begin).


Jeff Fisher

CHIP Director

Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology

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CHIP Awards New Joint Seed Grants with UConn Health Psychiatry, CCMC Thu, 18 Jun 2015 15:52:43 +0000 16582225836_50beb86d2b_m

“People have their phones with them all the time, and we believe that their phones can be used to help them manage their own depression,” said CHIP Associate Director Deborah Cornman.

Could a Smartphone app help patients being treated for depression stick with their medications and make it to their appointments?

Is chronic pain causing overweight children to drop out of obesity treatment programs?

If you teach parents to cope better with their child’s chronic pain, will both the parents and their child be more engaged in the child’s medical care?

Three research teams involving CHIP investigators and new collaborators will delve into these questions during the next two years with the help of recently-awarded Dual Principal Investigator (PI) Joint Seed Grants for researchers and clinicians from CHIP, UConn Health Psychiatry, and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (CCMC).

The new CHIP-UConn Health Psychiatry joint seed grant is making $50,000 available to one new research team focused on mental health and health behavior. The new CHIP-CCMC joint seed grants are providing $30,000 each to two new research teams focused on child health and health behavior. (Summaries of each project below).

All three of the new joint seed grants will merge top-notch research expertise with crucial clinical experience and access. The grants will allow the winners to prove both the feasibility of their proposed research programs and the strength of their new collaborations, all in support of future external grant applications for larger-scale trials.

“The federal grant environment is cut throat,” said CHIP Affiliate Beth Russell, an assistant professor of human development and family studies and a winner of one of the CHIP-CCMC joint seed grants. “For a junior faculty member, having a seed grant to help conduct a small pilot study, to gather preliminary findings, could mean the difference between being funded and not being funded.”

For more senior researchers, the seed grants also may help them apply their research expertise to new patient populations or health problems.

To launch the new joint seed grants, CHIP and each of its partners held networking events during the fall semester, where participants could present a two-minute Power Point slide about their expertise and then discuss possible project ideas with those with similar interests.

Two years ago, CHIP and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) at Yale University held a networking event and awarded a joint seed grant of $50,000 focused on HIV/ AIDS, which led to CHIP PI Debarchana Ghosh, a UConn assistant professor of geography, winning a $949,336 career development award from the National Institutes of Health/ National Institute on Drug Abuse.

CHIP also has funded its own annual seed grant competition with smaller awards for graduate students, junior faculty members, and senior researchers moving into new health areas for the past 14 years. Since the inception of CHIP’s seed grant program, approximately $34 in external funding has been returned to the University for every $1 invested in the program through new grants that used seed grant pilot data.

“Even if participants in the networking events and seed grant competitions don’t win a seed grant initially, the collaborations formed through the process often come to fruition down the road,” said CHIP Director and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology Jeff Fisher.

A Mobile Health Approach to Improving Patient Adherence to Depression Treatment

CHIP Associate Director Deborah Cornman and her new collaborator Dr. Jayesh Kamath, an associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, will use their joint seed grant to expand upon an existing pilot text messaging intervention.

That intervention, created by Dr. Andrew Cislo, an assistant professor in residence in UConn Health’s Department of Medicine and Dr. Kamath, supported patients prescribed antidepressants by having a person manually send them text message reminders to take their medications.

Dr. Kamath and Cornman, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and has spent the past 15 years at UConn developing and implementing behavioral health interventions, met at the CHIP-UConn Health Psychiatry networking luncheon in November and, before long, they had a plan for a new, broader pilot: they would create and test a customizable Smartphone app that would send patients reminders to take their medications and attend their appointments, but also do much more.

The app also will let patients track their moods, stress levels, and medication adherence and it will allow for regular communication between patients and their doctors. A web-based dashboard will help patients and providers to detect behavior patterns.

First, Cornman and Dr. Kamath will conduct formative research with patients and providers. Then, with the help of a UConn graduate student under the direction of Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Bing Wang, they will develop a basic app and a customizable app. The research team will conduct a trial of the apps involving 60 patients using the basic app and 60 patients using the enhanced app. The trial will measure patients’ medication adherence, perceived relationship with their providers, and their depressed symptoms.

In addition, to the UConn researchers, Dr. Daren Anderson, vice president and chief quality officer of Community Health Centers, Inc., is working on the development and pilot evaluation of this app. This multidisciplinary research team will recruit trial participants from UConn Health’s Adult Psychiatric Outpatient Services and three locations of Community Health Centers Inc.

“People experiencing depression often do not feel like doing anything. Their energy level may be low, and it can be very difficult for them to make it to their appointments. The consequences of missing their appointments and non-adherence to their medications can be very serious, including suicide,” Cornman said.

Cornman has not previously focused on patients being treated for depression, but she has addressed mental health issues as potential barriers to medication adherence through other successful interventions, including the CD-ROM-based Life Windows intervention to improve HIV patients’ adherence to antiretroviral medications.

“People have their phones with them all the time, and we believe that their phones can be used to help them manage their own depression,” Cornman said. “But the app will have to be visually interesting, helpful, and simple to use. And that is why we are going to involve patients in the development of the app.”

The enhanced app would not take the place of appointments. Rather, Cornman and Dr. Kamath expect patients will be more motivated to make it to their appointments if the app helps engage them in their own care on a daily base and the app’s two-way communication feature creates a “therapeutic alliance,” or a more trusting relationship, between the patients and their doctors.

Creating PAW (Pain and Weight) Treatment

Up to 70 percent of obese children experience chronic pain, a condition that likely causes them to limit their physical activity and also may lead them to use food to try to make themselves feel better.

In CCMC’s obesity program, which helps children preparing for bariatric surgery and also offers non-surgical behavioral programs, clinicians noticed that children who reported having chronic pain when they entered treatment were dropping out of programs at a higher rate.

“The statistics are startling yet chronic pain is not routinely being assessed and treated as part of childhood obesity treatment programs,” said CHIP Affiliate Melissa Santos, a psychologist who serves as clinical director of CCMC’s obesity program and is an assistant professor of pediatrics in UConn Health’s School of Medicine.

Santos and CHIP PI Amy Gorin, a UConn associate professor of psychology who specializes in environmental and social factors contributing to obesity, will use their new joint seed grant to develop an in-depth understanding of how pain is affecting obesity treatment.

The new collaborators will identify the relationship between pain, depressed mood, eating and physical activity habits, and treatment outcomes for 10- to 18-year-olds seeking weight management services at CCMC. They will review charts of existing patients, survey new patients, and conduct focus groups with the patients and their family members.

Santos and Gorin also will ask study participants ages 14 to 18 years to use an existing mobile phone app, Track and React, developed by the Arthritis Foundation, to record their pain, other daily stressors and their eating and exercise. The researchers hope to determine if a mobile phone app could be a useful tool for addressing chronic pain within childhood obesity treatment and, if so, to determine what features a young audience would want in such an app.

With 150 youth and their families participating in their pilot, Santos and Gorin will be able to describe how pain affects weight management in a large, diverse sample.

Ultimately, the new research team would like to address pain as a potential barrier within the context of existing obesity treatment programs.

“Childhood obesity isn’t going away. We need to be creative in addressing the needs of our kids,” Santos said. “This pilot project, our new partnership, will address an unmet need.”

Parents as Coping Coaches

 For some children receiving outpatient services through CCMC’s pain relief program, such as those with Sickle Cell Disease, there is no such thing as a day completely free of pain.

“We need to teach parents how to deal with that, to help them with their own fears, anxiety, and sadness, so they can better support their children and help them engage in their care,” said Russell, who specializes in parenting and helping parents support their children, whether they are overcoming addiction or dealing with chronic pain.

“We’re finding to have optimal impact on children’s treatment outcomes, you have to engage their parents. You have to build a strong network and teach the whole family coping skills,” she said.

With the help of their joint seed grant, Russell and her new collaborator CHIP Affiliate Jessica Guite, a CCMC pediatric psychologist specializing in child and adolescent behavioral pain management, will refine and pilot a group intervention for parents of adolescents with chronic pain designed to decrease parents’ caregiver burden and stress and increase protective parenting behaviors and distress tolerance.

The study will include 32 primary caregivers of new CCMC chronic pain patients ages 12 to 18. The research team will lead three weekly, one-hour long group sessions for the parents (in four smaller groups) to teach about chronic pain, adolescent development, parent stress management, distress tolerance, and problem-solving skills.

Parents receiving the intervention will complete pre- and post-surveys, keep skill-practicing diaries, and have their results compared to those of a control group. The children of active and control participants also will complete pre- and post-surveys, so the research team can determine if the parent intervention is helping the children’s perception of their pain burden, coping skills, and treatment outcomes.

“It’s unusual for a hospital to treat the indirect patients, the parents,” Russell said. “We’re trying to help an overlooked, untreated patient population.”

Russell said she knew of CCMC’s pain treatment program and outpatient clinic, but didn’t meet its director, CHIP Affiliate Dr. William Zempsky, and Guite until the CHIP-CCMC networking event in October.

“CCMC is a very attractive partner for this work, because it has one of the state’s leading pediatric pain centers,” she said. “This will be a novel patient population for UConn.”

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CHIP PI Has Been Elected to The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering Thu, 04 Jun 2015 20:50:03 +0000 UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology Linda Pescatello recently was welcomed into a select group of the state’s top scientists.


Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology Linda Pescatello is one of five UConn faculty members recently inducted into The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.

Pescatello, a CHIP principal investigator (PI), is among five UConn faculty members and 23 individuals statewide to be elected to The Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering this year. The new members were recognized at CASE’s annual meeting and dinner in Cromwell on Tuesday, May 19.

CASE’s main objectives are to provide information and advice on science and technology to the government, industry and people of Connecticut and to encourage youth interest in science, engineering, and technology. The non-profit institution, which is patterned after The National Academy of Sciences, was established in 1976 by the Connecticut General Assembly. Its membership is capped at 400 individuals.

UConn Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Mun Choi nominated Pescatello for the honor.

“Dr. Pescatello has an international reputation in health promotion, particularly in the areas of the blood pressure response to exercise, especially post-exercise hypotension, and exercise genomics,” he wrote on her behalf. “Dr. Pescatello has been funded by numerous prestigious organizations to support her research in these areas, is prolific and highly cited, and has received highly prestigious awards for her research.”

Provost Choi noted that Pescatello was the first scientist to demonstrate that blood pressure is lower on the days people exercise than on the days they do not exercise. She documented this effect through the innovative use of ambulatory blood pressure monitoring.

“It humbles me to become a member of CASE when one considers the exceptional caliber and contributions of this elite scientific community within the state and beyond,” Pescatello said.

Pescatello holds three degrees from UConn and has taught at the University since 1998. She has joint appointments in the departments of allied health sciences, nutritional sciences, physiology and neurobiology, and community medicine and health care. She also has consultant privileges in the Division of Cardiology at Hartford Hospital.

The lifelong athlete’s other research interests include the influence of exercise on cancer survivors, the influence of statins on blood pressure and habitual physical activity, and the use of yoga to help manage stress and reduce substance use among college veterans and among methadone users.

Pescatello has published more than 125 scientific papers and reviews, three books (with a fourth in press), and numerous book chapters. She also has won hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of external research grants and has advised and mentored dozens of students.

She also recently served as the senior editor of the latest edition of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, an international handbook used in medicine, rehabilitation, and fitness programs.

The other UConn faculty members elected to CASE with Pescatello are: Ki Chon, professor and department head of biomedical engineering; James Rusling, professor of chemistry at UConn and professor of cell biology at UConn Health; Alexander Shvartsman, professor and department head of computer science and engineering; and Mark (Mohammad) Tehranipoor, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

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Relax. Your Aging Brain Is Just Behaving Normally Fri, 15 May 2015 16:00:27 +0000 CHIP PI and Professor of Communication Leslie Snyder recently served on an Institute of Medicine committee that issued recommendations to slow cognitive aging, the normal process by which the human brain changes with age.

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Improving Medication Safety and Effectiveness in Connecticut Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:41:12 +0000 CHIP PI and Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Thomas Buckley

CHIP PI and Associate Clinical Professor of Pharmacy Practice Thomas Buckley

If listed in mortality statistics, medication adverse events would be the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Institute of Medicine.

Thomas Buckley, an associate clinical professor of pharmacy practice at UConn, is working to prevent medication misuse and to optimize patient treatment in Connecticut by training and certifying community pharmacists in the state’s urban centers to manage medications and counsel their patients on the safest and most effective use of all of their medications.

Buckley, who also is a Principal Investigator at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), is doing this as part of a larger $8 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CTPDH) focused on chronic disease management. His portion of the grant is empowering pharmacists to help urban patients with diabetes and hypertension.

Possible barriers to the target patient populations receiving optimal care include poor access to medical care and language barriers, said Buckley, whose research and community outreach addresses health disparities.

In addition to certifying participating community pharmacists and tracking improvements in their patients’ medical outcomes, Buckley is simultaneously advocating for public policy changes in Connecticut that would help pharmacists continue providing their patients with these new medication therapy management (MTM) services after his five-year grant ends.

“Upside-Down” Medication Management

“Often healthcare professionals focus their attention on their patients’ medication non-adherence first, but this approach may blame the patient and is upside down,” Buckley said.

He and his grant co-investigator, CHIP Affiliate Marissa Salvo, an assistant clinical professor of pharmacy practice at UConn, are training community pharmacists to look first at the appropriateness of their patients’ medications for their conditions, then to assess the effectiveness of the medications, and to weigh the seriousness of the drugs’ side effects against potential benefits, all before addressing patients’ adherence to their medication regimens.

“If you don’t address the first three issues, you don’t really get at the problem,” Buckley said. “You also might be forcing patients to adhere to medications that might not be right for them.”

As part of the project, the community pharmacists complete a 24-credit certification course that involves reviewing and analyzing numerous sample patient cases online and in person with Buckley, Salvo and other UConn faculty working with them. Once the pharmacists are certified, they begin consulting with patients at their pharmacies. Their first patient consultations may take up to an hour, with at least three follow-up appointments with each patient within the year.

Buckley and Salvo encourage the pharmacists to tackle some of their most complex cases first – with patients who may be taking a dozen or more daily medications – because those patients are at greatest risk for medication complications and because helping them has the greatest potential to significantly drive down health care costs, Buckley said.

A Proven Approach

Buckley and Marie Smith, assistant dean for practice and public policy partnerships and the Dr. Henry A. Palmer endowed professor of community pharmacy practice, previously took a similar approach training community pharmacists to provide medication therapy management services to Connecticut Medicaid patients in federally qualified health centers.

“We found cost savings of $2.50 for every $1 spent, because the intensive medication therapy management optimized patients’ medication regimens and reduced health resource utilization, such as hospitalizations, emergency department visits and additional physician office visits,” Buckley said.

For his new grant, Buckley started with the same Arrow Pharmacies in Hartford where he previously had conducted another CDC grant to CTDPH that aimed to increase vaccinations in populations with health disparities. Changes to state law allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines allowed Buckley to focus on urban pharmacies and their relationships in the community to improve vaccination rates for pneumococcal vaccine for African Americans and Latinos, two populations that had historically low immunization rates and higher than normal hospitalization rates for pneumonia.

Buckley has since expanded his current project to more community pharmacies in Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Norwalk and Ansonia.

Buckley and Salvo currently are working with 10 pharmacies, reaching about 500 patients. They plan to work with at least 40 community pharmacies.

“Our goal is to reach underserved populations statewide,” Buckley said.

Legislative Push

Buckley, who coordinates the public health and health policy course for the School of Pharmacy and who has served as legislative chair for the Connecticut Society of Health System Pharmacists for 20 years, recently assisted in drafting proposed wording for a state bill that would allow credentialed pharmacists to be reimbursed through Medicaid for providing MTM services.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 18 states already have similar legislation mandating Medicaid reimbursement. The wording for the Connecticut bill is similar to Minnesota’s law, which mandates that pharmacists be reimbursed and is considered “the gold standard,” Buckley said.

In a Minnesota Medicaid published report, estimated savings as a result of pharmacists providing MTM services were $12 for every $1 spent, he said.

The proposed state legislation also mirrors currently pending federal legislation that would allow pharmacists to be reimbursed for providing MTM services through Medicare.

Buckley previously played a key role in the passage and implementation of Connecticut’s collaborative practice bill, which passed in 2010 giving pharmacists the authority to prescribe medications under protocols developed with physicians.

He said the current bill is “the next big push” to have pharmacists recognized as healthcare’s medication experts, to allow them to use their expertise and provide their patients with expanded services, and to have them reimbursed appropriately. Progressive laws in this regard are key to recruiting excellent pharmacy faculty members and students to UConn and keeping the pharmacists UConn trains working in the state after graduation, he said.

The CDC/ CTDPH grant requires Buckley and Salvo to measure their diabetes and hypertension patients’ clinical outcomes, including blood sugar levels, blood pressure levels, and their medication adherence values, but the researchers also are collecting fresh data on cost savings tied to pharmacists delivering MTM services to bolster their legislative push in Connecticut.

“Through this grant, we’re training community pharmacists to provide this valuable new service in urban areas. How will we sustain the program?” Buckley asked. “How will pharmacists be reimbursed for these services once the grant runs out?”

Early Success Stories

The five-year project is just in its second year, but already the community pharmacists have made noticeable strides, especially with some of their Spanish-speaking patients, who are being reached by community health workers working with the community pharmacists.

Initially, a number of the Spanish-speaking patients participating in the project were not comfortable discussing their medication questions with their physicians, or even with their own families, but that is changing, Buckley said.

“First, we need to engage these patients and then we can empower them,” Buckley said. “The more engaged they are in their therapy, the more adherent and successful they will ultimately be.”

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CHIP Publishes 5 Year Review Thu, 09 Apr 2015 01:47:11 +0000 Dr. Jeffrey Fisher, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention is pleased to announce the CHIP’s 5 Year review is now available download. Please click on the following link:


Click here to download it now!

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Is Recovery from Autism Possible? Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:20:11 +0000
Research by CHIP Principal Investigator Deborah Fein suggests that some children with autism can overcome the symptoms over time and with intense therapy.

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CHIP Admin Team Wins New UConn Spirit Award Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:15:23 +0000 Spirit150304a027-1024x682

CHIP Director Jeff Fisher and the CHIP Administrative Team are pictured with UConn President Susan Herbst and Jonathan the UConn Husky.

UConn President Susan Herbst recognized the CHIP Administrative Team Wednesday, March 4th with a UConn Spirit Award, presented at a ceremony and reception in the Student Union ballroom.

The University created the UConn Spirit Awards, a new employee recognition program, to celebrate individuals and teams who consistently exceed expectations and make positive contributions to the workplace and to the University.

There are four different categories of UConn Spirit Awards – the Rising Star Award, the Unsung Hero Award, the Team Award, and the Peer Recognition Award – with one individual or team winner for each category.

The CHIP Administrative Team received the Team Award for “making it possible for CHIP and its researchers to make significant contributions to scientific knowledge and public health worldwide,” President Herbst said.

Since 2002, CHIP has grown from administering $1.4 million to $50 million in active research grants.

In their nomination of the CHIP Administrative Team, CHIP Director Jeff Fisher and CHIP Associate Director Deborah Cornman wrote:

“Over the years, our team has sometimes had to deal with tight deadlines, inadequate equipment and facilities, serious staff illnesses and other difficult situations, and they have always gone above and beyond to get the job done. Most of CHIP’s Principal Investigators regularly say they could not have done what they accomplished without the help of our stellar administrative team.”

The CHIP Administrative Team includes: Susan Hoge, Melissa Stone, Lynne Hendrickson, AnnMarie White, Kathy Moriarty, Chris Tarricone, Josh Hardin, Beth Krane, Kelsey Barton-Henry, and Lisa McDevitt.

The UConn Spirit Awards recognition program was developed based on a recommendation contained in the 2013 report of the Workplace Civility Climate Survey that was conducted by the Something’s Happening Committee, a University-wide group of administrators, faculty, and staff, including representatives from the three employee bargaining units.



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New York Times Reports CHIP PI’s New Study Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:10:14 +0000 The New York Times reported the most recent findings of CHIP Principal Investigator (PI) Marlene Schwartz, the director of UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Schwartz’s study found that children are eating more fruit with their school lunches and throwing away less of their entrees, including vegetables, since new U.S. Department of Agriculture healthier school meal standards went into effect. The findings were published in the journal Childhood Obesity.

“This research adds to evidence that the updated nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program can succeed in helping students eat healthier,” Schwartz was quoted in the article.

Full New York Times article.

UConn Today article about Schwartz’s study.



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