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Tackling a Problem, Piece by Piece


This week the Inside Track continues a series of interviews with members of the Strategic Advisory Committee of Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, exploring their various contributions to the fight against childhood obesity.

In her more than 25 years in public health, Jamie Chriqui has researched a wide variety of issues, from drug abuse prevention to tobacco policy. But, she says, she “never realized how complicated a public health issue could be until I moved to obesity.”

At the Institute of Health Research and Policy (IHRP), based at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chriqui and her colleagues carry on ambitious, large-scale, nationwide studies to assess school health policies and practices from the federal, state, and local perspectives.

Chriqui originally studied political science. She began her public health career at the National Institute on Drug Abuse – studying for a master’s and PhD in health policy while working full time – then worked as a research contractor for other government agencies. In 2007, she joined the IHRP to, among other initiatives, work on the Bridging the Gap project.

Bridging the Gap, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, originally started in the mid-1990s with a focus on how policy change could have an impact on preventing teen drug abuse. When the foundation shifted focus to the childhood obesity crisis, the Bridging the Gap followed suit.

Among the issues Chriqui – who also is a professor in the university’s School of Public Health – and her IHRP colleagues study, in research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are the impact of beverage taxation; food marketing; and how local zoning codes affect community walkability.

“We’re sort of a unique program” because of the cross-cutting nature of the research, she said. One key project in recent years has been the country’s largest ongoing nationwide evaluation of congressionally mandated school health policies.

On the Strategic Advisory Committee, Chriqui represents IHRP director Frank Chaloupka, as well as serving on Voices for Healthy Kids’ “school hub” and advising the beverage hub on taxation of sugar-sweetened drinks and other issues.

“Our work cuts across many Voices [for Healthy Kids] priorities,” she notes. “Our work is very policy-relevant, so we try to tailor whatever we’re doing currently to wherever appropriate to dovetail with what Voices’ interests are.”