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New Class Brings Disciplines Together to Discuss Obesity

New Class Brings Disciplines Together to Discuss Obesity

Posted: November 15, 2018

A new class slated for the spring 2019 semester will look at food and obesity from four different perspectives.

The class, PSY389: Food, Finance, and Physiology: How Our Economy, Social Environment, and Physiology Interact to Influence Public Health and the Food We Eat, is a collaboration between the Economics and Finance, Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics, Psychology, and Sociology departments. The class is also listed as SOC389, ECO389, and Dietetics 389.

“Food studies just goes across so many different disciplines,” said Ted Schmidt, professor of economics and finance and one of the teachers of the course.

The course will study the economic, social, public health, and genetic/physiological factors that play into food choices, Schmidt said.

The four faculty members involved with the class will teach four-week sections. For instance, Eric Krieg, interim associate vice president for institutional effectiveness, will look at food production in the context of market failures, the environmental and human health implications of large-scale agriculture and emerging technologies, food as a positional good in a world of inequality, and resistance movements to the corporate domination of food production.

Leah Panek-Shirley, assistant professor of health, nutrition, and dietetics, will focus on public health nutrition, current nutrition issues in the U.S. and population disparities in nutrition, and public health nutrition interventions.

Assistant professor Naomi McKay, who is the lead instructor for the class from the Psychology Department, will look at the neural and hormonal control of food intake and food choice, as well as the Individual physical disparities that contribute to variations in food intake/preference and obesity.

“In other words, there are physical differences between people in relation to food intake,” she said. “Some differences include, how we perceive the taste of specific substances, how quickly we digest food, and how activated our reward pathway becomes when we see food. These differences influence the relationship we have with food, what foods we enjoy, and how hungry/full we feel.”

Schmidt will examine the issue from the economic side, looking at how financial innovations and investments contributed to rising food costs, changes in food choice, and rising obesity rates. 

In the future, Schmidt would like to see the class evolve into a minor program, or tie in other departments like the Hospitality and Tourism Department.

“Hopefully someone reads this article and says, ‘Hey, I do this kind of research,’” he said. “Maybe at some point, we’ll be able to put together a minor in food policy studies.”


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