Upcoming Penn symposium tackles obesity, hunger, and other food policy

Public discussion about food policy often lands on either end of a wide spectrum, with obesity, overeating, and unhealthy diets on one side, and hunger and food insecurity on the other. A symposium hosted by the Prevention Research Center (PRC) on Thursday, April 27, and Friday, April 28, aims to address both, with speakers focusing on topics like food policy in large cities and ways to support healthy eating, as well as a pitch competition intended to engage undergraduates and graduate students.

“These are very timely issues, especially in Philadelphia, with everything related to the soda tax,” says Sarah Green, a PRC project manager who is helping arrange the event. “There’s a lot of interest in that area all the time, but now, given the climate of health policy, it’s a very hot topic.” 

Karen Glanz, director of the PRC and a Penn Integrates Knowledge professor, says the symposium aims to bring together several of the 26 prevention research centers across the country to build on their collective knowledge and expertise.

“More often than not, we all do our own thing,” says Glanz, who has appointments in the School of Nursing and the Perelman School of Medicine. But, she says, “We really wanted to build a conversation around an area that we and researchers at other centers are very involved in and passionate about. That is food policy.”

Day one will include students presenting on public health topics, either in a poster or via a short, live presentation. The PRC will give out five $100 prizes: two to undergrads, two to graduate students, and one people’s choice award.

“We’re hoping to open this up and give as many people as we can the opportunity to present,” says Victoria Worthen, a PRC research coordinator co-organizing the symposium. “We definitely haven’t done anything like this before. We’re hoping to engage a lot of students.”

Day two will feature two keynote speakers, Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Mariana Chilton of Drexel University, talking about nutrition policy and food insecurity, respectively. There will also be breakout sessions with experts from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, The Food Trust, and elsewhere, followed by panel discussions about translating research into practice and innovative actions.

It’s all intended to foster open dialogue about food policy issues and ongoing research.

“We’re hoping that it will stimulate people with new ideas,” Glanz says. “In the wildest of dreams … I could see students meeting people in other cities where they might do internships or find future jobs. I could see different organizations having ideas that gel together.” 

“Certainly it’s bringing together more people across Philly,” Green adds. “It’ll be a lot of different people in the room at the same time that will hopefully spark some collaborations.”

Registration for “Accelerating Policies and Research on Food Access, Diet, and Obesity Prevention” is open to the public. It costs $25 for general admission, $15 for students. Thursday's event will take place at the Biomedical Research Building; Friday's event will take place at the Inn at Penn.