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Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D. - University of Connecticut. Storrs, CT, US

Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D.

Director, Rudd Center for Obesity & Food Policy (Principal Investigator); Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies | University of Connecticut


Dr. Schwartz specializes in school wellness and nutrition programs, and food insecurity.



Dr. Schwartz is Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and Professor of Human Development and Family Studies. Dr. Schwartz’s research and community service address how home environments, school landscapes, neighborhoods, and the media shape the eating attitudes and behaviors of children.

Dr. Schwartz earned her PhD in Psychology from Yale University in 1996. Prior to joining the Rudd Center, she served as Co-Director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders from 1996 to 2006. She has collaborated with the Connecticut State Department of Education to evaluate nutrition and physical activity policies in schools and preschools throughout the state. She co-chaired the Connecticut Obesity Task Force and has provided expert testimony on obesity-related state policies. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Food Bank.

Dr. Schwartz has received research grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health to study school wellness policies, the preschool nutrition environment, the effect of food marketing on children, the relationship between food insecurity and nutrition, and how federal food programs can improve the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods. In 2014, Dr. Schwartz received the Sarah Samuels Award from the Food and Nutrition Section of the American Public Health Association. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has profiled Dr. Schwartz’s life and career.

Areas of Expertise (4)

Nutrition in Food Programs

Food Insecurity


School Food Options

Education (1)

Yale University: Ph.D., Psychology 1996







Panel 1: Marlene Schwartz and Lori Dorfman Overview of School Food and Wellness by Marlene Schwartz, PhD


Media Appearances (19)

The food industry pays ‘influencer’ dietitians to shape your eating habits

The Washington Post  print


The strategy of enlisting dietitians on social media has allowed the industry to extend its vast reach and promote often-questionable nutrition advice to new generations of teenage and Gen Z eaters and millennial parents accustomed to finding news and health advice on social media. By paying registered dietitians — health professionals who specialize in nutrition — the food industry is moving beyond the world of ordinary online influencers to harness the prestige of credentialed experts to deliver commercial messages. “They’re getting these dietitians to essentially do their marketing for them,” said Marlene Schwartz, the director of the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health.

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Some Schools Respond to Child Obesity by Focusing on Water

HealthDay  online


Experts said the impact was striking, given that encouraging kids to drink water is just one simple step. "I think the fact that they were able to find this difference is pretty remarkable," said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. It's generally tough to move the needle when it comes to kids' weight, because it is influenced by so many factors, noted Schwartz, who was not involved in the study.

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FDA proposes new definition for ‘healthy’ food, but will it make us healthier?

Star Tribune  online


And because food packaging can be highly influential on both consumers and food manufacturers, the FDA believes a "healthy" label will lead to better products and eating habits. "It makes sense that they decided to update the definition and make it consistent with the science," said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health at the University of Connecticut. "But when you just focus on healthy and are silent on the less healthy, you're not having the impact you could if you actually communicated the whole spectrum."

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How will the obesity epidemic end? With kids.

USA Today  online


If the tide has turned against unhealthy food in schools it still has a long way to go in other places, said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health at the University of Connecticut. The same push during the Obama administration that led to changes in school meals didn't end the problem of food marketing to youth, Schwartz said. "The food industry is remarkably powerful," she noted. Junk food can be marketed on virtually any TV program except those aimed at the youngest children, like "Blues Clues," she said. The amount of marketing children are exposed to at home makes a big difference in the food they eat.

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Changes are coming to school meals nationwide – an expert in food policy explains

The Conversation  online


For the two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. public schools have been able to provide free meals for all students, including to-go meals in the summer. But on June 30, 2022, the federal waivers that expanded the school lunch program will expire. In May 2022, SciLine interviewed Marlene Schwartz, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut and the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health, about how these changes will affect children and families and how food pantries can help.

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Graphic Warning Labels on Sugary Drinks May Help Fight Childhood Obesity, Study Says

Everyday Health  online


Globally, seven countries, including Chile, Mexico, and South Africa, have already passed laws mandating “high in added sugar” warnings on products, along with warnings for sodium levels and unsaturated fats. “What’s really clear is that sugary drinks are uniquely harmful. They provide no nutrition, they’re one of the biggest sources of added sugars, and the other problem is they’re heavily marketed to children and parents. When you’re thinking about where to start in improving nutrition, removing sugary drinks from a child’s diet is a logical place to start,” says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, the director of the Rudd Center for Obesity and Food Policy at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

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Need Amid Plenty: Richest US Counties Are Overwhelmed by Surge in Child Hunger

Kaiser Health News  online


And while President Joe Biden’s covid relief plan, which he signed into law March 11, promises to help with anti-poverty measures such as monthly payments to families of up to $300 per child this year, it’s unclear how far the recently passed legislation will go toward addressing hunger. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “But it’s hard to know what the impact is going to be.”

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Good public-health news, for once: Far fewer kids are “heavy drinkers” of sugar-sweetened beverages than in the early aughts

The Counter  online


If the ceaseless debate around soda taxes is any indication, it’s impossible to definitively label any single nutrition policy a success or failure for public health. However, studies like this one, which are comprehensive both in time span and number of people surveyed, can serve as useful indicators of how our collective attitude toward ultra-processed food is evolving. “It’s really hard to change the behavior of an entire population,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “There’s not one thing that’s going to be effective for 100 percent of the population, and there is a percentage of the population that you’re probably going to never be able to influence.”

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Industrial Farming Outweighs Willpower In Obesity Crisis, Experts Say

Connecticut Health I-Team  online


Many factors have contributed to the obesity crisis: lack of access to healthy food, socioeconomic factors, a car-oriented culture, and food marketing, said Marlene Schwartz, director of the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. She said the center studies “how we can use policy to change the food environment. You can’t expect personal responsibility and willpower to be enough to overcome all the factors in the environment.”

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Calorie labeling—once fiercely opposed by restaurants—could save thousands of lives and billions in health expenses

The Counter  


But public health experts maintain that such knowledge is owed to eaters nonetheless. “[Calorie counts] are a consumers’ right to know,” says Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Obesity & Food Policy at the University of Connecticut. “Just like you have a right to know what kind of ingredients are in foods that you buy at the grocery store …. You almost don’t need to prove anything beyond that, it’s just a principle that consumers have the right to know what they’re purchasing and what they’re eating.”

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School lunch overhaul led to healthier meals for U.S. kids

Reuters  online


Even though the study findings suggest menu changes had the intended effect of making school meals healthier, it’s possible that new school food policies proposed in January might undo some of these changes, said Marlene Schwartz, coauthor of an editorial accompanying the study and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

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Nearly all U.S. kids eating added sugars before age 2

Reuters  online


"Added sugars are just empty calories," Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut in Hartford, told Reuters Health by phone. "Your children are not getting any kind of nutrition, just extra calories, which, in light of concerns about childhood obesity, is clearly a problem." Schwartz said children may be getting used to consuming sweetened foods and will develop preferences for such beverages over water or milk.

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America’s obesity epidemic, especially among women, expected to get worse

NBC News  online


Evidence is growing that shedding even just a few pounds can have dramatic and positive impacts on health. On Monday, researchers reported postmenopausal women can cut their risk for breast cancer if they can sustain a weight loss of at least four pounds. But losing weight — and keeping it off — is difficult, especially for women who tend to put their families’ health ahead of their own, experts said. “They’ll focus on making sure that their children have healthy food,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. “Their own health is not prioritized."

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Restaurants Are Now Required By Law To List Calorie Counts — Can We Handle It?

Refinery 29  online


Labeling foods with calories is "the most straightforward way to assess how much energy you're getting from a food," says Marlene Schwartz, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut. But one number doesn't necessarily tell you whether or not a food is nutritious — meaning: Quantity is one factor, but quality is just as, if not more, important.

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Climate change, hunger, obesity need collective solutions, according to new report

National Public Radio  radio


Marlene Schwartz, director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and professor at the University of Connecticut, joined us on "Take Care" to discuss. She said this is a new approach that can go a long way in tackling three issues long thought best to handle separately. “Historically, we really have looked at those problems independently, but recently, researchers have come together and tried to come up with ideas of how we could fix all three problems at once, which is kind of overwhelming,” Schwartz said.

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Taxing soda would help make kids healthier

Popular Science  print


The American Association of Pediatrics has long recommended that children and their families cut down on sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, sweetened fruit juices, and sports drinks. Now, along with the American Heart Association, the organization is calling for an additional tax on these drinks—they say raising the sugary drinks’ prices could help reduce the amount people drink and help to combat obesity. It’s exciting to see a respected organization like the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) support a sugary drink tax, says Marlene Schwartz, director of the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. “They wait for the science to be strong,” she says. “I was happy to see they took this on.”

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Children prefer fruit juice over more nutritious whole fruit, milk at school

UPI  online


When given the option, students in school meal programs are more likely to choose fruit juice over more nutritious whole fruit or milk, a new study finds. "This is a problem because compared to juice, milk and whole fruit are better sources of three nutrients of concern for adolescents -- calcium, vitamin D and fiber," study co-author Marlene Schwartz said in a University of Connecticut news release. Schwartz is director of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

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Childhood obesity: America's 'true national crisis' measured state by state

CNN  tv


Childhood obesity has long been a problem in the United States. Now new research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals new state-by-state differences and just how serious the problem has become. The new report provides a "succinct" and "clear" snapshot of the current state of childhood obesity in the US, said Marlene Schwartz, a professor and director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, who was not involved in the report.

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Moby caught flak for saying food stamps shouldn’t pay for junk food. But he’s right.

Washington Post  print


With SNAP, as with so many political issues, polarization is off the charts. According to Marlene Schwartz, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut, “distrust among the parties involved . . . has become toxic and has effectively stalled all efforts by policymakers to change the regulations concerning SNAP to include nutrition standards.”

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Articles (8)

Schools will stop serving free lunch to all students – a pandemic solution left out of a new federal spending package

The Conversation


Public schools have been serving all students free meals since the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted K-12 education. In March 2022, Congress rejected calls to keep up the federal funding required to sustain that practice and left that money out of a US$1.5 trillion spending package that President Joe Biden signed into law on March 11, 2022. We asked food policy expert Marlene Schwartz to explain why free meals make a difference and what will happen next.

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Giving food pantry clients choices – and gently nudging them toward nutritious foods – can lead to healthier diets

The Conversation

Caitlin Caspi and Marlene B. Schwartz


Food banks and pantries across the U.S. were forced in the pandemic to dispense with something that is central to most people’s grocery experience: choice. Faced with social-distancing rules and a large uptick in need – by one estimate these nonprofits served 55% more people – for the most part, clients were offered prepacked bags or boxes of food rather than allowed to pick from shelves themselves, as was increasingly common before the pandemic.

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How Connecticut’s schools have managed to maintain lunch distribution for kids who need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Conversation


Connecticut schools ensured that low-income students were still getting enough to eat after the pandemic first shuttered buildings in March because of a swift shift in how staff prepared and distributed cafeteria food, according an article we recently published in a peer-reviewed journal. When the state’s school buildings closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March 2020, the estimated share of children facing economic hardship who received a school lunch quickly fell to 42% from 62%. But by April and May, Connecticut schools were serving about the same number of school lunches as they had served to low-income children during the same months the previous school year.

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Student Acceptance of Plain Milk Increases Significantly 2 Years after Flavored Milk Is Removed from School Cafeterias: An Observational Study

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

2017 Background: Previous studies document decreases in lunchtime milk consumption immediately after flavored milk is removed. Less is known about longer-term effects.

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The Application of Defaults to Optimize Parents' Health-Based Choices for Children


2017 Optimal defaults is a compelling model from behavioral economics and the psychology of human decision-making, designed to shape or “nudge” choices in a positive direction without fundamentally restricting options. The current study aimed to test the effectiveness of optimal (less obesogenic) defaults and parent empowerment priming on health-based decisions with parent-child (ages 3–8) dyads in a ...

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Association of a Community Campaign for Better Beverage Choices With Beverage Purchases From Supermarkets

JAMA Internal Medicine

2017 Importance: Data are needed to evaluate community interventions to reduce consumption of sugary drinks. Supermarket sales data can be used for this purpose. Objective: To compare beverage sales in Howard County, Maryland (HC), with sales in comparison stores in a contiguous state before and during a 3-year campaign to reduce consumption of sugary beverages.

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Appetite Self-Regulation: Environmental and Policy Influences on Eating Behaviors


2017 Objective: Appetite regulation is influenced by the environment, and the environment is shaped by food-related policies. This review summarizes the environment and policy research portion of an NIH Workshop (Bethesda, MD, 2015) titled “Self-Regulation of Appetite—It's Complicated.”

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School Breakfast and Body Mass Index: A Longitudinal Observational Study of Middle School Students

Paediatric Obesity

2016 Objectives: The objectives are to identify breakfast location patterns (frequency and place of breakfast consumption) and explore the association between breakfast patterns and weight status over time among preadolescents.

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