The Global Food Research Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a project of the Carolina Population Center. Our team collaborates with diverse partners around the world to carefully evaluate food and nutrition policies and to develop in-depth, longitudinal research on large-scale obesity prevention efforts.

Our mission is to provide the academic community, policymakers, and industry with rigorous and innovative methods to measure the influence of industry (factory-to-fork dynamics) on food supply trends across the globe. Ultimately, our work is aimed at reducing diet-related disparities in health and preventing obesity and other diet-related diseases by contributing to the creation of a more healthful food system and food environment.

Areas of work

Our work focuses on the following areas:


The Global Food Research Program is the culmination of decades of foundational research on the Nutrition Transition led by Barry Popkin and colleagues. These included large longitudinal studies in China, Russia, the Philippines, as well as surveys in the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

In 2010, these efforts coalesced around a major research project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to evaluate the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s marketplace pledge to reduce calories in the food supply. Drs. Popkin and Shu Wen Ng assembled a research team then known as the UNC Food Research Program. The team spent the next few years developing a cutting-edge methodology for capturing nuanced changes in the national food supply and evaluating the pledge in several published studies.

The utility of this novel methodology was immediately apparent, and the team continued to grow, using the approach to evaluate other national-level health policies (e.g., Mexico’s 2014 sugary drink and junk food taxes) and to undertake an unprecedented analysis of ongoing changes in the U.S. food supply (read more about the Crosswalk research project).

In 2015, our team recognized expanding international partnerships and research work by adopting a new name, the Global Food Research Program. With principal funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of their Food Policy Program, we began a multi-year, ongoing project to evaluate emerging nutrition policies in low- and middle-income countries around the world. (Read more about the global Evaluation Advisory Committee, co-chaired by Barry Popkin.)

Today, our team has grown to include over 40 faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds, including epidemiologists, economists, programmers, dietitians and nutritionists, and experts in communications and health behaviors. We collaborate with research teams at universities spanning the globe, while also continuing important domestic research on nutrition interventions and food supply changes in the United States, funded by a mixture of foundation and federal sources.

Future work: funding opportunity for innovative policy evaluations

Funding is available through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Food Policy Program to evaluate emerging unique, national-level policy interventions aimed at improving the food environment and reducing non-communicable diseases on a population level. Research teams interested in pursuing funding are encouraged to read about the two-step application process to determine whether your policy meets program criteria and learn how to submit a proposal.