Melissa N. Laska PhD, RD » Faculty

Research Interests:The prevention of excess weight gain among young people; environmental, social and behavioral determinants of body weight in childhood, adolescence and young adulthood; community food access in underserved areas.

Associate Professor, Epidemiology & Community Health

Address Div. Epidemiology & Community Health 1300 S. 2nd Street, Suite 300 Minneapolis MN 55454 United States Work Phone: 612-624-8832
Photo of Melissa N. Laska PhD, RD


  • PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
  • RD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN
  • BS with Honors, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Dr. Laska is a nutrition specialist with a broad background in obesity prevention and behavioral epidemiology. Over the past decade she has established a body of research investigating nutrition- and obesity-related issues among young people and their families, with particular interest in the critical transition from adolescence to young adulthood, as well as in nutrition and food environments in under-served communities. Her work has been funded by a variety of organizations, including NCI, NIDDK, NHLBI, NICHD, CDC, USDA and AHA. She is currently PI of an NIH-funded R01 investigating the impact of local food policy on food environments and community-level healthy food availability, and she is also PI of the University of Minnesota NOPREN (Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network) collaborating site funded through the CDC – one of only four in the country. She also serves as a Senior Research Adviser to Healthy Eating Research (HER), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on policy strategies to promote healthy eating to prevent obesity among children and adolescents, and through this role she has developed and led several national scientific working groups and expert panels of leading scholars across the US who are conducting research on environment and policy change in US communities.

Overall, Dr. Laska has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed publications to date. As of May 2016 her work has been cited nearly 4,500 times in more than 900 journals published in 15 languages and 47 countries across all 6 regions of the world. She currently serves as Director of the Program in Public Health Nutrition and Co-Director of the Obesity Prevention Center at the University of Minnesota.


Nutrition / Diet, Obesity

Professional Experience:

  • 2012 – present: Associate Professor, Division of Epidemiology & Community Health, University of Minnesota
  • 2015 – present: Director, Public Health Nutrition Program, University of Minnesota
  • 2015 – present: Co-Director, Obesity Prevention Center, University of Minnesota
  • 2007 – present: Senior Adviser, Health Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • 2005 – 2012: Assistant Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN


  • Janet Clay White Lecturer in Community Nutrition, Cornell University, 2014
  • Fellow, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014
  • Women’s Faculty Cabinet, University of Minnesota, 2014-2017
  • City of Minneapolis Healthy Living Community Leadership Team, 2012-2015
  • Council Member, The Obesity Society, 2011-2014
  • Fellow, The Obesity Society, 2011
  • NCI/TREC (Transdisciplinary Research in Energetics and Cancer) Trainee Award for Excellence, 2010
  • Delta Omega Honorary Public Health Society, 2005
  • University of North Carolina Impact Award, 2005
  • Society for Epidemiologic Research Abraham Lilienfeld Award, 2004
  • American Society for Clinical Nutrition Young Investigator Award Finalist, 2003

Research Projects:

  • The STORE (STaple food ORdinance Evaluation) Study
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Melissa Laska
    Funding agency: NIH/NIDDK, CDC, Johns Hopkins Global Center on Childhood Obesity
  • Evaluating Innovative Weight Reduction Strategies for College Students
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Melissa Laska/Dr. Leslie Lytle
    Funding Agency: NIH/NHLBI
  • Understanding Disparities in Obesity and Weight Behaviors by Sexual Identity
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Melissa Laska
    Funding Agency: NIH/NICHD
  • Project EAT-IV (Eating and Activity in Adolescents and Young Adults)
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Dianne Neumark-Sztainer
    Funding Agency: NIH/NHLBI
  • Cross-study Analysis of Coordinated Randomized Clinical Trials for Weight Management: The EARLY (Early Adult Reduction of weight through LifestYle intervention) Trials
    Principal Investigator: Dr. Steve Belle
    Funding Agency: NIH/NHLBI

Selected Publications: