Transforming a lab into a mini mart

Researchers from the Gillings School of Global Public Health have created the UNC Mini Mart to examine how various obesity-prevention policies work in a realistic setting.

A series of new interdisciplinary studies are underway at Carolina.

Gillings School of Global Public Health researchers Marissa Hall and Lindsey Smith-Taillie have teamed up to create the UNC Mini Mart — a laboratory space that mimics a convenience store.

Hall, who studies health behavior, and nutrition epidemiologist Smith-Taillie are using the space to examine how obesity-prevention policies work in a real-world setting.

“The advantage to this store is that you’re able to put the policy onto an actual product, which makes it more real to our consumers and makes the findings of our studies have better external validity,” Hall said.

Their initial studies are examining the impact sugary drink taxes and health warning labels have on the purchasing habits of Hispanic parents in North Carolina.

“We’re focused on that population because there are high rates of obesity and key health disparities among Hispanics, especially with Type-2 diabetes,” Hall said. “Our studies are focused on inclusion and recruitment of populations who aren’t usually included in research studies.”

In diverse countries like the U.S., Smith-Taillie said, studies that look at how regulations impact different populations are critical.

“We need to know what policies will work in different sub-groups and want to be mindful that our policies don’t lead to unintended consequences like increasing disparities,” she said.

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