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UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Policy Insights Lab

Bridging the gap between health behavior research and policy


We conduct research to inform food, tobacco, and alcohol policies designed to improve public health. We use behavioral science research to answer questions like:

  • How should we design policies to maximize the public health benefit?

  • Are potential new policies likely to widen or narrow existing health disparities?

  • What psychological mechanisms should policies target to have the largest impact?

  • Can tailored communication campaigns amplify the public health benefits of policies?



Warning labels have gained momentum as a policy to inform consumers and improve public health. We study how food, tobacco, and alcohol warnings change behavior.  For example, through an R01, we are designing and evaluating evidence-based alcohol warnings and we have studied the impact of food labels in Latino populations in the US. Our food labeling work is in collaboration with the Global Food Research Program.


We used mixed-methods research methods to understand the active ingredients of how policies influence health behaviors. For example, by studying how warning labels change behavior, we can learn how to design even more effective warnings in the future.


The food, tobacco, and alcohol industries spend billions of dollars to market their products. Our research seeks to understand the impact of potentially deceptive marketing practices. We have found that “natural” claims lead to misperceptions about the sugar content in sugary drinks. We are also studying the effects of alcohol marketing and packaging claims.


We are passionate about translating our research to findings that can be used by policymakers and practitioners. In addition to publications, we prioritize dissemination to FDA and other government stakeholders through public comments, briefings, and personal communication. 


Health policies do not always benefit all groups equally. Our research aims to inform the design of policies to promote health equity. We also study the potential impact of policies on marginalized populations, before policies are implemented. For instance, through a Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science grant, we will be evaluating whether a "quit smoking" campaign could make a menthol cigarette ban more effective.


The UNC Mini Mart is an experimental laboratory designed to look like a convenience store, allowing randomization to different policy scenarios. We are using the Mini Mart to study food, tobacco, and CBD interventions in retail environments.


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