Sophia Hua, PhD, MPH, is a new CHIBE-affiliated faculty member and an Assistant Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Read this Q&A to learn more about one of our newest members.
What projects are you working on right now?
I’m wrapping up a project examining how beverage companies changed their advertising expenditures for taxed beverages in Philadelphia as a result of the sweetened beverage tax that was implemented in 2017. A lot of my time is also being spent writing a grant to further test ways we can promote smaller portion sizes among consumers who are dining out. I also just joined as a co-investigator on a project looking at how we can use incentives and choice architecture to get consumers to buy healthier products when grocery shopping online.
Tell us about your experience presenting some of your research to the FDA and members of the National Restaurant Association. What did you share with them, and what impact did that have?
Those presentations were for two separate projects. To the FDA, I presented some qualitative work that we did to identify messages that would encourage primarily Black parents with less than a college degree to order healthier foods for their kids when dining out, and to understand if and how parents were using calorie labels on restaurant menus. The FDA was developing a national campaign to educate the public about the national menu labeling law at the time, and our insights informed those efforts. To members of the National Restaurant Association and key players in several major chain restaurants in the United States, I presented an exciting online experiment that we conducted to see how we can use labels to prompt consumers to choose smaller portion sizes when dining out. We know that overconsumption is driven in part by the extremely large portions of food that restaurants serve. The promising part of those presentations is that it resulted in a lot of discussion about portion sizes and how we can implement smaller portions in restaurants.
If you could implement one nutrition-related intervention or strategy nationwide tomorrow, what would it be and why?
There isn’t a single answer to fixing the obesity/diabetes/cardiovascular disease crises in this country. So many factors influence what we eat and how much we eat. I’m currently writing a grant about portion sizes, so that’s what immediately comes to mind. Standardizing portion sizes at restaurants can help consumers understand how much they are actually ordering. On the other hand, marketing is so problematic in this country. I would love to see a reality where companies cannot advertise nutritionally poor products, especially to young children.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I really enjoy reading, baking (especially bread on days when I have extra time!), and taking walks. I think few smells are as comforting as something sweet in the oven.