Melissa Laska, PhD, RD

Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health

Melissa Laska

Contact Info

Office Phone 612-624-8832

Office Address:
300 West Bank Office Building

Mailing Address:
1300 S 2nd St
Room 300 West Bank Office Building
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health

Co-Director, Healthy Weight Research Center

Member, Masonic Cancer Center (MCC)

PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

RD, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

BS with Honors, Cornell Unviersity


Dr. Laska’s expertise is in nutrition promotion, food access and nutrition-related disparities. Over the past decade she has led a multifaceted research portfolio, with the goal of realizing our potential for supporting marginalized communities in making healthy choices, including healthy food choices. Her work has been supported by the NIH, CDC, USDA, and American Heart Association, and she has co-authored more than 150 peer- reviewed publications to date. Supported by NIH and CDC, she recently led a large-scale evaluation of the Minneapolis Staple Foods Ordinance. She is now leading a transdisciplinary research initiative on solutions to address food insecurity among college students with support from the University of Minnesota Grand Challenges Initiative. More on this program of work, entitled Hungry to Learn, can be found online here.

Overall, Dr. Laska’s work has been influential in the field, having been cited more than 5,300 times in journals published in 16 languages from 54 countries. Her published work has been utilized in key recommendations and reports by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (including the Institute of Medicine), Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Public Health Association, Office of the Surgeon General, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. The University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President and Provost and Women's Center awarded Dr. Laska with the 2019 Sara Evans Faculty Woman Scholar and Leader Award in recognition of her accomplishments.


Equity, food & nutrition, public health nutrition, obesity prevention, food environment, food access, healthy food retail, nutrition policy, food security


Research Funding Grants

  • 12/14–11/18, NIH, "Impact of a Local Staple Food Ordinance on Food Choice and Calories Purchased," Principal Investigator
  • 7/16–6/17, NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "Project EAT-IV: Eating and Activity in Adolescents and Young Adults," Co-Investigator
  • 4/16–3/19, US Department of Health and Human Services HRSA, "Exercise Intervention for Preventing Perinatal Depression among Low Income Women," Co-Investigator
  • 2/16–1/20, NIH, "Impacts of Later High School Start Times on Adolescent Weight and Weight-Related Behavior," Co-Investigator
  • 1/16–12/19, NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, "EAT 2010-2018: A Longitudinal, Multi-Contextual Study of Weight-related Problems," Co-Investigator
  • 7/15–6/18, HRSA Maternal and Child Health, "Public Health Nutrition Training Grant," Co-Investigator


See a full list of my publications on PubMed

Select Recent Publications.


Teaching Areas

I actively teach and advise MPH, PhD and post-doctoral trainees across the School of Public Health. I am particularly active in the Public Health Nutrition MPH Program, and have served as the past Program Director for that program, as well as a member of the Epidemiology & Community Health Division Training Committee and the School of Public Health's Educational Policy Committee.


  • PubH 3955/6955, Using Policy to Address Child & Adolescent Obesity Prevention
  • PubH 6636, Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health Practice

Community Engagement

Melissa Laska is working with the Minneapolis Health Department to asses the impact of the city's Staple Foods Ordinance, the first piece of legislation in the country to require licensed grocery stores — including corner stores, dollar stores, gas stations, and pharmacies — to display and sell high quality fresh produce and other whole foods. In photo above, Dr. Laska, center,  is with student Kirsten Arm and Ousman Camara, left, owner of K's Grocery and Deli.

Read more

Dr. Laska serves as the Co-Director for the Healthy Weight Research Center at the University of Minnesota, which aims to build the science to promote healthy body weight through conducting and disseminating interdisciplinary research, preparing the next generation of researchers, and connecting the community to research on healthy body weight.

She also serves as a National Advisory Committee Member 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. Through this role she has convened 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 U.S. communities.



Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network presentation: College student food insecurity during COVID

In The News

  • Keeping low-income college students from going hungry (The Hill)
  • Protecting hungry children during the fight for racial justice (The Hill)
  • U study finds Minneapolis food law has done little to change consumer habits (so far) (MinnPost)
  • New UMN research to find strategies to fight food insecurity on college campuses (Minnesota Daily)
  • Laska begins first-of-its-kind study exploring college student food insecurity (SPH news)
  • Convenience Stores Promote Unhealthy Food Purchases (SPH news)
  • Minneapolis and St. Paul convenience stores increased healthy food options, improving access in low-income areas (UMN Research Brief)
  • City officials look to change grocery regulations to make staple foods ordinance more inclusive (Minnesota Daily)
  • Why 7-Eleven, inventor of the Slurpee, is now all about cold-pressed organic juice (Washington Post)