Meet the Researcher: Tatiana Andreyeva, CAHNR

At the Rudd Center and in CAHNR, Andreyeva balances her research with mentoring the next generation of research economists

An aisle of sodas and juice at a supermarket.

Sugary drinks at a supermarket. (Unsplash)

As the Director of Economic Initiatives at UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, Tatiana Andreyeva spends a lot of time looking at the relationship between food insecurity, public health, and economic policy. She’s specifically interested in how economic policy in the form of taxes and subsidies influences behavior in relation to food insecurity and public health.

Tatiana Andreyeva smiles at the camera against a stone wall background.
Tatiana Andreyeva is perhaps best known for her work quantifying the impact of taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, including the widely-cited Rudd Center Sugary Drink Tax Calculator. Andreyeva is also the PI on two recent papers looking at the effect of federal food assistance programs on food purchases, diet quality and access to healthy foods in at-risk communities. (Contributed photo)

Andreyeva is perhaps best known for her work on quantifying the potential impact of taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, including the widely cited Rudd Center Sugary Drink Tax Calculator. She also has done considerable work evaluating the effects of federal food assistance programs on food purchases, diet quality, and access to healthy food in at-risk communities. Her work to expand the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a federal program overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides nutritious meals and snacks to infants and children in child care centers, family day care homes, and emergency shelters, is the focus of two recent papers for which she is PI – one published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the other in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Andreyeva was among the experts who testified at the state Capitol in 2017 in support of a proposed bill to tax sweetened beverages. The bill failed to become law in Connecticut, but her work with the World Health Organization has contributed to the adoption of taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks in over 50 countries. The decline in both adult and underage smoking in states with higher prices and taxes on cigarettes, including Connecticut, is further evidence of the effectiveness of economic incentives, she says.

“Economic incentives work,” says Andreyeva. “They change people’s behavior. People respond to prices.”

In addition to her work at the Rudd Center, Andreyeva is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR) – a dual role that includes teaching food policy, supervising, advising and supporting students, and securing grant funding for Rudd and CAHNR.

Her big goal at the moment – “a very clear goal” – is changing policy related to food assistance programs. Both Congress and the USDA could make changes that would improve the lives of millions of children and their families, she says. Expanding funding for school lunch programs to include preschool-aged children is one example.

“Those kids now rely on what their parents can send, which is sometimes a bag of chips,” she says. “Expanding CACFP and subsidizing healthy food purchases is a way to give low-income individuals and families better access to fruits and vegetables.”

As a girl, Andreyeva dreamed of becoming a doctor, but under the corrupt, pay-to-play admissions process in Ukraine, where she grew up, medical school was not an option. Instead, she studied economics, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Ukraine’s International Solomon University and National University Kiev-Mohula Academy, respectively. At Pardee RAND Graduate School, Andreyeva earned both a master’s and doctorate in policy analysis, a discipline that aligned well with her longtime interest in health policy, particularly obesity and diet-related health conditions.

“I was interested in why people gain weight, and a lot of it goes back to economics,” she says. “It really came from my own interest in health and healthy eating. When I was writing my dissertation, obesity was a new area of study; then it broadened into policy.”

Andreyeva conducted her first obesity study at the RAND Corporation, where she worked before coming to the Rudd Center in 2006. She was hired to work at Rudd, then at Yale University, by Kelly Brownell, a renowned clinical psychologist and scholar of public health and public policy, who founded the center in 2005. Having the chance to participate in Brownell’s transformative research was a fortuitous turn of events that shaped the course of her career. In 2015, when Rudd moved to UConn, Andreyeva followed.

In the years since, obesity research has become a very competitive field. Andreyeva wants to continue her work with food and food policy, but, at the same time, is looking for new ideas, new horizons.

“What’s important to me is to do quality research; do the best research design and find the best data possible,” she says. “Good work takes a while, but I think it’s important that I’m confident in the results. I hope it is useful. Also, I am an educator. I am mentoring graduate and undergraduate students who are the next generation of research economists. I enjoy the feedback when they say, ‘I changed the course of my career because of you’. You do research not for the sake of research, getting a grant and publishing a paper, but to change lives for the better; for a purpose.”