Renowned Expert on Food Access and Diet-Related Health Issues Joins the George Washington University

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 26, 2020) – The Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) today announced that Michele (Shelly) Ver Ploeg, PhD, MS, has been named the Director of the Food Policy and Health Institute.

Ver Ploeg, who started Aug. 24, served for the last nine months as the Acting Assistant Administrator of the Economic Research Service (ERS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where she coordinated ERS’ economic analysis requests and led the agency’s COVID-19 pandemic research response team. Prior to that, Ver Ploeg was the Chief of the Food Assistance Branch at the USDA where she led a team of economists and social scientists conducting research and collecting data on food assistance programs.

Ver Ploeg has over two decades of experience studying food assistance programs, food access, the food environment, food security and the connection between diet and health.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Ver Ploeg to our school,” said Lynn Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, the Michael and Lori Milken Dean of the Milken Institute SPH. “As the director of the Food Policy and Health Institute, her expertise will help train the next generation of food policy researchers and position the school as a leader in the field.”

Ver Ploeg led a congressionally mandated USDA study on access to affordable and nutritious food and has published numerous studies on the relationship between food store access, food security, and diet-related health. The findings of these studies suggest that while some people face burdens in accessing stores that sell healthy, affordable food, these access burdens seem to have at most, a modest effect on food spending, food security and diet. 

“I am excited to be joining the Milken Institute School of Public Health as the Director of the Food and Health Policy Institute,” said Ver Ploeg, who is also an associate professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at Milken Institute SPH. “As the new Director, I hope to build the Food and Health Policy Institute into a trusted voice for policy-relevant research that can be used to improve food security, the healthfulness of food choices and the sustainability of the food system.”

Ver Ploeg has authored about 60 papers published as book chapters, non-technical publications or in leading scientific journals such as the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, Food Policy, and Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.

Ver Ploeg also spent six years as a Study Director at the Committee on National Statistics at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine where she led studies on data and methods for evaluating welfare reform and estimating eligibility and participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

She is a member of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, the American Agricultural Economics Association and the American Statistical Association.

She received an MS and PhD in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University and a BA in economics from Central College.