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Shu Wen Ng, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Nutrition


Shu Wen Ng is a health economist interested in identifying and helping inform on effective and equitable (dis)incentives to discourage unhealthy and encourage healthy dietary choices, to help improve population and planetary health and well-being, particularly among the vulnerable. Examples include fiscal approaches (taxation, subsidies, food assistance programs) and easy-to-understand food labeling regulations to help correct information asymmetries. Shu Wen's work spans the US and many low and middle-income countries.

Shu Wen Ng is a health economist who seeks to understand individual and household-level decisions about dietary and activity behaviors and their health impacts, while acknowledging that such decisions are constrained by monetary, time and biological factors, and are made within a broader environmental or policy context. To consider such behaviors, decisions and outcomes, Ng relies on tools and approaches from economics, epidemiology, sociology and public policy, and collaborates with others who have expertise in these disciplines. Her innovative research: a) combines large secondary data sources to identify potential macro-level levers (e.g., policy, industry pledges); b) creates new metrics to measure shifts in the culture of eating and physical activity, and; c) analyzes the circumstances under which these shifts occur, so as to identify areas for effective and sustainable changes in individuals' or households' (micro-level) health behaviors, especially among the most vulnerable.
Ng uses a variety of quantitative methods, including multilevel and instrumental variable models, conditional density models, time-series and dynamic panel estimation analyses, survival analysis/ hazard modeling and propensity scoring. She has also worked with others to develop complex structural equation systems that consider behavioral and biological timing of events, endogeneity, unobserved heterogeneity, and self-selectivity, particularly in evaluations of natural experiments where valid controls may not exist.

She has been Principal and co-Investigator on several foundation and NIH studies that use 'big-data' on commercial store sales, household purchase, and nutrition label data at the barcode level (scanner data), alongside dietary intake and nutrition databases and policy databases. Analyzing such data, Ng has studied how policies such as taxation, subsidies or quotas affect consumer purchases, diet, nutrition, and health outcomes across many settings, as well as differentially across subpopulations. In addition, she has analyzed historical time-use data from a range of countries to estimate activity levels across domains of daily living and to identify trends and patterns by subpopulations.

Ng's involvement in both areas of diet and physical activity has highlighted the existing gaps in current measurements, and the need for innovative approaches to better monitor changes and evaluate existing policies to understand our shifting culture of eating and moving and identify areas for effective and sustainable changes in health behaviors, especially among the most vulnerable.

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Last Updated: 2019-09-13