Michele Polacsek

I am a trained behavioral scientist with experience in public health practice and research in a variety of settings. Over the past 15 years, my work has focused on the translation of evidence to practice for childhood obesity prevention. During this time I coordinated the evaluation for the Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative where I led the development of tools (e.g. parent, provider and staff surveys, as well as chart review forms and telephone interview protocols) to measure outcomes. More recently I served as principal investigator on several studies examining food and beverage marketing to youth in Maine schools and behavioral economic approaches to improving shopping patterns in the supermarket setting to ultimately impact Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) policy. I currently serve as principal investigator on a USDA-funded study to examine the effectiveness of supermarket economic incentives combined with point of purchase education on the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables among low-income populations. I have developed and taught courses at the University of New England in Public Health since 2006.



The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health



The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health



childhood obesity

chronic disease prevention

Social and Behavioral Health


Current Research

  • School-based food and beverage marketing to youth
  • Grocery store healthy food incentives

Selected Publications


Polacsek M, O’Brien L, Whatley-Blum J, Pratt E. Investigating How to Align Schools' Marketing Environments with Federal Standards for Competitive Foods. J Sch Health. 2017 March; 87(3): 167-173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28147461


Gortmaker SL, Polacsek M, Letourneau L, Rogers VW, Holmberg R, Lombard KA, Fanburg J, Ware J, Orr J. Evaluation of a primary care intervention on body mass index: the Maine youth overweight collaborative. Child Obes. 2015 Apr; 11(2): 187-193. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25719624 


Polacsek M, Orr J, O'Brien LM, Roger VW, Fanburg J, Gortmaker SL. Sustainability of Key Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative Improvements: A Follow-Up Study. Child Obes. 2014 Aug; 10(4): 326-333. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25046206


Polacsek M, O’Brien L, Whatley-Blum J, O’Rourke K, Donahue S. Examining a Statewide Law Banning Junk Food and Beverage Marketing in Maine Schools. Public Health Rep. 2012 Mar-Apr; 127: 216-223. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268808/


Harris DE, Blum JW, Brampton M, O'Brien LM, Beaudoin CM, Polacsek M, O'Rourke KA. Location of food stores near schools do not predict the weight status of Maine high school students. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2011; 43(4):  274-278. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21683275


Whatley Blum JE, Beaudoin CM, O’Brien LM, Polacsek M, Harris DE, O’Rourke KA. Impact of Maine’s statewide nutrition policy on high school food environments. Prev Chronic Dis. 2011; 8(1): A19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044030/


O’Brien LM, Polacsek M, MacDonald P, Ellis J, Berry S, Martin M. Impact of a school health coordinator intervention on health-related school policies and student behavior. J Sch Health. 2010 Apr; 80(4): 176 -185. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20433643


Polacsek M, Orr J, Letourneau L, Rogers V, Holmberg R, O’Rourke K, Hannon C, Lombard KA, Gortmaker SL. Impact of a primary care intervention on physician practice and patient and family behavior: keep ME Healthy - the Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative.  Pediatrics. 2009 Jun; 123 Suppl 5: S258-S266. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19470601


Martin SL, Maines D, Wingand  D, Martin MW, Bruno MacDonald P, Andrade M, Dufrense R, Ronan L, Polacsek, M. Healthy Maine Partnerships: Policy and Environmental Changes. Prev Chronic Dis. 2009 Apr; 6(2): A63. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2687869/


Polacsek M, O’Brien LM, Lagasse W, Hammar N. Move & Improve: A Worksite Wellness Program in Maine. Prev Chronic Dis [serial online]. 2006 Jul; 3(3): A101. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637789/


Wallerstein N, Polacsek M, Maltrud K. Participatory Evaluation Model for Coalitions: The Development of Systems Indicators.  Health Promot Pract. 2002 July; 3(3): 361-373. http://hpp.sagepub.com/content/3/3/361.refs


Polacsek M, Rogers E, Woodall WG, Delaney H, Wheeler D, Rao N. MADD victim impact panels and stages of change in drunk-driving prevention.  J Stud Alcohol. 2001 May; 62(3): 344-350. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11414344


Polacsek M, Celentano DD, O'Campo P, Santelli J. Correlates of condom use stage of change: implications for intervention. AIDS Edu Prev. 1999 Feb; 11(1): 38-52. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10070588


Santelli J, Kouzis AC, Hoover DR, Polacsek M, Burwell LG, Celentano DD. Stage of behavior change for condom use: the influence of partner type, relationship, and pregnancy factors.  Fam Plann Perspect. 1996 May-Jun; 28(3):101-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8827145


Wallerstein N, Maltrud K, Polacsek M. Participatory Evaluation Workbook for Community Initiatives. New Mexico Partnership for Healthier Communities; 1997.


Santelli JS, Celentano DD, Rozsenich C, Crump AD, Davis MV, Polacsek M, Augustyn M, Rolf J, McAlister AL, Burwell L. Interim outcomes for a community-based program to prevent perinatal HIV transmission.  AIDS Edu Prev.1995 June; 7(3): 210-20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7646945


Nebot M, Celentano DD, Burwell L, Davis A, Davis M, Polacsek M, Santelli J. AIDS and behavioural risk factors in women in inner city Baltimore: a comparison of telephone and face to face surveys. J Epidemiol Community Health. 1994 Aug; 48(4): 412-418. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1059993/


Polacsek M, and Dana-Sacco G. The Virtual Game as a Transformative Teaching Tool for CBPR. Obtained commitment from authors and publisher to develop appendix and game demo for book (to be published by November 2016) Community-Based Participatory Research for Health-3rd Edition Editors: Wallerstein N., and Minkler, M. Appendix. In Press.


Franckle RL, Moran A, Hou T, Blue D, Greene J, Thorndike A, Polacsek M, Rimm EB. Purchasing patterns at a Northeastern supermarket chain and implications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Submitted to the JAMA. May 15, 2016. In Review.


Polacsek M, Moran A, Thorndike AN, Boulos RJ, Frankle RL, Greene JC, Blue DJ, Block J, Rimm EB. A Supermarket Double Dollar Incentive Program Increases Purchases of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables among Families with Children: The Healthy Double Study. Submitted to JNEB February 28, 2017. In Review.


Polacsek M, Long M, Ward Z, Giles C, Blondin K, Gortmaker S. Estimating state level cost-effectiveness of policy approaches to address obesity: A comparison of two policy approaches for Maine. In preparation.

Funded Grants

Principal Investigator. Supermarket Science: Multipronged Approaches to Increasing Fresh, Frozen and Canned Fruit and Vegetable Purchases. Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2016-68001-24961 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. April 1, 2016-March 31, 2020. $797,955

Principal Investigator. Assessing digital food and beverage marketing in middle schools nationally to inform policy to restrict marketers’ access to children. RWJF Healthy Eating Research Round 9 (Grant #73389) February 1, 2016-July 31, 2017. $189,890

A pilot program to increase selection of frequently consumed healthier SNAP-eligible ready to heat foods. Becker Center for Behavioral Economics, Duke University. Principal Investigator-Alyssa Moran, Harvard School of Public Health. January 1, 2016-June 30, 2017. $50,000 (PI-Polacsek on Sub-award from the Harvard School of Public Health to UNE for $10,598)

Principal Investigator. Harvard School of Public Health Pediatric Obesity Project submitted April 1, 2016-1) message testing for CHOICES follow-up; 2) Maine Student pilot of Digital Marketing tool. Funded by private donors who funded the Harvard Prevention Research Center specifically for pediatric obesity work in Maine.  June 1, 2016-May 31, 2017. $30,000

Principal Investigator. Healthy Double at Hannaford: Fruit & Vegetable Grocery Store Incentive. RWJF Healthy Eating Research Special Solicitation on Grocery. July 1, 2015-Nov 30, 2016, $75,000

Principal Investigator. Support for incentives for individuals to purchase fresh, canned or frozen veggies--Grant # 2015-034. J.T. Gorman Foundation. July 1, 2015-Nov 30, 2016, $25,000

Faculty Advisor and Co-Investigator, UNE Mini-grant: Youth Exercise in Sports Study (YESS) (Boulos-PI, Polacsek-co-I, .5FTE in kind). $10,000. June 1, 2015-May 31, 2016.

Principal Investigator. CHOICES July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015. Harvard School of Public Health funded by private donors: Maine CHOICES. Two microsimulation studies: 1) Sugar Sweetened Beverage Excise tax for Maine and 2) SSB SNAP Exemption for Maine, $60,000

Principal Investigator. Supporting school compliance with updated food and beverage marketing policies that align with the new federal competitive food standards. RWJF Healthy Eating Research Round 8 (grant # 71639). February 1, 2013-June 30, 2015. $170,000

Principal Investigator. The Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative: A Follow-Up Investigation. The Bingham Program. $8,000.00 for 1 year awarded June1, 2011-May 31, 2012.

Principal Investigator. The Maine Youth Overweight Collaborative: A Follow-Up Investigation. UNE Vice President for Research mini-grant funding. $8,000.00 for 1 year awarded June 1, 2011-May 31, 2012.

Co-Principal Investigator with Gail Dana-Sacco. Maine School Health Policy Decision-Making. University of New England Patient and Population Oriented Research Grant. $12,000 January 1, 2011-Dec 31, 2011.

Principal Investigator. Examination of a statewide law banning junk food and beverage marketing in Maine schools. November 1st, 2009-Oct 31, 2010. $75,000.00. Grant #66961. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Co-Investigator. Clinical Intervention to Prevent Childhood Obesity and Chronic Disease Risk, Maine Harvard Prevention Research Center. CDC cooperative agreement# U48/CCU115807. 2003-2012.

Co-Investigator. Impact of Maine’s Statewide Rule on High School Nutrition Environments and Students Dietary Behaviors. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Healthy Eating Research Round 2. $150,000 Grant # 57920. 2006-2007. 

michele polacsek

Michele Polacsek


Ph.D., M.H.S.

Professor of Public Health

Linnell Hall


(207) 221-4466

On Campus