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Jessica L Thomson

Research Epidemiologist


Contact Information

Southeast Area Office
Delta Human Nutrition Research Program
141 Experiment Station Road
Stoneville, MS 38776
Phone: 225-892-3662


Via ARIS system
Via OrcID
Via Google Scholar


PhD, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2002
MS, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1999
BS, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 1988

Research Positions

2011-present, Research Epidemiologist, USDA ARS, Southeast Area Office, Delta Human Nutrition Research Program, Stoneville MS

2006-2011, Research Epidemiologist, USDA ARS, Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC), Food Processing and Sensory Quality Research Unit, New Orleans LA

2002-2006, Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC), School of Public Health, New Orleans LA

Research Accomplishments

Adolescent and Adult Perceptions of Their Diet Quality

Diet quality is improving in some US populations and awareness of recommendations for healthful eating may be increasing. Yet whether adolescents and adults can accurately assess their diet quality is not clear. My colleagues and I analyzed data from nationally representative sample of adolescents (16-19 years) and adults (20+ years)  from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2015-2018. 


We determined that only 12% of adolescents and 15% of adults can accurately assess the quality of their diet, most notably, those who perceive their diet as poor. Additionally, almost all adolescents and adults who inaccurately assessed their diet quality, overrated it, sometimes to a substantial degree. Although there was a positive relationship between diet quality and perception of one's diet, approximately 85% of adolescents and 70% of adults scored failing grades for diet quality measures. Thus, the tendency of adolescents and adults to overrate the healthfulness of their diet suggests work is needed to educate US adolescents and adults about components of healthful dietary intake.

Food and Nutrition Security

Food security has been defined as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life" [USDA ERS]. In contrast, nutrition security has been defined as "having consistent access, availability, and affordability of foods and beverages that promote well-being and prevent (and if needed, treat) disease" [Mozaffarian et al. 2021]. While these two concepts are related, similarities and differences between them are not well studied.

/ARSUserFiles/40006/artur-rutkowski-GdTLaWamFHw-unsplash.jpgPhoto courtesy of Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash.

Using data obtained from the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, my colleagues and I conducted an analysis to quantify and compare causal pathways from food and nutrition security to (1) dietary choice and (2) healthfulness of food choice while also testing for mediation by utilization barriers to healthful meals and limited availability of foods. We discovered that food and nutrition security impact food choices with utilization barriers acting as an intermediary step. Additionally, when environmental and household barriers to food purchasing and preparation are high, the ability to decide what to eat does not differ between households with nutrition security and those without nutrition security.

Service, Leadership & Professional Activities

USDA REE Pilot Nutrition Hub, Interim Co-Director, 2023-present
ASN Community and Public Health Nutrition RIS, Secretary, 2023-present
Data Safety Monitoring Board, Tufts University, 2022-present
Data Safety Monitoring Board, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2022-present
Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Board of Editors, 2020-present
American Journal of Health Promotion, Board of Editors, 2014-present
American Society for Nutrition (ASN), Member, 2013-present
American Statistical Association, Member, 2002-present
American Statistical Association SPAIG Committee, Appointed Member 2009-2014

Honors, Awards, Achievement & Recognition

Outstanding Early Career Research Scientist, USDA ARS SRRC, 2011
Spot Award, USDA ARS Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit, 2011
Featured as Up-and-Coming Statistician, AmStat News, Sep 2008
Allen A Coping Excellence in Teaching Award, LSUHSC School of Public Health, 2005