A multidisciplinary research team led by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has received a three-year, $936,000 grant to use collaborative computational modeling approaches to promote better community health through more equitable food systems.
Under the Tipping Points grant from the nonprofit Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a team led by Darcy Freedman, PhD, associate professor of population and quantitative health sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, will conduct the Modeling the Future of Food in Your Neighborhood study that will examine several key food-system strategies. These include efforts such as supermarket expansion, healthy-eating social marketing campaigns, and emergency food assistance programs. The goal is to develop strategies to sequence, integrate and tailor these efforts to achieve maximum community benefit.
A team of academic researchers and community partners will work together on the study to develop, refine and validate decision-making tools designed for use in neighborhoods both inside and outside of Cleveland. The team includes researchers from Case Western Reserve University, The Ohio State University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine as well as a dozen community stakeholders with expertise in community-based food systems, community and economic development, food security, health equity, and neighborhood action.
“Cleveland is one of the largest urban agriculture cities in the country and has one of the oldest and most successful food policy coalitions,” said Freedman. “Nonetheless, nearly two out of three Clevelanders currently live in neighborhoods where access to full-service supermarkets is limited and extensive inequities in economic opportunities and health status remain.” The study will seek insights into these challenges while generating new knowledge about what can be done differently through a systems approach to change.
Computational modeling efforts will build on extensive data already collected by the research team. These will be linked with other data systems managed by study partners related to emergency food assistance distribution, food retail and sales patterns, information on fruit and vegetable incentive programming, health outcomes data, and regional economic development patterns and statistics. Together, this integrated data platform will support a data-driven approach for evaluating the collective effect of food system tipping points on outcomes related to economic opportunity, food security and nutrition equity.
“Being committed to community-based research, it is exciting to collaborate with Case Western Reserve and the many dedicated community partners to co-develop solutions to some of Cleveland’s most pressing problems,” said Jill K. Clark, PhD, associate professor at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University, who is part of the research team.
Additionally, the team will be able to examine the impact of these tipping points over longer time frames and in different neighborhoods to identify intended and unintended consequences, interactions and outcomes–with the goal of informing future food system planning and action. “Better understanding of these causal relationships is crucial for informing policy changes,” said Freedman. “As a result of this effort, our goal is for future food system transformations to be more effective because they will be based on insights about which system components are likely to be most impactful, what combination of elements is recommended to be implemented simultaneously, and what needs to be avoided.”
This initiative is supported by an equal amount of matching funds from partners including Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Center for Health Affairs, City of Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Cleveland State University, Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, The Ohio State University (OSU) Extension Cuyahoga County, OSU John Glenn School, OSU SNAP-Ed, Saint Luke’s Foundation, The Food Trust, Unify Project and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
“The City of Cleveland has increasingly looked to frame issues of sustainability and climate change under a health lens,” said Erika Meschkat, sustainability manager in the City of Cleveland Sustainability Office. “Health and food are major priorities for residents, and efforts to advance both are at the core of sustainable community development. We are excited by the FFAR opportunity to look at nutrition and food interventions through a clearly stated systems-lens that explores the complexity of factors acting as barriers in achieving health parity across our city.”