Land Grant Universities Promote Health and Well-Being in Food Systems

It’s almost Thanksgiving! While it is a happy time to gather together with one’s family and friends, it is also important to take extra precautions and ensure your Thanksgiving meal is safe. Land grant university research and outreach raised awareness among policymakers, local leaders, and the public that community organization, the food environment, and agricultural practices impact human health. These efforts have facilitated solutions to local and national food issues, such as food access, hunger, high obesity rates, and food safety.

Changes in food and agricultural systems over the past 30 years have impacted human health and environmental quality through dietary and lifestyle factors, food types, distribution, and access, biotechnologies, and agricultural land use practices. An area’s “food environment” influences the mortality, morbidity, and quality of life of the people that live in the community or region. Heart disease, some cancers, stroke, diabetes, and obesity are all associated with dietary and environmental factors, and evidence suggests that populations with the lowest mortality have the healthiest diets. Changes in agriculture have also introduced new technologies and food saftey issues; however, these topics (for example, genetically modified food) are often marginalized in mass media coverage, and information is only shared with the public when a problem occurs. To protect human health, more information is needed about changing patterns in food access, retail options, consumer perceptions, food habits, and the environmental impacts of food production.

This project has brought together researchers from many disciplines, including sociology, nutrition, food science, anthropology, communications, and geography. NC-1033 scientists have examined how agricultural, food, and social structures vary between communities and regions and how these different structures influence food availability, type, and quality. Researchers have developed models that show how these variables influence food consumption patterns and obesity rates. Researchers have also used models to show how consumer perceptions of food influence food consumption patterns and obesity rates. As part of the group’s research and outreach efforts, they have held interviews with local leaders and focus groups with citizens and have shared findings in the popular press and technical publications.

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