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A New Multidisciplinary Team-Based Approach to Address Community Food Insecurity Across Minnesota

One in ten Minnesota families experience food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This lack of consistent access to healthy, affordable food has been shown to be associated with inequities in health outcomes, especially among racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse households.

“We know that access to healthy food is critical for population health across the entire lifespan, however developing meaningful, effective and sustainable solutions to food insecurity that fully take into account the social contexts of individuals and families has been missing,” said Jerica Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, professor of family medicine and community health.

Berge and University colleagues from Public Health, Nursing, U-Spatial, Extension, and the Community-University Health Care Center, as well as the United Way are working together to create a new process and evidence-based practice approach to identify the most promising scalable and sustainable solutions - specifically systems changes, processes, policies, and partnerships - that will improve food access and security, and community health and wellbeing. They also will generate a strategic rapid response plan for obtaining extramural research and traineeship grants to implement and evaluate solutions.

The team will examine national and local models of success with addressing food insecurity issues through their collective lenses and produce a new team-based approach to researching, educating, capacity-building, and intervening at the intersection of food security and health across Minnesota. Importantly they will work with families themselves to inform their future intervention.

“From these purposeful analyses and relationship-building efforts, we will pilot new innovative upstream and multi-disciplinary models of population-level engagement to minimize food insecurity and optimize health and wellbeing among those at greatest risk in Minnesota,” said Berge. “Sustainable and successful solutions to food insecurity and health outcomes require a multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary approach. We will optimize our respective relationships and networks to comprehensively understand and mitigate barriers that have historically limited collaboration in communities and across public, private and nonprofit sectors.”

With the goal to build a team that is uniquely diverse and capable to achieve something new, the group will also recruit community stakeholders as full partners in the project.

“Partnerships with the communities most likely to experience food insecurity in Minnesota are critical,” said Donna McAlpine, PhD, associate professor of public health. “Solutions that are top-down, or driven by government agencies or the academy, are unlikely to work.”

In addition to Berge and McAlpine, the interdisciplinary team includes Amanda Vanyo; Carolyn Porta, PhD, MPH, RN; Len Kne; Alyssa Banks; and Colleen McDonald Diouf. The team will work to identify and include other colleagues from diverse areas such as agriculture, business and entrepreneurship, food justice, food protection, public policy and government, health care systems, school districts, urban and regional planning, library services, and more.

This study received funding from the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs BOLD Ideas Grant program which supports interdisciplinary teams seeking to tackle the “wicked problems” inhibiting the health and wellbeing of our communities.

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