Research and Action Priorities for Linking Public Health, Food Systems, and Sustainable Agriculture

This article provides an overview of the Airlie Conference on the linkages between the food system and public health. The conference focused on how to make the food system more healthy, fair, affordable and environmentally sustainable.

The authors profiled the discussion held by small groups on these four themes and identified each area's current research needs.

Key Findings:

  • The Healthy small group focused on how to develop a food system to provide a healthy diet to all Americans. Participants also examined how such a system would influence health disparities. Current research needs include defining the concept of a healthy food system, translating best practices, examining the factors governing food consumption and quantifying the impact of a healthier food system on the environment and the economy.
  • The Fair small group examined what a food system would look like if redesigned to ensure equal access to all consumers. They focused on the legal aspects of a fair food system and the role that researchers could play in designing such a system. Participants identified research areas including the cost of a healthy diet, empowerment in food systems, incentives for food equity and the intersection of food systems and labor laws.
  • The Affordable small group discussed how to develop a food system in which everyone has access to a healthy, local, reasonably-priced diet. Researchers identified several current research needs, including examining existing federal programs, assessing why unhealthy food are often less expensive than healthy foods and exploring broader market forces.
  • The Green small group focused on how to develop a sustainable food system that can feed the world's population. The group identified several research needs, including the development of a better data system and expansion of research on the impact of the current agricultural system of overall health.

The conference also provided discussion on how health care could help improve the food system in the short-term and how to mobilize change. The small groups were able to identify key steps for future research to improve the food system.