Moving the Needle on Improving Food & Nutrition Security

Questions for Future Multidisciplinary Research

Millions of people worldwide suffer from combinations of undernutrition, overweight and obesity and micronutrient deficiencies, and these burdens affect health and well-being across their entire life-span. Undertaking effective research to address these challenges means asking the right questions.

In early 2018, AHW’s Food & Nutrition Security thematic team interviewed Johns Hopkins faculty researchers across multiple divisions to gather information on work linking food and nutrition security with global health equity. From these interviews, the team identified themes and questions about gaps not currently being addressed and highlighted opportunities for future multidisciplinary research.   

Key Themes Identified

The interviews centered around five themes – climate change, gender equity, resilience, quantifying and visualizing patterns, and measuring outcomes – and the following questions emerged for each area.

Climate change:

  • How do we quantify the equity of health outcomes as the way we produce and use energy change globally?
  • What are the linkages between the energy system and the food system?
  • How will nutrients and diets change alongside a changing climate and a diverse growing population (i.e. plant-based crops may lose micronutrient content as more CO2 is in the air)?
  • How do/will humans move and migrate with climate variability?
  • How will human health improvement – via family health and food and nutrition security – lead to positive benefits for climate change?
  • How can diet and food consumption be further incorporated into global climate political frameworks?

Gender equity:

  • How is food and nutrition accessed and distributed within family structures?
  • What are the unique nutritional needs of females during different stages of their lives ? (life-course nutritional needs)
  • How are women farmers/livestock holders affected by regional and national politics and access to markets?
  • How can we quantify national exports in the form of development costs and environmental impacts with relation to a nation’s food-insecure populations?
  • In what ways can nutritionally diverse diets be prioritized over merely considering calories?


  • What are the impacts of environmental, political, economic, and social shocks on food security and market integration for isolated populations? 
  • How can we properly evaluate food waste programs and policies?

Quantifying and Visualizing Patterns:

  • What opportunities are there to model sustainable diets? 
  • How do we best analyze the value-chain for food and nutrition security?
  • Can we create longitudinal data within existing datasets to assess food and nutrition security?

Measuring outcomes:

  • What are the impacts on nutrition of shifting from away from conditional cash transfers?
    • Conditional cash transfer programs are a type of safety net policy offered by some countries. They typically provide cash payments to poor households for meeting certain conditions, such as children attending school and receiving regular health checks.
  • How can we properly assess food and nutrition security indices?

Next Steps?

Answering these questions will require integrating input from a wide range of fields beyond public health, such as nutritional sciences, food security and agriculture, ethics and economics to address nutritional inequities in underserved communities. By looking at these themes with a multidisciplinary approach, the team hopes to better understand how to bridge the gaps between science, policy, and practice – and to move the needle in increasing access to safe and nutritious foods. 

To learn about AHW’s thematic area in food and nutrition security, visit our thematic research priorities page.  For technical questions, contact Dr. Jessica Fanzo.


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Abigail Reich is a 2017-2018 AHW Global Health Equity Scholar and MPH Candidate in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.


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Jessica Fanzo is the AHW Theme Leader for Food & Nutrition Security, and Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), the Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the Department of International Health of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.