Food system organizations must strengthen their operations to safeguard against potential threats

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Researchers highlight factors that influence how effectively food suppliers and distributors can prepare for and respond to disasters


Philadelphia, December 6, 2018

Food systems face growing threats as extreme weather events become more common and more extreme due to climate change. Events such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017 have drawn attention to the havoc natural disasters can wreak. A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, highlights characteristics of organizations involved in the food system that may lead them to be more prepared to respond to such disasters, and opportunities for local, state, and federal organizations to improve resilience across the urban food system.

Businesses and organizations involved in growing, distributing, and supplying food must be able to withstand and rebound from acute disruptions such as civil unrest and cyber-attacks, as well as those with more gradual impact, such as drought, sea level rise, or funding cuts. Policymakers and researchers are in the early stages of considering ways to improve resilience to both natural and human-generated threats across the food system.

Amelie Hecht, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA, wanted to explore the following issues: what factors may be associated with organization-level food system resilience; how might these factors play out in disaster response; and how do they relate to organizations’ confidence in their ability to withstand disruptive events?

The research was performed as part of a larger project led by Roni A. Neff, PhD, Assistant Professor, Center for a Livable Future, Department of Environmental Health & Engineering, Department of Health Policy and Management. Dr. Neff and colleagues interviewed representatives of 26 businesses and organizations in Baltimore that supply, distribute and promote access to food. The organizations were asked about how they have tried to prevent, minimize and respond to the effects of disruptive events like snowstorms and civil unrest in the past, and how they plan to address similar challenges in the future.

Researchers identified several factors that influence how resilient an organization is during times of emergency. They found that the organizations able to recover more quickly had ten characteristics in common: formal emergency planning; staff training; reliable staff attendance; redundancy of food supply, food suppliers, infrastructure, location, and service providers; insurance; and post-event learning after a disruptive event. Organizations that were large, well-resourced, and affiliated with national or government partners tended to display more of these characteristics.

Graph depicting the factors that may impact food system resilience.
Ten factors identified through semi-structured interviews with food system stakeholders in Baltimore, MD that may impact food system organizational resilience, mapped along the resilience curve. Credit: Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

The authors conclude that a more resilient food system is needed in order to ensure all people have safe and reliable access to food following both acute and longer-term crises. They highlight several critical areas for targeted intervention by local, state, and federal governments, such as creating opportunities for smaller, less-resourced organizations to share information and pool resources. Further research is needed to add to an emerging understanding of the factors that contribute to resilience in order to help food system organizations, researchers, and government officials identify vulnerabilities in their regional food systems and strategies to improve food system resilience in the face of ongoing and growing threats.

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Notes for editors
The article is “Urban Food Supply Chain Resilience for Crises Threatening Food Security: A Qualitative Study,” by Amelie A. Hecht; Erin Biehl, MSPH; Daniel J. Barnett, MD, MPH; and Roni A. Neff, PhD (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2018.09.001). It appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published by Elsevier and is openly available.

This research was supported by the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute Small Grants, the Johns Hopkins 21st Century Cities Initiative, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future with a gift from the GRACE Communications Foundation.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or andjrnlmedia@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to interview the authors should contact Roni A. Neff at +1 410 614 6027; RNeff1@jhu.edu or Amelie Hecht at AHecht3@jhu.edu.

About the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The official journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the premier source for the practice and science of food, nutrition, and dietetics. The monthly, peer-reviewed journal presents original articles prepared by scholars and practitioners and is the most widely read professional publication in the field. The Journal focuses on advancing professional knowledge across the range of research and practice issues such as: nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, food science and biotechnology, food service systems, leadership and management and dietetics education. www.jandonline.org

About the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education, and advocacy. www.eatright.org

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics business that helps institutions and professionals advance healthcare, open science and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support and professional education, including ScienceDirect, Scopus, SciVal, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 38,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

Media contacts
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 238 3628
andjrnlmedia@elsevier.com

Lydia Hall
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
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media@eatright.org