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How can food markets transform to become
sustainable and equitable?


As societies have developed food has come to bind many developed countries into states of overnutrition, with obesity, diabetes, and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) having reached epidemic proportions; and inflicting an increasing number of emerging economies with the double burden of under- and overnutrition. While increasing the nutritional quality of food consumed is critical, this is a major challenge due to the complexity of our food systems, linking consumer lifestyles, industry, agriculture, and health systems.


The aim of this project is to develop insights into the challenges of transforming food markets towards production and consumption of nutritious food. We highlight the critical role of nutritious food market infrastructure - general acceptance of and agreement about what is nutritious, consumer practices, affordable choice options, and availability of this food across distinct retail outlets – for self-sustaining markets. In this project we examine the feedback interactions across market actors associated with developing this market infrastructure. We also examine dynamics of nutritious food adoption in underserved communities, where nutritious food market infrastructure is particularly underdeveloped. This research highlights how well-intended individual efforts tend to fail. Coordination and alignment of efforts across different actors is critical and particularly in underserved areas.


Central to this project are a number of behavioural dynamic computational models that we develop and use to identify dynamics of and strategies for nutritious food market transformation. The models allow tracing over-time interactions between the nutritional quality of supply – development, production, and distribution, consumer food choice, population health, and governmental policy. In the models, actors respond to changes in the market systems that result from their and others’ efforts, and as high nutritious food competes with low nutritious food supply and demand. A subset of  models is specifically designed to explore dynamics


Project Period: 2013 – ongoing

Key people: Jeroen Struben, Laurrette Dubé, Derek Chan

Contexts: Food consumption and production in Canada / Island of Montreal.

Organizations:  Public Health Agency of Canada, Wholesome Wave, Metro Canada

Total funding: $1,275,000 (including team grants) Principal sources: Public Health Agency of Canada, Fonds de recherche du Québec, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentaire du Québec)

of nutritious food adoption in underserved communities. The models have been developed from the literature as well as with expert input from practitioners, including from food retailing and food production industry, as well as from government players such as public health agencies.

Sustainable Food Transformation Project Outputs:
1. Academic Publications

Policy insights from the Nutritional Food Market Transformation Model

This paper presents a system dynamics model for examining obesity prevention policies from industry, governments, and other actors. Our analysis highlights the importance of integrative policy portfolios to simultaneously shift food demand and supply.


Overcoming the challenge of healthy and equitable food (Working paper)
In this paper we examine the processes that prevent self- sustaining markets for production and consumption of healthy food across social economic. Using causal loop diagramming, we identify three interconnected feedback processes, including: (i) industry capabilities (ii), consumer acceptance, and (iii) institutional supports. We show the importance of coordinated collective action among producers, consumers, social entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, and other intermediaries.

More research within this project

2. Engaging Practitioners  
Insights produced from our research and the research engagements through which we work within and with organisations

Coming soon!

3. Media Coverage

The Globe and Mail article (2014)

"Why efforts against obesity aren’t working"

McGill University article (2014)
"Silver Bullet solutions are not the answer to tackling obesity"

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