Food Science and Systems

Understanding the Intersection of Climate/Environmental Change, Health, Agriculture and Improved Nutrition: A Case Study: Diabetes

1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Location: 206

Nutrition is integral to optimal health and the food supply is integral to nutrition. Understanding linkages and challenges across the continuum is essential to developing systems and policies that promote optimal outcomes. Building on prior sessions at ASN’s annual scientific sessions and a proposed new Research Interest Section (Climate/Environment, Health, Agriculture and Improved Nutrition), this symposium will continue the dialog and interaction but will do so while being focused on one primary health problem: diabetes.

Diabetes is a primary problem facing most cultures worldwide and is especially a problem facing developed nations. A 2014 CDC report estimated that 29 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes and an additional 86 million have prediabetes. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are designed to promote optimal health and weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease such as diabetes.

The DGA stress nutrient dense diets and a limited intake of added sugars. A key recommendation for achieving goals is to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables, however translating recommendations into action is a complex process requiring adequate agricultural production and access coupled with a change in dietary habits. Agricultural production of fruits and vegetables is intertwined with complications of environmental change, environmental impact and sustainable resource use. Changing dietary habits is connected with issues of accessibility, taste and preference and nutritional education. Moreover, the health status of the individual impacts the ability to translate food availability into nutritional health.

A new Research Interest Section within ASN, the CHAIN (Climate, Health, Agriculture and Improved Nutrition) is designed to develop dialog and research interest at the intersection of climate, food, nutrition and health. These challenges require intensive research to develop optimal solutions. The nature of this research agenda must be integrative, with an engagement of multiple disciplines to address the continuum of activities that will be needed to meet the needs of individuals and populations. The “reductionist experimental paradigm or the “one-size-fits-all” approach to public health interventions will not suffice for answering the complex questions of today nor will they be able to avoid deleterious unintended consequences. The proposed symposium will use diabetes as a core problem to show the need for such integrated solutions.


John W. Finley, PhD

Beltsville, Maryland


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Lindsay M. Jaacks, PhD

Assistant Professor
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Lindsay Jaacks is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a Visiting Professor at the Public Health Foundation of India in Delhi. Prior to her appointment at Harvard Chan, she completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Emory Global Diabetes Research Center in Atlanta. The overarching vision of Dr. Jaacks’s research program is to advance our knowledge of the intersection between the food system and health system with respect to cardio-metabolic health, and to apply that knowledge to develop interventions to halt the increase in obesity and diabetes, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Dr. Jaacks has served as a consultant to the U.K. Department for International Development on addressing overweight/obesity in low-income countries, and is currently serving as a consultant to RTI International on estimating the impact of food and nutrition policies on diabetes.


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Donald R. Ort, PhD

Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois

Don Ort is the Robert Emerson Professor of Plant Biology and Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. His B.S. degree is in biology/chemistry from Wake Forest University and he earned his Ph.D. in plant biochemistry from Michigan State University. He served as President of International Society of Photosynthesis Research, President of the International Association of Plant Physiology, President of the American Society of Plant Biologists and as Editor-in-Chief of Plant Physiology. He is an ASPB Kettering Award recipient, Fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologist, Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science and Member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the Director of the SoyFACE project; a unique open-air laboratory investigating the impacts of rising carbon dioxide and tropospheric ozone and their interactions with temperature and precipitation on crop systems of the Midwest ( He is also Theme Leader of Genomic Ecology of Global Change in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. His laboratory is engaged in three lines of research: i) Redesigning photosynthesis for improved efficiency; ii) Molecular and biochemical basis of environmental interactions with crop plants; iii) Ecological genomics: interactive effects of CO2, temperature and drought on plant, plant canopy and plant ecosystem performance.


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Christian J. Peters, PhD

Associate Professor
Tufts University
Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Peters’ research interests lie in the developing field of sustainability science, within the thematic area of food systems. Within this broad, trans-disciplinary field, Dr. Peters focuses on the modeling of food systems. To date, he has used quantitative modeling approaches to explore four major topics: (1) Land requirements of the human diet, (2) the human carrying capacity of agricultural land resources, (3) the potential of local and regional production systems to supply food needs, and (4) Feed needs of livestock systems. Dr. Peters is perhaps most well-known for his spatial analysis of potential local foodsheds, providing a concrete example of a term that has resonated with the local and regional food movements. As a result of this experience, Dr. Peters was invited to lead a research team within the USDA-funded project entitled "Enhancing Food Security of Underserved Populations in the Northeast through Sustainable Regional Food Systems" (or EFSNE). The "Scenarios and Modeling Team" includes all modelers on the EFSNE project and is charged with the development of scenarios and the identification of opportunities for linking models. Dr. Peters accepted this role in hopes of integrating biophysical and economic models of regional food systems. Finally, Dr. Peters seeks to understand the contribution that modeling has made to the knowledge base related to the sustainability of food systems. To this end, he has developed a new course entitled "Food Systems Modeling and Analysis" designed to teach students some of the approaches used in this emerging field.


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Ashley M. Aimone, PhD, RD

Research Fellow
University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Zach Conrad, PhD, MPH

Postdoctoral Research Nutritionist
Grand Forks, North Dakota


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