We are seeking a Master’s or Ph.D. student, with co-funding to partially support their fellowship/internship at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. Expertise in Public health, nutrition, food systems, big data, R, stats, and environmental impacts will be appreciated.
Diet now represents the highest risk factor to human health and is also increasingly recognized for its impact with regard to the environment, including driving greenhouse gas emissions. Its central role in food systems transformation is thus clear.
However, there is still limited information on what people eat around the world, significant controversy over what they should eat (for health and/or for sustainability), and how far current diets are from ideal ones. These gaps constrain the development of policy encouraging more healthy and sustainable diets.
The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT began investigations on this topic in 2019, most centrally through the final project of an MSc. candidate at NUI Galway, Ireland. We seek to build on the results, which include 175 countries’ food supply data representing national dietary patterns (by major food group), and an index of diet quality performance based on distance of those dietary patterns from two ideal reference diets for health and sustainability. The dataset also contains national demographic, economic development and health indicators that can be used as correlates to diet quality.
With further development (see below), we think that the research will hold great potential for publication in academic journals, as well as through the construction of a website so as to make the data available to other researchers, policymakers, and the public. As major outputs of the project, we would like to focus on these publications.
Three short-term projects led by visiting student researchers Sandra Aronson, Lisa Gerbal, and Anna Whitton (MSc. candidate at NUI Galway, Ireland)
Expected research areas and outputs
Five potential research areas are outlined below, but additional avenues are certainly welcomed.
Analysis of changing diet quality/performance over time
Early results from this project suggest support for the theory of nutrition transitions—that as economic development increases, dietary diversity may go up but supplies of fat and sugar do too, and along with them rates of obesity and diet-related noncommunicable disease. The aim of this project would be to extend the existing dataset and results across time, using available data from the FAOSTAT food balance sheets dataset since 1961 and to include the recently released New Food Balances preliminary dataset for 2014-2017. Mapping the changes in diet quality across 175 countries over this timescale would enable us to see a clearer picture of trends, and provide a greater capacity to consider future scenarios.
Exploring synergies in diet quality performance (Data analysis)
Use classic or new analytical methods to test the relationship between country factors and diet quality performance to pinpoint potential leverage points for improving diet quality or particular diet outcomes (such as dietary diversity, increasing positive dietary components and reducing negative components). Factors could include geography or climate, food production and distribution, distribution of income and other equality or health measures.
Exploring the importance of food supply/availability in shaping dietary behaviour by comparing national food surveys (Case studies)
To measure and explore the interaction between food supply/availability and consumption. It is widely acknowledged that while food availability does influence what people eat, it is often less important a factor than whether people are able to afford or otherwise access food. This aim of this project would be to try to test this narrative in the data – can we zoom in on national food supplies and see how the national ‘diet’ changes across geography, income or demography? Is there a pattern across regions, or high- or lower-income countries? A secondary aim of this project would be to test the usefulness or predictive power of measuring diet quality from food supplies (as we have done with the existing dataset), as a simple means of comparing performance across countries and informing agricultural and food policy. Is the national diet at a supply level representative enough for measuring diet quality? Or what assumptions about how that diet is usually distributed within a population can be factored into the analysis?
This project could be undertaken by comparing the results of the food supply dataset with national or subnational food intake survey data. A single country (ideally one with sufficient available data), region or sample of countries could be chosen as case studies, to test the methodology and assumptions arising from the results.
How can environmental sustainability factors be correlated with diet quality scoring?
Explore relationships between food supply—what is produced and imported for consumption—diet quality, and environmental sustainability. This project would involve applying environmental accounting techniques or existing data to build into the dataset for each, or a subset of countries, explore whether the synergies and trade-offs of food consumption and sustainability (land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss etc) can be measured and compared across countries. Accounting for or exploring implications for food waste could also be investigated.
Compare country performance across a range of dietary ideals (nutritional epidemiology)
The current dataset uses two reference diets representing dietary ideals to rank and compare national diet quality performance across 175 countries: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, and the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Plate. In this project you would expand the dataset and adapt the methodology to different dietary ideals. Examples of dietary patterns that have been associated with smaller environmental footprints and potential improved health outcomes that could be tested include vegetarian or vegan diets, or the Mediterranean diet. This analysis would enable exploration of the differing diet quality performance of countries depending on the measure used or could shed light on common areas for improvement.
The Americas Hub of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Cali, Colombia. Work can also be done remotely (i.e., from the Visiting Researcher’s University, etc.)
A summertime time frame works well for us, but the work could also be in the Spring or Fall, however it fits best for the Visiting Researcher. Work can start before arrival in Colombia and can proceed after departure.
Potential monthly stipend to cover living expenses, plus transport and lunch at The Americas Hub of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT.
Crop Diversity Specialist, CIAT