For many years I have worked on issues related to public health nutrition and obesity prevention, first at the University of Pennsylvania, then Yale University, and now at Duke University. It became clear during this journey that policies and practices occurring in other parts of the food world were influencing matters in my area, and what was happening in my arena was having ripple effects outside. For example, trade and agriculture policies influence food availability and costs, which in turn affect diet quality, food security, and risk for obesity. Like most of us, I was focused on specialized topics, but appreciated the need for a broader view and ultimately, for new connections to be created across areas in the service of more coordinated and effective food practices and policies.
In 2013, I moved to Duke University and encountered an ideal time and place to root this idea. In nearly every corner of Duke University are researchers working on food issues – from medicine, law, business, global health, nursing, environment, the humanities, and divinity, to begin the list. Scarcely 8 miles away is a world-class school of public health (and much more) at the University of North Carolina, and a short distance in the opposite direction is a leading college of agriculture at North Carolina State University. Research, human development, and corporate institutions dealing with food issues abound in the area, including giants like RTI International and FHI 360. These institutions, all part of the Research Triangle, work on some of the most pressing global food challenges of the day, while at the same time not losing sight of local food issues.
All signs pointed to the potential for a new effort, one that would bring together partners and collaborators from around the corner and from around the globe to work at the intersection of what now are often-separated areas of food policy. An opportunity to create something new, exciting, and designed to matter in the lives of people around the world was both apparent and compelling.
With the generous initial support of two foundations, the Duke Endowment and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, we did a thorough scoping exercise to identify existing bridging efforts, unmet needs, and the names of what turned out to be a vast list of individuals and institutions as potential collaborators. With additional support from our original foundation partners, and support from The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, we have created the World Food Policy Center. The center is designed to work at the intersection of key areas of food policy: food insecurity; obesity and chronic disease; agriculture and environment; and food safety and defense. We aim to make new connections across these areas, create a rich network of collaborations, focus on innovation as both process and outcome, and ultimately be a constructive voice in the policies that affect the health and well-being of the planet and all its people. The World Food Policy Center will be global in scope, but will also work hard on local and regional food policies and practices.
We approach this endeavor with great excitement and with the knowledge that something as ambitious will be successful only if we connect widely and collaborate with others with similar interests. We welcome suggestions for helping us realize this dream.
-Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., Director