Historical and epidemiological transitions in urban Caribbean foodscapes: understanding the past to enhance future healthy eating

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter


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Technical Summary

Current public health strategies fail to effectively promote adequate nutrition in populations, because they focus on individuals' behaviours and choices without addressing larger influences such as food cultures and food systems. Instead, healthy environments need to be created that enable easy access to healthy and nutritious food. Cities in an increasingly urbanising world are ideal places for such transformation.
The Caribbean region has identified chronic non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease as a major threat to population health, social and economic development, and has made a concerted commitment to address this problem through a comprehensive, multi-sectoral response that includes urban planning. To inform their efforts and
accelerate action, we propose a cross-disciplinary project to understand historical and epidemiological transformations in two neighbouring but contrasting cities, Kingston (Jamaica) and Port-au-Prince (Haiti), to be able to identify the ways cities in low and middle income countries impact on their populations' food practices, opportunities and in turn health. We aim to
develop an in-depth understanding of underlying mechanisms that have led to both 'unhealthy' spaces (e.g. fast food dense neighbourhoods) or 'healthy' spaces (e.g. urban gardens). By investigating how these social, political and economic determinants of nutrition have developed and shaped into contemporary foodscapes, the goal of our project is to inform the
prevention of chronic diseases by enhancing healthy eating strategies. The project will map health data onto the historical data to produce an interactive map of the evolution of foodscapes, which will be used to engage with both policymakers and the public as a tool to aid the creation of healthy environments that enable easy access to healthy and nutritious food.
Under the guidance of leading historians and global health researchers, early career researchers at the University of the West Indies will conduct feasibility research merging methods from historical and health research. A historical work package will use online newspaper archives, and innovatively combine with interviews with local experts to examine
changes in urban population growth and urban inequality and its impact on food production and consumption, the availability of food outlets, and dining habits from the Second World War to present. A health work package will examine major epidemiological trends in nutrition for the same time frame and assess its impact on NCDs through an analysis of existing public health survey and routine data, and combine this analysis with focus group data on contemporary food
practices and choices. This feasibility fieldwork will be carried out in Kingston, Jamaica, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in preparation for the development of a larger follow-up grant proposal expanding to the wider region and similar settings.
This feasibility work will be prepared during a Project Co-Development Workshop in Jamaica to which we will invite regional stakeholders from academia, government and civil society (e.g. health NGOs) to agree on common research goals that tie into current practice and policy projects (e.g. regeneration plans for parts of Kingston); and it will be consolidated in a final
Project Co-Analysis Workshop to analyse the data and develop a sustainable collaborative research strategy and future projects.
Melding humanities and epidemiological methods and expertise, we propose a highly innovative project with a research question novel for both fields, and based around a unique collaboration. It will build the methodological capacity needed to understand the mechanisms that have produced 'unhealthy' and reduced 'healthy' foodscapes in urban areas in low and
middle income countries, which is essential for urban planners working to create healthy urban food environments.


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Description Stakeholder workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This project development workshop was held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Regional Headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica. We invited key stakeholders for our project, including representatives from The Pan American Health Organization, The Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Mona Geoinformatics, The Urban Development Corporation, The UWI Museum, and stakeholders providing perspectives from faith-based organisations, the media and gender studies, as well as postgraduate students involved in the project and international academics from health sciences, humanities and social sciences. The investigators presented on their field of research and preliminary work to orient the stakeholders to the project goals and highly interdisciplinary approaches. This included to provide stakeholders with an introduction to the history and current geo-spatial layout and development of Kingston and its food environment. Stakeholders from government, civil society and private sector, in turn, shared insights from local and regional policy and practice to understand their challenges of creating healthy foodscapes, current regeneration plans, and invite their critique to ensure our conceptual thinking is grounded in current policy challenges. The workshop facilitated stakeholders exploring the development and presentation of the Kingston foodscape from their varying disciplinary and professional perspectives through general discussion and sharing as well as through a facilitated interactive exercise using the so-called Q-sort technique. Stakeholders offered expertise and suggestions for sources and questions they hoped the project would address, and contributed to developing a joint research agenda.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/history/news/news/2018/caribbean-foodscapes/
Description Twitter handle 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We developed a Twitter page and an Instagram account to communicate with stakeholders and other interested members of the public or academia. We have also developed a project website, which is in its last stages of development and will host one of our main outcomes of the project, an interactive map of Kingston's historical to contemporary foodscape.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://twitter.com/foodresearchja
Description Urban design panel discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A panel discussion on the role of urban design and planning in social, economic and environmental development of Kingston and Jamaica which was held at the University of the West Indies - Regional Headquarters on October 24th 2018. This event was hosted by the Jamaica Institute of Architects (JIA) in conjunction with their annual Architects' week under the theme 'Remembering the past, informing the future'. The Caribbean Foodscapes team was invited and represented by research assistants, Akil Williams and Mia McMorris. The event consisted of approximately 75 persons with a vibrant mixture of participants including academics, architects, students and a representative from the Urban Development Corporation. A key note presentation by urban planners Natalie Castano Cardenas (Architect) and Juliana Quintero Marin (Public Administration and Local Development Expert) from EAFIT University described the redevelopment of the city, Medellin in Colombia (see link attached) - and panel members drew comparisons to redevelopment efforts in Kingston, Jamaica - the focus of our project. Following the event, the research assistants connected with Natalia Castano Cardenas to share more detailed information about the Caribbean Foodscapes Project and expertise on creating population density maps for cities for the Joining the Threads section of the project. We are planning to include Natalia in our next stakeholder workshop and follow-up grant application.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2018
URL https://www.syracuse.edu/stories/architectural-lessons-of-medellin/