A new interdisciplinary project based at the Friedman School aims to shine a light on environmental, health, economic, and social dimensions of diet sustainability in order to address existing gaps in diet sustainability research and policy translation.
What is LASTING?
The goal of Leading A Sustainability Transition In Nutrition Globally (LASTING) Project, funded by the Friedman School Research Award for Interdisciplinary Nutrition Study (RAFINS), is to produce detailed, compelling, and evidence-based recommendations for incorporating social and economic pillars into full cost accounting of dietary patterns, including novel metrics and methods to better capture the pillars that are still poorly understood.
Current dietary patterns are unsustainable, representing fundamental threats to human nutrition and health, ecosystems and climate, economic stability and social equity. Despite recent advances, there are major gaps in diet sustainability research and policy translation. Analyses have largely focused on human health and environmental impacts. Sustainability, however, encompasses four pillars: environmental, health, economic, and social. While critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, expanding dietary analyses to include all four pillars creates challenges for translation to policy. Adding new considerations increases uncertainty and the likelihood of trade-offs. Innovative methods are needed to standardize, weigh, and visualize impacts to be able to provide context-specific, actionable guidance.
The LASTING project is comprised of a cohesive, experienced interdisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in team science and a commitment to working across three programs at the Friedman School and across the wider University. This new team represents the Friedman School and HNRCA, international and domestic research, and a diverse network of colleagues and collaborators spanning the globe.
Meet the Team
Managing PI Nicole Tichenor Blackstone, a food systems scientist, has extensive expertise in modeling the environmental impacts and social risks of diets. To date, her research has explored the environmental and social implications of livestock agriculture, human diets, food waste management, and regional food systems. Current projects include estimating the risk of forced labor in the US produce supply and evaluating the relationship between diet quality, food waste, and agricultural resource use. She is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Agriculture, Food, and Environment.
PI Patrick Webb’s expertise is at the nexus of food policy, international nutrition, and agriculture, with a particular focus on metrics development, integrated modeling, and policy translation. He is engaged in research and policy guidance around the globe as Director for USAID’s Feed the Future Nutrition Innovation Lab, and leads the US government’s Food Aid Quality Review .
PI Fang Fang Zhang is a nutrition epidemiologist, with expertise evaluating population dietary intake distribution and modeling the chronic disease burdens attributable to sub-optimal diets. She is leading observational studies and intervention trials evaluating the role of nutrition in cancer prevention and control and conducting cost-effectiveness analyses of population-based strategies to improve diet and reduce cancer burden and disparities in the US. She is an Associate Professor and the Neely Family Professor at the Friedman School in the division of Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science.
As an economist, PI Sean Cash focuses on consumer behavior and how food, nutrition, and environmental interventions and policies affect both producers and consumers. He has been involved extensively in policy and public-facing work, including testimony to the Canadian Parliament and service on a National Academy of Sciences panel on invasive species impacts of food trade. He is the Bergstrom Foundation Professor in Global Nutrition at the Friedman School.
PI Nicola McKeown, associate professor at the Friedman School, is a nutritional epidemiologist at the HNRCA, with an expertise in understanding of the impact of diet in CVD and diabetes risk. She is the PI of a web-based study (ADAPT) that captures data on the predictors of dietary adherence across a wide range of dietary patterns.
This is the first opportunity many of the LASTING Project team members have had to collaborate with each other. Team members were motivated to come together to create LASTING as a result of "...an immediate recognition of mutual interests at the intersection of the four pillars, and a passion to generate new evidence that can really inform change at a policy level both in the US and globally, " said PI Patrick Webb.
Goals and Outcomes
Beginning now through June 2025, The LASTING Project will identify knowledge gaps, compile relevant datasets, and develop novel metrics and methods that link diet-related health, environment, economic and social outcomes. The LASTING team aims to establish Tufts as a leader in evaluating sustainable transitions in global food systems through development of robust metrics and communication through high-impact publications. Findings will be communicated through a dedicated project website, webinar series, social media, journal articles, and engagement at global agenda-setting meetings, such as the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit in 2021 and UN Climate Change Conferences (COPs) over the next half-decade.
"Part of our project includes developing and submitting external proposals to apply the project team’s integrated research approach across low-, middle-, and high-income countries," said Project Administrator Julia Matteson. "We hope that our current funding allows us to develop pilot data demonstrating the need for and utility of integrated approaches and allows us time and resources to write complex proposals to continue our work beyond the end of our project period."
LASTING is grateful for the generous anonymous donation to the school that provided an opportunity for the team to think about priorities for interdisciplinary research and broader needs, rather than responding to a more targeted call from traditional funders.