Access to healthy, affordable food is a basic human right, according to the United Nations. And yet 17.6 million Americans and more than two billion people worldwide don’t have access to healthy food.
Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, a joint unit of the College of Human Ecology and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is taking an important step to help address this problem by hiring scholars focused on nutrition and health inequalities. The Division’s effort to add faculty in this area, which started in the fall of 2019, aligns with the College of Human Ecology's recently announced plan to hire a cohort of faculty members focused on social justice issues across the disciplinary areas of the College.
“The cluster of three positions within the Division of Nutritional Sciences recognizes and highlights the key role of nutrition in health inequalities and the importance of the relationship of factors in the social, cultural, economic, physical, policy, and technology environments to the health and nutritional well-being of human populations,” said Patricia Cassano, Division director and the Alan D. Mathios Professor.
The Division's newest hire in this area is Associate Professor Laura Bellows. Her research focuses on how children develop eating patterns in early childhood and how parents and the home environment influence eating patterns – especially among families with limited resources and those living in rural communities.
“COVID has revealed just how vulnerable our food system is and how many individuals and families are living on the brink of hunger,” Bellows said. “Access and availability to healthful foods is foundational to our health.
“In the broadest sense, nutrition education aims to not only make foods available and accessible but to ensure that individuals have the knowledge and skills to improve their eating behaviors, such as food literacy, cooking skills, and parenting strategies,” she said. “Overall, American’s diets are poor. In order to move the needle, we need to look beyond individual choices and address the context in which those choices are being made. We need to address health inequities so that healthful choices become easier for individuals and families.”
Bellows comes to Cornell after spending 20 years at Colorado State University, where she was a member of an interdisciplinary team focused on diet quality, food security, the food environment, and rural communities.
Over the course of her career, Bellows has received more than $19 million in research funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health and community foundations. In 2011, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Barack Obama.
Bellows’ work complements the research programs of several faculty members in Nutritional Sciences and resonates with cross-campus initiatives in health equity. The focus on the role of nutrition in health inequalities via research, teaching, community engagement, and outreach is a key aspect of the Division’s mission. Collectively, this work will contribute to the evidence needed to improve the lives of underserved populations.
“I am most excited about new collaborations and opportunities that Cornell affords,” Bellows said. “I’m looking forward to contributing to the excellent programs of the Division of Nutritional Sciences while also forging new paths in research and community-based collaborations.”