Immigrant communities have higher nutrition-related health disparities, exacerbated by food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To apply principles of group model building (GMB), a participatory systems science approach, to identify barriers and opportunities for collective impact around nutrition programming in immigrant communities in an urban environment during and after the pandemic.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
We convened four in-person sessions in November 2021 that drew from GMB practice with 10 community partners organized around their program domains/goals: community gardening; nutrition education; community-supported agriculture; and future planning for food-related programming. Participants were prompted to collaboratively identify programmatic goals, challenges, and potential mitigating actions.
We generated a causal loop diagram (CLD) – a visual representation of hypothesized causal relationships between variables and feedback structures within a system – for each program domain. CLDs were validated and refined with community stakeholder input. We then synthesized all four CLDs into one comprehensive model which were shared with all community stakeholders during a plenary discussion session, which aided in identifying opportunities for collective action.
Multilevel barriers emerged, including ethnocentric food policies that center the diets and practices of White Americans thereby inhibiting culturally tailored food guidelines and funding for culturally appropriate nutrition education; the shortage of culturally tailored nutrition education in communities as a missed opportunity for fostering pride in immigrant food culture and sustainment of traditional food practices; and limited access to/procurement of traditional ethnic produce in food assistance programs serving disadvantaged immigrant communities, increasing the likelihood of food waste and worsening food insecurity.
Emergent themes coalesced around the need to embed cultural tailoring into all levels of the food system, which would require coordinated actions around food policy advocacy, collectively identifying funding for culturally tailored community education and gardening, and community-academic research to support these actions.