Advancing Rural Food Access Policy Research Priorities: Process and Potential of a Transdisciplinary Working Group


  • Sheila Fleischhacker National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Donna Johnson University of Washington
  • Emilee Quinn University of Washington
  • Stephanie B. Jilcott Pitts East Carolina University
  • Carmen Byker Montana State University
  • Joseph R. Sharkey Texas A&M University



Community Development, Food Access, Food Systems, Policy Research, Public Health, Rural


Residents of rural communities currently face disproportionately higher risk for nutrition-related chronic diseases compared to residents of urban communities. Rural residents also face disparities and unique barriers in accessing healthy, affordable foods. In 2011, participants of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)–funded Nutrition and Obesity Policy Research and Evaluation Network (NOPREN) formed the Rural Food Access Working Group (RFAWG). Since then, the RFAWG has been focusing on conducting collaborative transdisciplinary research that includes a concept mapping project that identified and prioritized policy research ideas perceived as important to improving access to healthy, affordable foods in rural communities. This commentary reflects on the process and potential of this emergent transdisciplinary RFAWG to advance rural food access policy research priorities, sharing how after nearly two years of convening, RFAWG has identified and started to address various rural food access policy research needs and opportunities that the group has deemed important for the near and long-term. The research priorities and process taken thus far by RFAWG reflect the participants' own work, institutional and geographic strengths, and negotiated approaches to collaborating with the transdisciplinary team using pooled but often limited resources. The group has benefited from the involvement of a variety of experts skilled in various disciplines and research methodologies touching the food system. RFAWG continues to strategize methods to advance rural food access policy research priorities through transdisciplinary team efforts, innovative partnerships, rigorously designed research processes, and contextually crafted dissemination and translation approaches.


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Author Biographies

Sheila Fleischhacker, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services

Senior Public Health and Science Policy Advisor, NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services; Two Democracy Plaza, Room 635; 6707 Democracy Boulevard MSC 5461; Bethesda, Maryland 20892-5461 USA; +1-301-594-7440.

Donna Johnson, University of Washington

Associate Director, Center for Public Health Nutrition; Associate Professor, Nutrition Sciences; University of Washington School of Public Health; Interdisciplinary Program in Nutritional Sciences.

Emilee Quinn, University of Washington

Research Coordinator, Center for Public Health Nutrition; University of Washington.

Stephanie B. Jilcott Pitts, East Carolina University

Assistant Professor of Public Health, Department of Public Health, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University; Greenville, North Carolina 27858 USA.

Carmen Byker, Montana State University

Assistant Professor, Food and Nutrition and Sustainable Food Systems, Montana State University.

Joseph R. Sharkey, Texas A&M University

Director, Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement on Nutrition and Health Disparities; Professor, Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences, School of Rural Public Health, Health Science Center, Texas A&M University.



How to Cite

Fleischhacker, S., Johnson, D., Quinn, E., Jilcott Pitts, S. B., Byker, C., & Sharkey, J. R. (2013). Advancing Rural Food Access Policy Research Priorities: Process and Potential of a Transdisciplinary Working Group. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(4), 201–212.

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