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NCCU Examines Geography for Clues to Food Insecurity


North Carolina Central University will take part in a $750,000 research project funded by the National Science Foundation to investigate social, economic and geographic factors that contribute to food insecurity in North Carolina.

Tim Mulrooney, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Earth, Environment and Geospatial Sciences, will work with researchers at North Carolina A&T State University to conduct the study, titled Dynamics of Rural and Urban Food Deserts.

“This project will be looking at the relationships between socio-economic characteristics, land use, and water quality to determine how people can respond to food deserts and food insecurity,” said Mulrooney, who uses geographic information system (GIS) models to uncover patterns and unintended consequences of land-use impacts and other factors related to food insecurity.

Food insecurity occurs when families are forced to skip meals or consume unhealthy or inadequate diets due to economic constraints or lack of access to healthy foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats. forego an optimal diet, either due lack of funds or limited choices, such consuming less nutritious fast-food meals store meals instead of fresh fruit, lean meat and vegetables.  Food deserts may be either rural or urban areas that have few options, if any, for buying fresh fruits, vegetables, milk and other healthy foods easily and affordably.

Geospatial data from NCCU is being combined with agricultural data from North Carolina A&T State University to examine soil, water quality and other factors needed to grow crops. The information will be included in the models, along with economic and retail factors.

“We are getting data at the state level using census tracks and highlighting test areas from Greensboro down toward Fayetteville,” Mulrooney said. “The goal is to compare social-system metrics to natural-system metrics involving water, air, soil quality, and types of crops.”

Understanding these factors could be key to helping reduce food insecurity across the state.

According to Feeding America, a nationwide nonprofit consortium of food banks and similar agencies, reports that 15 percent of North Carolinians – or approximately 1.51 million people, nearly a third of them children – lack resources for a sufficient diet.

Taking a closer look at contributing factors may help determine new ways to bridge the hunger gap, with unfilled needs that are valued by Feeding America at $7.7 million annually.

The National Science Foundation grant will fund the project through February 2022.

Mulrooney’s partners include principal investigator Manoj Jha, Ph.D., and Chyi Lyi (Kathleen) Liang, both professors of agriculture and environmental science at N.C. A&T.  Others are business professor Lyubov Kurkalova, Ph.D., engineering professor Greg Montey, Ph.D. and science and technology professor Leila Hashemi Beni, Ph.D., all of N.C. A&T State University.

Published: Monday, April 15, 2019
by Senior Writer and Editor, Renee Elder
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