UCI-led study explores the value of cross-sector coalitions in addressing food insecurity

Cross-sector coalitions can be a powerful driver of change in low-income, urban communities of color with high rates of chronic disease and food insecurity, according to a recent study led by a researcher at the University of California, Irvine, and in collaboration with researchers at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

Findings were published in the journal BMC Public Health.

The study, led by Denise Diaz Payán, PhD, MPP, corresponding author and assistant professor of health, society, and behavior at the UCI Program in Public Health, examined the effectiveness of a coalition to address food insecurity in five low-income communities of color in Los Angeles, Calif. The coalition, called “United for Health,” was led by Community Health Councils, Inc. and produced five community gardens, three pop-up produce markets and one recurring farmers’ market while also expanding public assistance benefits across sites. Payán and team sought to examine the different factors, like composition and function, that led to the United for Health coalition’s success in implementing its interventions.

“Community-engaged approaches to nutrition-related disparities research can lead to highly effective, sustainable health improvements in diverse communities,” Payán said. “And one of the ways we can do that is by convening partners from different sectors to form a coalition that addresses these issues collaboratively and directly with impacted community members.”

The researchers found that the United for Health coalition’s strengths included high member participation and engagement, maintaining a sense of mutual purpose, diversity, the availability of professional development opportunities, and improved inter-organizational communication over time. The study also found that coalition members demonstrated an awareness of the importance of culturally adapted interventions, such as recipes and ingredients familiar to race/ethnic groups, and knowledge of community health planning, which are key in implementing equity-driven public health interventions.

Researchers launched the study to fill gaps in the literature on coalition effectiveness in real-world contexts. “We need more studies that look at coalition composition and function, which are key factors in determining its success in improving food security in urban environments with historically marginalized communities,” Payán concluded.

Payán is the principal investigator of the Community Health & Innovative Policy Lab.