Low-Income Families’ Direct Participation in Food-Systems Innovation to Promote Healthy Food Behaviors

Aparna Katre, Brianna Raddatz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Low-income families, especially those who reside in food deserts, face significant systemic barriers regarding their ability to access affordable and nutritious food. The food behaviors exhibited by low-income families are a reflection of the shortcomings of the built environment and conventional food system. Policy and public-health initiatives to improve food security have, thus far, failed to deliver interventions that simultaneously address multiple pillars of food security. Centering the voices of the marginalized and their place-based knowledge may result in the development of food-access solutions that are a much better fit for the population that they intend to serve. Community-based participatory research has emerged as a solution to better meet the needs of communities in food-systems innovation, but little is known about the extent to which direct participation improves nutritional outcomes. The purpose of this research is to answer the following question: how can food-access solutions authentically engage marginalized community members in food-system innovation, and if participation is related to changes in their food behaviors, how is it related? This action research project leveraged a mixed-methods approach to analyze nutritional outcomes and define the nature of participation for 25 low-income families who reside in a food desert. Our findings suggest that nutritional outcomes improve when major barriers to healthy food consumption are addressed, for example, time, education, and transportation. Furthermore, participation in social innovations can be characterized by the nature of involvement as either a producer or consumer, actively or inactively involved. We conclude that when marginalized communities are at the center of food-systems innovation, individuals self-select their level of participation, and when primary barriers are addressed, deeper participation in food-systems innovation is associated with positive changes in healthy food behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1271
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was partly funded by Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, grant number 20210436, and Essentia Health, Community Contributions grant, May 2022.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.


  • centering voices
  • community participation
  • food deserts
  • food security
  • food-systems innovation
  • low-income families
  • meal kits
  • nutrition security
  • social innovation

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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