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Visualizing data interoperability for food systems sustainability research—from spider webs to neural networks


Emily Jennings-Dobbs

Shavawn Forester

Adam Drewnowski

Publication date

29 September 2023 (online)


Current Developments in Nutrition


Food systems represent all elements and activities needed to feed the growing global population. Research on sustainable food systems is transdisciplinary, relying on the interconnected domains of health, nutrition, economics, society, and environment. The current lack of interoperability across databases poses a challenge to advancing research on food systems transformation. Crosswalks among largely siloed data on climate change, soils, agricultural practices, nutrient composition of foods, food processing, prices, dietary intakes, and population health are not fully developed. Starting with USDA FoodData Central, we assessed the interoperability of databases from multiple disciplines by identifying existing crosswalks and corresponding visualizations. Our visual demonstration serves as proof of concept, identifying databases in need of expansion, integration, and harmonization for use by researchers, policymakers, and the private sector. Interoperability is the key: ontologies and well-defined crosswalks are necessary to connect siloed data, transcend organizational barriers, and draw pathways from agriculture to nutrition and health.

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