Researchers all across the University of Illinois campus are working towards advancing knowledge and creating solutions to critical health disparities on both local and global scales. These researchers evaluate health disparities from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, and work to find ways to address the discrepancies within medicine, child development, law, food access, education, and health communication. Each Researcher Spotlight features a health disparities researcher doing important work right here at Illinois.
Craig Gundersen, PhD
Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics
Craig Gundersen, PhD, is the Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Economics in the College of ACES. Over 40 million Americans struggle with food insecurity, and Gundersen’s research helps shape the policy and programs looking to alleviate food insecurity.
What is your research in health disparities about?
The causes and consequences of food insecurity in the United States and in Canada, and I do evaluations of food assistance programs with an emphasis on SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).
How are you conducting your research?
Almost all my research uses secondary data sets which have information on food insecurity and have relevant health outcomes. So, for example, I use the Current Population Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, Survey of Income and Program Participation, National Health, and Nutrition Examination Survey. In terms of methods, it definitely depends on the context in terms of the questions being posed and the data that is being used. Almost all of my work is done jointly with co-authors in universities across the country which broadens out the scope of methods that can be used.
How does being a part of the Illinois community support and enhance your research?
It is really exciting to see all the work happening on campus on healthcare issues. There is this Health Sciences Strategic Task Force Summary Report, headed up by Neal Cohen (as part of the campus-wide strategic planning process, The Next 150), which defines five Impact Areas and two Cross-cutting Threads. Every one of the Impact Areas has relevance in health disparities and, as a consequence, one of the two Threads is Health Disparities. So, figuring out how we can make those Impact Areas help reduce inequities in the U.S. is an exciting thing to be able to do on campus. Of course, we can’t talk about reducing health disparities without also talking about how to reduce food insecurity. There is another strategic task force, headed by Alex Winter-Nelson, that is charged with identifying future directions for campus research efforts to reduce food insecurity in the U.S. and globally.
Along with future work in this area, there is also a great deal of work currently on food insecurity across campus. For example, under the leadership of Barbara Fiese, the Family Resiliency Center is engaged in a wide array of exciting research on food insecurity in Illinois and across the country.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study
So, I am Catholic and the Church, as do virtually all religions, places a lot of emphasis on the importance of alleviating poverty and its consequences. There are many direct and indirect ways we can all strive to reduce poverty and, for me, it was to become an economist doing research on the causes and consequences of poverty and the tools we can use to reduce poverty.
How will your research improve society or reach people?
As mentioned before, we can’t talk about health disparities without talking about food insecurity. If we can figure out how to reduce food insecurity, it will also narrow health disparities and vice-versa. So, I hope that a lot of our insights into food insecurity will generate policies that are beneficial to low income households in the U.S. Also, if food assistance, particularly SNAP, can be made even better it will have a profound impact on the well-being of tens of millions of Americans.