Interdisciplinary Research Goals For Food, Human Nutrition, and Health

Jim McCullough, University of Arizona
Karen Morgan, Michigan State University
Joel Saegert, University of Texas, San Antonio
[ to cite ]:
Jim McCullough, Karen Morgan, and Joel Saegert (1978) ,"Interdisciplinary Research Goals For Food, Human Nutrition, and Health", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 05, eds. Kent Hunt, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 763-764.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 1978      Pages 763-764


Jim McCullough, University of Arizona

Karen Morgan, Michigan State University

Joel Saegert, University of Texas, San Antonio

Problems in the area of Food, Human Nutrition and Health are, by the nature of the field, multidisciplinary, since the disciplines involved in the study of this area are both numerous and diverse. Effective analysis of these problems requires not only multidisciplinary research in which the many disciplines consider a problem from their unique position, but also interdisciplinary research in which both the concepts and viewpoints of the various disciplines are blended to achieve a unique, more complete perspective of the questions in a global setting.

Rather than a single discipline placing emphasis on indepth study of problems drawn from multidisciplinary areas, some segments of the academic community are beginning to recognize the value of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of these problems. It was interest in merging disciplines for the purpose of problem identification that led to the interdisciplinary workshop held by the Association for Consumer Research (ACR) and the American Home Economists Association (AHEA) during the ACR meetings in Chicago.

The purpose of this workshop was to stimulate an interdisciplinary approach to the identification of problem areas from among research issues drawn from several disciplines. One approach to this task is discussed in this paper.


Research involving food and nutrition involves numerous disciplines. Table 1 shows some of the disciplines which could make contributions to problem solving in this area of research. Among the 16 fields mentioned in Table I, only four, i.e., Food Science, Marketing, Psychology, and Economics, were represented by the members of the team preparing this paper. Therefore, many problems, particularly those of a technical nature in the areas of food safety and nutrition, were rejected as inappropriate for treatment by this team.



A three element screening criterion was used to identify those research priorities most suitable for analysis by this particular group. The problem areas most suitable for additional assessment by this team were determined to be:

1. Problems of cognition and perception of food and nutrition

2. Problems of group and individual behavior towards food

3. Problems of attitudes, values and beliefs concerning foods and nutrition.

Problems outside these categories could be better approached by individual scientists in specialized areas or by interdisciplinary teams with greater competence in the more technical areas of food and nutrition research. As a part of an on-going program to establish research priorities in Home Economics, the Home Economics Research Assessment, Planning and Projections (HERAPP) prepared a listing of areas of current research and important problem areas which require additional research. These were screened by the interdisciplinary team using the three element criterion. Since the earlier workers had divided the area of Food, Human Nutrition, and Health into six sub-areas, the problems were examined and classified by the interdisciplinary team under these headings as shown in Table 2. In each area, several problem areas could be appropriately handled, and in most cases, the previously identified major problem areas were found to be feasible concerns. The scheme of classification, however, failed to provide a research frame suitable for systematically identifying appropriate significant research questions for interdisciplinary work; therefore, additional tools were selected.




Evaluation of the substantive questions underlying the research priorities deemed appropriate for interdisciplinary research resulted in a taxonomy of research areas. This taxonomy is outlined in Table 3.



The research proposals from HERAPP deal heavily with methods for change; furthermore, they tend to concentrate on education. Unfortunately, the theoretical bases for these desired changes are not well understood. Consumer information processing and food distribution systems are areas of marketing research which are actively pursued and are areas particularly suitable for interdisciplinary work. The establishment of standards and evaluation criteria must be done in an interdisciplinary fashion if there is to be any real meaning to the results.

The most serious question, however, is the lack of a well-balanced interdisciplinary base from which research may commence. The research question with which this particular team will begin the literature review is "the identification of the factors influencing consumer choices in the food marketplace." This will then serve as a broad base for examination of more specific research questions.