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Food System Channels, Health, and Illness

Food Systems and Health

ISBN: 978-1-78635-092-3, eISBN: 978-1-78635-091-6

Publication date: 29 June 2017



Food system channels are proposed to be major components of the larger food system which influence health and illness.


Food system channels are defined, discussed in relationship to other food system components, considered in terms of historical food system changes, examined in relationship to wellbeing and disease, and proposed to have useful applications.


Food system channels are broad, organized, and integrated pathways through which foods and nutrients pass. Channels are larger in scale and scope than previously described food system structures like chains, stages, sectors, networks, and others. Four major types of contemporary Western food system channels differ in their underlying values and health impacts. (1) Industrialized food channels are based on profit as an economic value, which contributes to a diversity of inexpensive foods and chronic diseases. (2) Emergency food channels are based on altruism as a moral value, and try to overcome gaps in industrialized channels to prevent diseases of poverty. (3) Alternative food channels are based on justice and environmentalism as ethical values, and seek to promote wellness and sustainability. (4) Subsistence food channels are based on self-sufficiency as a traditional value, and seek self-reliance to avoid hunger and illness. Historical socioeconomic development of agricultural and industrial transitions led to shifts in food system channels that shaped dietary, nutritional, epidemiological, and mortality transitions.


Food system channels provide varying amounts of calories and types of nutrients that shape wellbeing and diseases. Sociologists and others may benefit from examining food system channels and considering their role in health and illness.




The author thanks the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University for support, and colleagues and reviewers for their valuable suggestions. No external funding was used for this project. An oral version of this chapter was presented to the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) annual conference in 2016.


Sobal, J. (2017), "Food System Channels, Health, and Illness", Food Systems and Health (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 18), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 3-25.



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