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Westat Sponsors Food for Thought Challenge

September 7, 2023

The Coleridge Initiative team has published a case study on the Food for Thought Challenge that focuses on how data science is used to solve real-world problems in business, public policy and beyond. Westat partnered with the Coleridge Initiative to host the Food for Thought Challenge, a competition held in 2022 that was also sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS). Westat has been developing the Purchase to Plate Crosswalk (PPC) for the ERS since 2014.

The Food for Thought competition was used to challenge researchers to leverage machine learning and natural language processing to find accurate and efficient methods for linking retail food transaction data from IRI’s InfoScan service and the USDA Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS). The goal was to improve the current linkage process which only uses partial automated data matching, a process that’s resource intensive, time consuming, and requires manual review.

The competition lasted 10 months and consisted of three separate challenges. Participants submitted preliminary solutions for evaluation based solely on quantitative metrics for the first two rounds. For the last challenge, solutions were evaluated by a scientific review board of experts from computer science and engineering departments in top universities as well as experts from USDA and Westat, based on three criteria: quantitative metrics, transferability, and innovation.

The data challenge was successfully concluded with 3 winning teams from Auburn University, Loyola Marymount University, and a collaborating team from Indiana University, Bloomington and Worcester Polytechnic institute.


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