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Research for healthy food, people and places

The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) envisions a world in which healthy food, beverages and opportunities for physical activity are accessible, affordable, equitable and sustainable for everyone.

NPI's mission is to conduct and translate policy-relevant research to transform environments for healthy children, families and communities.

Read more about our mission and vision, and learn about our impact.

COVID-19 Update. The State of California has issued a shelter in place order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Nutrition Policy Institute is working remotely and is still available to answer your questions and address needs. We have compiled resources for consumers and UC Cooperative Extension county directors and advisors on federal & state policy action, local food initiatives, food safety & health, grocery stores, farmers markets & shopping, and guidance on safe access to the outdoors despite COVID-19. Please contact us if you have any questions. 

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  • USDA releases new report co-authored by NPI researchers showing that consistent 4-year participation in WIC is associated with better diet quality among low-income children

    Sep 14, 2020

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2 (ITFPS-2) captures data on caregivers and their children over the first 6 years of the child's life after WIC enrollment to address a series of research questions regarding feeding practices, associations between WIC services and those practices, and the health and nutrition outcomes of children receiving WIC. The study, also known as the 'Feeding My Baby' study, previously produced four reports, the Intentions to Breastfeed ReportInfant Year Report, Second Year Report, and Third Year Report. The latest Fourth Year Report, which focuses on findings from children's fourth year of life, shows that consistent 4-year participation in WIC is associated with a higher quality diet among 4-year-old children. It also finds that caregivers who participate in WIC until their child is 4 years old truly value the education and support they receive through the program. In fact, the top reported reasons for continued participation are the education received from WIC (94 percent), the WIC food package (93 percent), and the perception that WIC personnel listen when participants talk about their child's health (91 percent). Findings from this new report also demonstrate how WIC nutrition education improves families' eating behaviors. Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) director Lorrene Ritchie and NPI affiliated researcher Lauren Au from the University of California, Davis are co-authors of the new report. The study was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and conducted in collaboration with researchers from Westat including Christine Borger, Thea Zimmerman, Tracy Vericker, Jill DeMatteis, and Laurie May, as well as Shannon Whaley from Public Health Foundation Enterprise (PHFE) WIC and Linnea Sallack from Altarum Institute. The full Fourth Year Report, along with a brief summary of the study's findings, is available online.

  • Lorrene Ritchie presents new research on the impact of COVID-19 on California WIC participants

    Aug 28, 2020

    Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) director and cooperative extension specialist Lorrene Ritchie presented new information on the challenges faced by California families with young children that participate in the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The presentation, titled "WIC Participation: Why do Families Stay and What has Changed During COVID-19?" was part of the California WIC Association and California WIC program's annual conference and trade show, which was held virtually on Friday August 28, 2020. Ritchie co-presented with collaborators Susan Sabatier at the California Department of Public Health and Shannon Whaley at the Public Health Foundation Enterprise (PHFE) WIC. They shared data from three studies: a state wide survey of WIC participants completed in 2019 prior to the pandemic as well as preliminary data from interviews and surveys with WIC families in Los Angeles County being completed this year. Funding for NPI's work was provided by The David & Lucille Packard Foundation and the California Department of Public Health.

  • Webinar recording: Redefining Basic Needs and Assessing Housing Insecurity in Higher Education

    Aug 27, 2020

    Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) and affiliated researchers recently conducted research across the University of California (UC) to develop new survey questions to assess student homeless and housing insecurity. They presented their findings during a free webinar, "Redefining Basic Needs and Assessing Housing Insecurity in Higher Education" on August 13, 2020. The webinar was featured NPI affiliated researcher Suzanna Martinez of UC San Francisco and the research team, Erin Esaryk and Eli Jimenez. Martinez shared the newly developed questions for the assessment of homelessness and housing insecurity, provided a student-informed definition of basic needs, and shared UC student experiences of housing and food insecurity from multiple campuses. These findings provide a comprehensive student definition of basic needs to inform research, programs, and policy to address housing and food insecurity in higher education. Findings were discussed in a question and answer session with student leader, Gwen Chodur, of the UC Graduate & Professional Council. The event was co-hosted by Ruben Canedo from UC Berkeley and Tim Galarneau from UC Santa Cruz, co-chairs of the UC Basic Needs Systemwide Effort. The webinar recording is available online. This research project was funded by the UC Global Food Initiative and the full research report and survey questions are available for download online

  • Lorrene Ritchie publishes invited commentary on why school meals matter now more than ever

    Aug 26, 2020

    Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) director and cooperative extension specialist Lorrene Ritchie commented on why school meals matter now more than ever as the United States is grappling with two major public health crises, the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism and inequities. The invited commentary was published online on August 20, 2020 in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Ritchie's commentary describes how the USDA National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which provided over 4.8 billion lunches to nearly 30 million children in the US during the 2018-2019 school year, supports improved food security for all students. This is important as students from lower income non-Hispanic Black or Hispanic families who have higher rates of participation in the NSLP than their non-minority counterparts. Given the historic levels of food insecurity Americans are now facing due to the COVID-19-related economic downturn, and the disproportionate effect it is having on black families, Ritchie also cites the importance of the NSLP in supporting health equity through improved nutrition. Ritchie shares evidence from a recent nationally representative study conducted by colleagues at Boston University School of Medicine which shows that NSLP participating students' diet quality improved after the school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012-2013 to align with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010. Ritchie closes her commentary requesting public health researchers, practitioners and policy makers (1) object to any rollbacks to the HHFKA nutrition standards, and (2) advocate for school meals to be made available to all students without additional charge. The commentary is available online.

  • NPI researchers develop survey questions to assess University of California students' basic needs and housing security

    Aug 26, 2020

    The University of California (UC) has focused on student food security since the inception of the UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) in 2014 and has been instrumental in shaping the state and national conversation around students' basic needs challenges. In 2018, as part of a GFI funded project, UC commissioned Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) affiliated researcher Suzanna Martinez at the UC San Francisco and NPI's director Lorrene Ritchie and graduate student researchers Laurel Moffat and Erin Esaryk to conduct a study titled “Defining Student Basic Needs in Higher Education: An Exploratory Study on Housing and Food Insecurity Among University of California Students.” The study explored the issue of student housing insecurity across the UC campus communities and developed, vetted and validated housing-related questions to accurately measure housing security. The study included a racially diverse group of 58 undergraduate and graduate students--of which 98% reported experiencing food insecurity in the last year and 24% reported that they had experienced homelessness since attending UC--from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. The students participated in cognitive interviews on housing-related survey questions and focus groups on the concept of basic needs and housing. The final survey contains four modules that assess a variety of living circumstances: students' current and past living situations (17 items), housing insecurity and challenges students encountered around housing (21 items), overcrowding issues (6 items), and food insecurity timing and issues regarding basic needs security (21 items). The full study, including the final survey questions, was released on August 13, 2020, and is available for download online.

  • Lorrene Ritchie and Gail Woodward-Lopez quoted in Morning Ag Clips article on healthy default beverage policies for restaurant kids' meals

    Aug 25, 2020

    Lorrene Ritchie, director and cooperative extension specialist, and Gail Woodward-Lopez, director of research at the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) were quoted in an August 25, 2020 article in Morning Ag Clips titled "New policies can help provide healthy beverages to children." The article highlights California's Healthy Default Beverage law, California State Senate Bill 1192, which requires that all restaurants in California as of January 6, 2019 offer only healthy beverages -- plain water or unflavored milk -- as the default beverage with kids' meals. The article also highlights research findings from NPI researchers in collaboration with University of Delaware on the impact of the law in California and a similar law in Wilmington, Del. Dr. Ritchie is quoted, "Parents look at menu boards and kids look at menu boards, but it is likely that what the cashier says also influences which drink they choose. In our data collection, we would order a kids' meal and wait for them to offer a drink. But mostly they said, ‘What drink do you want?' instead of ‘Do you want water or milk with that?'”. Woodward-Lopez is quoted, “NPI in partnership with the California Department of Public Health is working with some local health departments to provide training and materials to help restaurants comply with the letter and spirit of the law. Our next step is to measure whether this health department support is effective. The role of default beverage policies in this context is important and not well understood.” Read the full article online

  • NPI's National Drinking Water Alliance and 97 other signatories submit comments to the USDA on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

    Aug 24, 2020

    The National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute, developed and submitted a recent comment in response to the Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The comment, addressed to U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services' officials responsible for translation of the science in the report into the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), focused on the attention that the next DGAs should give to drinking water in place of sugar-sweetened beverages. The comment had 97 signatories, including 23 organizations, as well as 74 researchers, health professionals and advocates, among them, Glenda Humiston, PhD, Vice President of the University of California (UC) Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and 25 UC scientists. The comment asks for clear, actionable advice in the 2020-2025 DGAs that will help encourage the American public to drink water in lieu of sugar-sweetened beverages. It urges USDA to add a symbol for water to the MyPlate graphic and other educational messaging. Read the full comment and see all the signatories here.

  • Fact sheet series provides critical information for school meal provision

    Aug 24, 2020

    Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) partnered with Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics to develop a series of fact sheets to support the provision of nutritious and sustainable school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic. NPI's Christina Hecht led development of the fact sheets that are targeted to school nutrition professionals, school boards, and advocacy organizations.  The fact sheets distill the latest on the USDA Child Nutrition Program waivers that have provided flexibility for school districts, allowing them to maximize their meal service despite COVID-19 disruptions including school closures and supply chain problems. Each fact sheet in the series addressed a specific challenge: how to continue meal service during “spring break,” provision of school meals over the summer, and the transition to “back to school” school re-opening scenarios. The fact sheets also provide tips and resources from the field, aiming to encourage school districts to take full advantage of the USDA flexibilities to maintain meal quality and build student participation in the meal programs. As one example, when providing “grab & go” meals while schools are closed, districts can aid families, keep meals fresh, and reduce waste by providing “bulk foods.” By using the waivers for non-congregate feeding and meal times, a district could provide a weekly sack of foods equivalent to the amounts and nutritional requirements normally provided by single meals.  Bulk food provision can reduce the use of pre-packaged one-portion items, for example substituting a fresh melon for individual fruit cups. It can also minimize the number of trips a family needs to make to pick up school meals and it can support use of fresh and local produce. Fact sheets were designed for California districts and for a national audience; the latter were co-branded by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) and provided to SNA's 53,000 members. Template versions make it easy to pull and co-brand the information to target specific regions. The fact sheets and modifiable templates are available for download at the links below. 

    "Back-to-School” Fact Sheet:

    • Back-to-School: We'll Keep Feeding Those Kids! UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute. Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics. School Nutrition Association. 12 August 2020. [Download (PDF)]


    “Summer Meals” Fact Sheets:

    • Calling all Districts! USDA Summer Meals Can Keep Kids Healthy (National version). UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute. Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics. School Nutrition Association. 20 June 2020. [Download (PDF)] [Download Template (Word document)]
    • Calling all Districts! USDA Summer Meals Can Keep Kids Healthy (California version). UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute. Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics. Updated 20 June 2020. [Download (PDF)] [Download Template (Word document)]


    "Spring Break” Fact Sheets:

    • Kids' Hunger Doesn't Take a Spring Break. While closed for COVID-19, school districts can serve meals over spring break (National version). UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute. Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics. 2 April 2020. [Download (PDF)] [Download Template (Word document)]
    • Kids' Hunger Doesn't Take a Spring Break. While closed for COVID-19, California districts can serve meals over spring break. UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute. Stanford Medicine Department of Pediatrics. 1 April 2020. [Download (PDF)] [Download Template (Word document)]

  • New NPI research brief on the implementation of healthy default beverage policies for restaurant kids' meals

    Aug 20, 2020

    At fast food and sit-down restaurants across California, kids' meals come with water or milk automatically. At least, that should be the case since state law requires restaurants to offer the healthy beverages by default to reduce the amount of sugary beverages served to children. California Senate Bill 1192, authored by Sen. Bill Monning (D-San Luis Obispo), went into effect in January 2019, but research by the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) has found that implementation has not been universal. The results, along with results from a similar study in Wilmington, Del., were published in an issue brief Aug. 20 on HealthyEatingResearch.org. Before the law, 10% of menu boards observed by the researchers in California list only the healthy beverages. Data collected after the law went into effect showed 66% of menu boards list the healthy default beverages. NPI researchers also collected data on the proportion of cashiers who verbally offered only healthy beverages with kids' meals when orders were placed. This happened only 5% of the time before the law was enacted, and dropped to 1% after. The law doesn't specify whether the cashier must offer the default beverages, but the spirit of the law suggests they should, as it would likely have a greater impact on the selections that children and parents make. In interviews with NPI researchers, most restaurant managers expressed support for the legislation, but didn't know much about it. The research brief was written by NPI researchers Lorrene Ritchie, Phoebe Harpainter, Marisa Tsai, Gail Woodward-Lopez and Wendi Gosliner in collaboration with lead author Allison Karpyn and Laura LessardJesse Atkins, Kathleen McCallops and Tara Tracy of the University of Delaware. The research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and by the California Department of Public Health with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. Read the full research brief online.

  • What made Berkeley’s sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax successful? A new study by NPI-affiliated researchers answers that question.

    Aug 14, 2020

    Berkeley, California made history by passing the nation's first sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax paid by beverage distributors in 2014, which garnered unanimous support from City Council and 76% of the vote in a public referendum. NPI-affiliated researchers Jennifer Falbe (lead author) and Kristine Madsen published a new article titled “Implementation of the First Sugar-Sweetened  Beverage Tax in Berkeley, CA 2015-2019” in the American Journal of Public Health. The article identifies policy and contextual characteristics that made the tax a success, shares recommendations for other cities, and highlights two critical findings. First, this tax on the beverage industry generated over $9 million that was invested into the community through public health and health equity programs. These programs aim to prevent the diseases caused by SSBs. Examples include the public school's Gardening and Cooking Program, a Head Start obesity prevention program, and Healthy Black Families' programs to reduce racial health inequities. The City's SSB tax advisory committee, which represents community and expert voices, was instrumental in making these investments, which are featured in short videos by The Praxis Project. Second, interviews with retailers indicated that beverage industry claims that SSB taxes amount to “grocery taxes” that raise food prices were false.

    The article was published online ahead of print on July 16, 2020. Authors include Jennifer Falbe, UC Davis Department of Human Ecology; Anna H. Grummon, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Nadia Rojas, UC Berkeley School of Public Health; Suzanne Ryan-Ibarra and Lynn D. Silver, Public Health Institute; and Kristine Madsen, UC Berkeley School of Public Health and Berkeley Food Institute. Read the complete article online.

Please see additional news items in our News section

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