Nutrition Policy Institute
Nutrition Policy Institute
Nutrition Policy Institute
University of California
Nutrition Policy Institute


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 now working remotely. We are still here to answer your questions and address needs during this unprecedented situation. 

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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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
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Be sure to sign up to receive Research to Action, the Nutrition Policy Institute's news brief providing information on research, policy, news, announcements, events, articles and action items focused on nutrition and healthy communities.



Collaborative Nutrition Policy Institute study sheds light on challenges of increasing school lunch participation

Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) and UC Berkeley School of Public Health researchers published a new study in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) on the impact of a multi-component intervention to increase students' lunch participation in SFUSD public middle and high schools. The study, titled "The Impact of a Multipronged Intervention to Increase School Lunch Participation among Secondary School Students in an Urban Public School District" was published in Childhood Obesity by UC Berkeley researchers Hannah Thompson and Kristine Madsen; NPI's Wendi Gosliner and Lorrene Ritchie; UC Berkeley doctoral alumna Annie Reed; and SFUSD's Orla O'Keefe and Kate Wobbekind. Data are from a 3-year quasi-randomized study among 24 secondary schools, half of which received an intervention including cafeteria redesign, additional school lunch points-of-sale (mobile carts and vending machines), and teacher education. This research was funded by USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program.

Posted on Friday, April 3, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Lorrene Ritchie quoted in New York Times article on stockpiling food during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lorrene Ritchie, director and cooperative extension specialist of the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute, was interviewed for a March 31, 2020 article in The New York Times, Don't Overdo the Coronavirus Stockpiling. The article discusses how to shop for food responsibly, without overstocking your pantry, and why you should only buy what you need. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends individuals and families stock up to two-weeks of food at home during the pandemic. “Presuming you get sick and all your family's going to be quarantined, then only that amount of food is what you need," said Dr. Ritchie in the article. This article was also featured in a UC ANR news article, Empty store shelves are not a sign of impending disaster

Posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 at 12:00 PM

An update on COVID-19 and the Nutrition Policy Institute

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in California, University of California (UC) campuses, the UC Office of the President, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) and the Nutrition Policy Institute are working to protect our community by issuing guidance to minimize face-to-face interactions, reduce commuting and travel, and enable social distancing. On March 16, six San Francisco Bay Area counties announced shelter-in-place orders, and the UC Office of the President in Oakland extended their telecommute date through least April 7 to align with county directives. Nutrition Policy Institute has also adjusted the proposed end date for our telecommuting and limited on-site operations status to April 7 in order to align with UC Office of the President. For more information on how UC is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit this link. To contact any of us at NPI, please visit our NPI staff page online.

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 10:30 AM

NPI research suggests U.S. schools across the poverty spectrum adhere equally to federal school meal nutrition standards

Nutrition Policy Institute's latest study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior March 2020 issue suggests that schools across the U.S. adhered equally to the federal 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act school meal nutrition standards despite poverty level. The study was conducted using data collected in 2013-2015 from over 401 U.S. elementary and middle schools as part of the Healthy Communities Study. The study was lead by Lauren Au, NPI associate researcher, in collaboration with NPI researchers Lorrene Ritchie, Klara Gurzo, Marisa Tsai, Janice Kao, Wendi Gosliner and Patricia Guenther from the University of Utah Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology. Results from the study are available for free download until April 24, 2020. 

Posted on Friday, March 6, 2020 at 9:27 AM

Lorrene Ritchie presents at the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) meeting in Atlanta

Nutrition Policy Institute director and Cooperative Extension specialist, Lorrene Ritchie, was invited to give a talk on "Methodological challenges - self-report from key informants in diverse settings" as part of a national meeting hosted by the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR). The meeting took place in Atlanta, Ga. with Ritchie presenting on Thursday, February 27, 2020. Launched in 2009, NCCOR brings together four of the nation's leading research funders—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—to accelerate progress in reducing childhood obesity in America. NCCOR focuses on efforts that have the potential to benefit children, teens, and their families, and the communities in which they live.

Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 3:50 PM

NPI sponsored event: Fixing our children's food environment, featuring Bettina Elias Siegel on March 2, 2020

Please join the Berkeley Food Institute and the Nutrition Policy Institute in welcoming Bettina Elias Siegel to discuss her new book Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World. What are the roles of parents and non-parents in ensuring that all of our community's children have access to safe, affordable, and nourishing food? How have some junk food companies sought to leverage every possible opportunity to sell their products to impressionable young future customers— and what can we do to push back? How can research and practice inform public policy on children's food issues? We will explore these and other questions in a lively interactive forum where your questions and ideas are welcome. This event is a fundraiser for the Berkeley Food Institute, with no one turned away for lack of funds. It will take place on Monday, March 2, 2020, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the David Brower Center, Tamalpais Room, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704. Please register online.   

Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Nutrition Policy Institute researchers present at Healthy Eating Research 14th annual grantee meeting in Denver

Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) researchers will attend and present at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Healthy Eating Research (HER) program's 14th annual grantee meeting in Denver, Colorado on March 3-4, 2020. Marisa Tsai, NPI data analyst, will present on "Dimensions of school food environments and anthropometric and dietary outcomes in children: The Healthy Communities Study. Gail Woodward-Lopez, NPI's associate director of research, will present on "Healthy Default Beverages in Children's Meals: Evaluating Policy Compliance and Impact Comparing Delaware and California". Tsai, along with Lauren Au, NPI associate researcher, Lorrene Ritchie, NPI director and Cooperative Extension specialist, and colleagues will also present a poster on their newly funded HER project, "Implementing and Evaluating the Impact for Children Ages 1 to 5 of Expanding the WIC Cash-Value Benefit for the Purchase of Fruits and Vegetables", which began in February 2020. 

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at 12:00 PM

UC Global Food Initiative fellow identifies efforts to address both food and housing insecurity in California

Californians are struggling to afford adequate housing and food, yet little is known about the intersection of individuals and families experiencing both housing and food insecurity. The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI)'s 2018/2019 University of California (UC) Global Food Initiative fellow, Melanie Colvin, MPH, identified efforts to address both housing and food insecurity in California. Her findings are detailed in this report, titled "Addressing Food Insecurity for Families and Individuals in California Experiencing Housing Insecurity". The report provides definitions and prevalence rates for food insecurity and housing insecurity and summarizes assessment tools available for researches to measure food insecurity and housing insecurity. The report profiles eight California organizations working to improve access to basic needs services for adults and families who struggle to afford the high cost of living in California. The report also shares policy, programs, and research recommendations to support improved food security for those experiencing housing insecurity, as well as recommendations for how the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources can engage with communities and organizations to improve the delivery of basic needs services for Californians. Read the full report online.

Posted on Tuesday, February 25, 2020 at 12:00 PM

New National Drinking Water Alliance fact sheet puts a spotlight on childcare tap water safety

The National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute, created a new fact sheet which aims to demystify tap water contamination and provide clear information on tap water safety for childcare providers and for parents of young children. There are over 20 million children aged 5 and under in the United States and over half of them attend center-based childcare (as opposed to care by friends and family). Facilities participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are required to make potable (safe) water available and offered throughout the day. States may have their own more stringent licensing requirements for drinking water provision in childcare and other states may require all licensed childcare facilities to comply with CACFP standards. But all families with young children should have safe drinking water. Lead is a particular concern in the early years because young children are most vulnerable to its toxic effects. Infants fed formula that is reconstituted with tap water are at highest risk, if the tap water has unsafe levels of lead. Daily safe water practices are also outlined in the fact sheet.

Posted on Thursday, February 20, 2020 at 9:00 AM

NPI Brown Bag Event: How Low-Income Parents Use Food to Create Meaningful Social Experience, February 6, 12pm

Caitlin Daniel, a postdoctoral researcher with the Nutrition Policy Institute and University of California, Berkeley Sociology Department will present at the next NPI Brown Bag on Thursday, February 6 at 12:00 noon on "How Low-Income Parents Use Food to Create Meaningful Social Experience". Drawing on interviews and grocery-shopping observations, this talk shows how low-income families use food for social and symbolic reasons: to make their children happy, to convey care, and to feel like competent caregivers. It discusses how attending to the social dimensions of food choice complements structural and material perspectives that emphasize access, money, and time. Dr. Daniel is a sociologist who examines how parents across the socioeconomic spectrum decide what to feed their children, with a focus on the interactions between parents' economic resources and their ideas about food. Her work integrates insights from cultural sociology, public health, and behavioral economics. Currently, she is writing a book under contract with Columbia University Press. The Brown Bag talk will take place at the UC Berkeley Way West building, room 5401, 2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley. 


Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 9:30 AM

December 5, 2019 

Lorrene Ritchie quoted in UPI article on nutrition education in schools 

A recent UPI article, CDC: Schools Aren't Doing Enough to Teach Kids About Nutrition, examining the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report on food and nutrition education in schools featured an interview with Nutrition Policy Institute Director, Lorrene Ritchie. Dr. Ritchie stated that "health education has never been a priority in American schools... so it's not shocking we're in dire straits when it comes to nutrition."


December 2, 2019

NPI submits letter to USDA to oppose proposed SNAP regulations on household heating and cooling expenses which could cause one of eight California participants to lose eligibility 

Recently proposed new rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), CalFresh in California, would cause nearly 26 percent of California SNAP participants to lose benefits while only 14 percent would gain benefits if enacted, as estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed rule would standardize the methodology for calculating a household's heating and cooling expenses, also known as the standard utility allowance (SUAs), which is taken into consideration when determining program eligibility.

Nutrition Policy Institute's (NPI) director, Lorrene Ritchie, and director of policy, Ken Hecht, submitted a public comment to USDA in opposition of the proposed rule. In their comment, they state that most of California’s SNAP participants live in areas of the state experiencing notoriously high costs of living so their utility expenses are likely to be high. They also commented that the proposed rule would have negative impacts on California's economy, given the estimated $4.5 billion reduction in SNAP spending over five years.

Ritchie and Hecht voiced concern about low-income children participating in the school meal program as well. "The impact would be felt in school meal participation," commented Ritchie and Hecht, "as fewer students would be directly certified for free school meals and fewer schools and school districts would qualify for universal meals through the community eligibility provision." Public comments were due on or before December 2, 2019.


November 25, 2019

New NPI report captures participants' experiences when government shutdown caused disruption in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits

The federal government shutdown from December 22, 2018 – January 25, 2019 created an unprecedented disruption in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in partnership with University of California Cooperative Extension Advisors sought and received an Opportunity Grant from the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to conduct a cross-sectional qualitative study to capture California SNAP participants’ experiences during the benefit disruption. The study aim was to ascertain how the disruption affected participants’ food security, health, and wellbeing. Data were collected February and March 2019 in four focus groups with low-income adults in Los Angeles, Tuolumne, San Mateo, and San Francisco.

Participants reported that:

  • SNAP benefits generally are too low for participants to afford an adequate, healthy diet. Despite much effort to manage limited food budgets, participants routinely run out of money for food.
  • Eligibility determinations for SNAP feel overly restrictive, especially in high cost-of living areas, and the program is not adequately agile to respond in a timely way to frequent changes in participants’ employment or other circumstances.
  • Customer service and communications between SNAP offices and participants show room for improvement. The 2019 benefit disruption highlighted challenges in communications; few participants reported being informed about the disruption in a timely manner, if at all, and most reported confusion.
  • Some participants described the 2019 benefit disruption as providing temporary relief from routine end-of-the-month scarcity; overall, the disruption caused a great deal of emotional stress, heightened food insecurity, and increased financial distress.
  • The disruption resulted in many participants feeling more insecure about their SNAP benefits, and some losing faith in the government.

Participant recommendations for SNAP:

  1. Improve benefit adequacy by increasing benefit levels.
  2. Modify eligibility and benefit formulas to better address high costs-of-living as well as the expenses associated with working (e.g., transportation, childcare).
  3. Improve customer service and communications.
  4. Do not disrupt SNAP benefits in the future.

Read more in the research brief and full report.


November 21, 2019

NPI Brown Bag: Building on low-income consumer perspectives and practices to inform healthy retail interventions

Sridharshi Hewawitharana, data analyst with the Nutrition Policy Institute, presented findings from three projects funded by the California Department of Public Health, Nutrition Education & Obesity Prevention Branch (NEOP) projects: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participant Voices; Communities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention (CX3); and a healthy retail literature review. She outlined the barriers low-income consumers face to healthful eating, the strategies they use to address those barriers, and the evidence regarding healthy retail interventions. View the presentation and read the slides.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

New study suggests installing drinking water stations at community sites may increase water consumption by rural California communities with unsafe drinking water

Community sites in Kern County, Calif. received new, public drinking water bottle filling stations in one of the first studies to look at how promoting and increasing access to safe drinking water in non-school settings in communities with non-potable drinking water impacts community-level water consumption. Christina Hecht, PhD, of the National Drinking Water Alliance coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute, was co-investigator on the study. Results from the study were published on November 14, 2019 in Preventing Chronic Disease. Researchers found that, compared to sites with traditional drinking fountains, community members at sites with the new water filling stations drank more water. This increase in water consumption was higher in sites that received a $500 stipend, a toolkit of promotional activities, and technical assistance to promote the new water filling stations. Promotional activities varied by site and included purchasing cups to have on site or reusable water bottles to give away, displaying banners and posters about the health benefits of drinking water, distributing stickers promoting drinking of water, and more. 


November 3-7, 2019

Lorrene Ritchie presents cutting edge research on the effectiveness of community-level policies for improving childhood obesity outcomes

Global experts on obesity gather in Las Vegas, NV Nov. 3-7, 2019 for Obesity Week 2019, the leading, international scientific conference on obesity presented by The Obesity Society (TOS) in partnership with the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS). Lorrene Ritchie, director of the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), will present the latest research on the effectiveness of community programs and policies on reducing childhood obesity outcomes in the workshop, "It's a Disparate Day in the Neighborhood - Cutting Edge Neighborhood Research With an Equity Lens" on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 8:30-10:00 a.m. In addition, Christina Hecht from NPI will be presenting on "Making Sure Water is a Safe Alternative to SSBs – Improving Water Consumption in Early Care and Education, School and Homes" from 1:30-3:00 p.m.


November 2-7, 2019

Several NPI studies presented at largest annual gathering of public health professionals

Researchers from the University of California, Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) will share the latest findings on California's newest healthy default beverage policy for restaurant kids mealscommunity eligibility provision in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, and how mobile produce stands can improve healthy food access at APHA 2019. APHA's Annual Meeting and Expo is the largest and most influential annual gathering of public health professionals with nearly 13,000 attendees joining each year. Gail Woodward-Lopez, associate director of research, will be releasing a new, comprehensive tool for self-assessing eating and actives practices in settings where children learn. Wendi Gosliner will also be presenting "Policy and Politics in the USDA Child Nutrition Programs".


November 1, 2019

Zero to 60 challenge: Can you go 30 days without drinking a sugary beverage? 

Soda is the number one source of added sugar in the American diet and more than 30 percent of all calories from added sugars consumed daily come from sweetened beverages. Think you can go 30 days without drinking a sugary beverage? The National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated by the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute, encourages you to challenge yourself to live a healthier life by choosing water instead of sugary drinks and take the NB3 Foundation’s Zero to 60 challenge for the month of November.


Please see additional news items in our News section

You can now contribute to the work of NPI by making a tax-deductible donation. Your gift will help reduce food insecurity, obesity and diabetes by ensuring that healthy food, beverages and opportunities for physical activity are convenient, accessible, affordable and sustainable.


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