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

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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.



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.


October 24, 2019

NPI study shows child care centers, schools, hospitals and restaurants purchased over $2.9 million of California-grown fruits and vegetables with new Riverside Unified School District food distribution hub

Researchers at the Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) at the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources conducted an evaluation of Riverside Unified School District's (RUSD) pilot food distribution hub. The hub began operations in 2017. Findings indicate that the RUSD distributed $2.9 million of California grown specialty crops from July 2017 through June 2019. Of that amount, $308,000 was purchased from 12 local growers in Riverside County, while $2.6 million was purchased from local produce distribution companies. The food hub purchased over $200,000 of cosmetically imperfect produce and introduced children at schools and childcare centers to new varieties of California-grown fruits and vegetables. Read the full evaluation report or summary for more information. 


October 21-23, 2019

NPI researchers share resources for child care providers on healthy beverages and drinking water at the 28th annual Child Care Food Program Roundtable Conference

The Child Care Food Program Roundtable Conference is an opportunity for stakeholders and members of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) from across the  nation to get together annually. This year, the Roundtable Conference is taking place October 21-23 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.  On Monday, October 21, Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) researcher Danielle Lee and NPI policy director Ken Hecht will announce, as part of a conference session, a new online training resource for child care providers to support offering healthy beverages. On Wednesday, October 23, NPI's Laura Vollmer and Christina Hecht of the National Drinking Water Alliance will engage providers on how to offer drinking water in accordance with CACFP requirements during their invited presentation on "Clean, Cool Tap Water". 


October 18, 2019

NPI's Laura Vollmer participates in The Community of Food, Society & Justice Conference panel on what's working for increasing access to healthy food

Nutrition Policy Institute researcher Laura Vollmer, MPH, RD will participate in a panel discussion, “Healthy Food Actionists: Lightning fast discussions about what’s working and why” at the The Community of Food, Society & Justice Conference on October 18, 2019 at the University of Michigan. Vollmer will present on efforts across the nation to improve access to healthy beverages, particularly drinking water, through her work coordinating the National Drinking Water Alliance


October 17, 2019

Lorrene Ritchie quoted in Washington Post about unhealthy convenience foods marketed for toddlers.

A recent Washington Post article, Sweet excess: How the baby food industry hooks toddlers on sugar, salt and fat featured quotes from Nutrition Policy Institute Director, Lorrene Ritchie. The article discussed the new boom in unhealthy foods and beverages for children six months to 3 years old, packaged for convenience and often promising health benefits. Dr. Ritchie worries that low-income parents will be more inclined to spend their money on these heavily advertised baby foods, toddler milks and packaged snacks at the expense of healthier options. “The amount of funding spent to promote healthy foods, which is mostly via federal nutrition education dollars such as WIC and SNAP-Ed, is dwarfed by food marketing which is mostly for unhealthy and ‘treat’ foods and beverages. I fear we will never make a big dent in diet-related chronic disease until we level this playing field.”


October 17, 2019 

Lorrene Ritchie quoted in LAist about unhealthy after-school program foods. 

A recent LAist article, We Got The Snack Receipts For LA Rec And Park's After-School Programs — It's Mostly Junk, featured quotes from Nutrition Policy Institute Director, Lorrene Ritchie. Dr. Ritchie explained that eating junk food at snack time can affect a child's overall health. "It's not massive gorging that contributes to obesity,". "It's just the small amount of extra calories every day."


October 10, 2019

UC ANR Global Food Initiative fellow, Elsa Esparza, will work with NPI researchers on a CDFA Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program Evaluation

Elsa Esparza, graduate student from the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, has been selected as a Global Food Initiative (GFI) Fellow in the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources for 2019-2020. Esparza will work with NPI researchers to understand how obtaining refrigeration units impacts small neighborhood stores' fruit and vegetable offerings, as well as store owner and consumer perceptions of the stores and the grant program. Esparza also will help to create public facing research dissemination products designed to communicate with decision makers and other stakeholders.


October 3, 2019

NPI Brown Bag: Nutrition research in a hard-to-reach population with Susana Matias, Cooperative Extension Specialist  from UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology

Latino farmworkers represent a vulnerable and understudied population, with high rates of chronic disease and limited access to health care. Susana Matias, Cooperative Extension Specialist  from UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology will present findings from a cohort study of Latino farmworker families in Central California and a randomized trial conducted in Salinas and Oxnard. Her results will elucidate their health risks, as well as promising intervention strategies in this medically undeserved population.


Please see additional news items in our News section

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