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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. Watch our video in English and Spanish!

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  • NPI welcomes Elsa Esparza as new project policy analyst

    May 20, 2024

    Elsa Esparza joined the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources on March 18, 2024 as a part-time project policy analyst. Elsa is a registered dietitian and received her master's degree in public health from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. She previously worked with NPI in 2019 as a UC Global Food Initiative graduate student fellow. In addition to her current role at NPI, Elsa serves as the program director for the new Dietetic Internship at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Elsa is eager to contribute to research that will inform policies aimed at eliminating health disparities, especially among early childhood populations. She is also passionate about mentoring students who aspire to pursue careers in public health nutrition. Elsa has worked in many settings where public health nutrition is at the forefront, ranging from a federally qualified health center, an anti-hunger advocacy non-profit, a research institution, a family foundation, and now at the University of California. In her role at NPI, Elsa will serve as a co-project manager for the California School Meals for All evaluation.

  • NPI celebrates a decade of high-impact research

    May 15, 2024

    The Nutrition Policy Institute was established 10 years ago to address the growing nutrition problems in the U.S., where 1 in 6 families lack consistent access to food and more suffer from a nutrition-related chronic condition than do not. Our talented team remains steadfast in our vision to ensure access to nutritious food, beverages and opportunities for physical activity for all through conducting and translating policy-relevant research. To mark our 10-year anniversary, we'd like to share some of our key achievements.

    • School Meals for All - We have been dedicated to evaluating the impacts of every child, regardless of their background, having access to nutritious meals at school. Our efforts have helped to establish comprehensive school meal programs in our state. California became the first state in the nation to adopt school breakfast and lunch at no charge, providing access to better nutrition for over 6 million K-12 students annually.

    • Enhancements to the WIC Program - We have worked to improve the accessibility and effectiveness of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children which provides food and nutrition counseling for low income pregnant women and children.  By streamlining processes and expanding outreach, WIC services have improved. Over one million women and children receive WIC benefits annually in California – reaching nearly half of all children born in the state.
    • Farm to Corrections Program - One of our innovative initiatives, involving the Farm to Corrections Program, connects correctional facilities with local farms, thus promoting more fresh fruits and vegetables for incarcerated individuals while supporting local agriculture. Within the next 2 years, all 33 of California's adult facilities will be enrolled in the Farm to Corrections Program.

    We couldn't have achieved all this without our dedicated team, collaborators and funders. Special thanks also go to our past and current students, whose passion for positive change fuels our work. To continue this legacy, we established the NPI Student Fellowship in 2019 to increase diversity in the public health nutrition workforce and to honor our founding co-director, Pat Crawford. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, we are pleased to announce a matching gift of up to $10,000 to support the NPI Student Fellowship. Any donation made between May and June 2024 will be doubled. A gift of any size will be appreciated and you can make your gift online. Your contribution will empower the next generation of nutrition research to policy leaders to continue our work toward healthier, more equitable communities. Read more about our impact over the last 10 years in this UC ANR news story—also available in Spanish—written by Mike Hsu. Watch this video in English or Spanish to learn about the history of the Fellowship and hear from students about their experiences.

  • NPI partners with Mathematica on USDA WIC and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program modernization evaluation

    May 13, 2024

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—commonly known as WIC—is celebrating 50 years of improving the health of participants, including those who are pregnant, new parents, infants, and children under five. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provided the US Department of Agriculture with $390 million, available through FY 2024, to carry out outreach, innovation, and program modernization efforts to increase participation and redemption of benefits for both the WIC program and the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program. The USDA contracted with Mathematica and their partners, including the Nutrition Policy Institute, to design and implement an evaluation of these projects being implemented across 89 WIC State agencies and 51 Farmers Market Nutrition Program State agencies. The evaluation will assess whether the modernization projects being implemented are associated with increases in enrollment, participation, retention, and redemption of benefits; improvements in participant experience; and reduced disparities in program delivery. The five-year project began in September 2023. NPI research project team members will include Lorrene Ritchie, Danielle Lee, Celeste Felix, KC Whitsett and Reka Vasicsek.

  • New infographics share culturally relevant information on school meals for Spanish-speaking California families

    May 10, 2024

    Nutrition Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Cultiva La Salud, and Stanford Pediatrics, released three infographics with information on school meal programs. The cartoon-style one-pagers were developed after a PhotoVoice project suggested the need for culturally and linguistically relevant materials about school nutrition programs for Spanish-speaking families in California's San Joaquin Valley. The infographics emphasize federal nutrition requirements for school meals, factors influencing school meal offerings, and the role families and youth can play in advocating for changes.

    Parents, youth, school district officials, food service directors in the San Joaquin Valley, and other partners helped to co-create the infographics with designers at Tremendousness. The project partnership includes NPI's senior policy advisor Christina Hecht and policy director Ken Hecht. Initial investigation and infographic content development were funded by the Stanford University Office of Community Engagement, with video development and extended dissemination funded by the Thompson Family Foundation.

  • New study highlights impact of increased WIC benefits for fruits and vegetables among ethnic and racial groups

    Apr 19, 2024

    The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, offers nutrition support to diverse populations. The Cash Value Benefit (CVB) for fruits and vegetables, is a key component of the WIC food packages that accommodates diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic preferences by offering flexibility in fruit and vegetable choices. In response to exacerbated health disparities and decreased food security during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Department of Agriculture increased the CVB from $9 per month per child to the current amount of $26 per month per child. Study researchers assessed the impact of CVB augmentation on CVB redemption, household food security, fruit and vegetable intake, and satisfaction among participating caretakers in California's WIC program  by race and ethnicity. A prospective cohort study across three survey waves from pre-augmentation to post-augementation among a diverse sample of participating caregivers was conducted. Study results demonstrated significant improvements in CVB redemption, household food security, and satisfaction across all racial and ethnic groups following the increases in CVB. Larger increases in satisfaction were found among non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic English-speaking participants compared to other groups. Researchers suggest that continued augmentation of CVB, and further research into factors influencing CVB redemption and its effects on WIC participation could help improve health outcomes across the diverse WIC population. The study was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Marisa Tsai and Lorrene Ritchie, Christopher Anderson, Shannon Whaley, and Catherine Yepez from Public Health Foundation Enterprises (PHFE)-WIC, and Lauren Au from the Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis. 

  • California Bountiful Magazine features Nutrition Policy Institute‚Äôs collaborative Farm to Correction project

    A recent Spring 2024 issue of the California Bountiful magazine, features Nutrition Policy Institute's collaborative research with Impact Justice and ChangeLab Solutions on their Farm to Corrections California project.  The article titled, “Program benefits inmates, small farms and local economies,” by Linda DuBois highlights the initiative created from the project, “Harvest of the Month.” This initiative supports local agriculture and nutrition promotion, individual well-being, and equitable access to fresh, diverse food options within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prisons. Learn more about the program in this news story.

  • New report shares perspectives from over 38,000 WIC participants in 21 states

    Apr 15, 2024

    Over 38,000 participants in the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, completed a satisfaction survey in summer of 2023. Conducted across 21 participating WIC state agencies in all US Department of Agriculture administrative regions, the survey showed high satisfaction with the WIC program and that participants feel respected, valued and included by WIC staff. The hybrid WIC services introduced during  the pandemic were successful, with two-in-three using in-person services, over half using remote services and nearly all finding it is easy to schedule appointments. The top reasons for WIC participation were the fruits and vegetables in the WIC food package followed by other foods and the education and support from WIC staff. Participants expressed interest in using WIC benefits at farmers markets and requested expanded fruit and vegetable options in states that don't authorize canned or frozen options. The survey illuminated challenges participants experience when shopping for WIC foods, reasons for not buying all their WIC foods, and their desire for expanded shopping options. Results align with the recently finalized WIC food package changes. Findings are available in the report “2023 WIC Multi-State Participant Satisfaction Survey” published online on April 9, 2024. The survey was also cited in an article in The New York Times, "Food Aid Program for Mothers and Children Will Provide More Fruits and Vegetables" and another article in NBC News, "Low-income families have more to spend on fruit and veggies thanks to new WIC rule," both published on April 9, 2024. The project was conducted by Lorrene Ritchie, Danielle Lee, Celeste Felix, Ken Hecht and Hannah Thompson from the Nutrition Policy Institute, Loan Kim, Theresa Tran, Claire Burton and Amanda Kiang from Pepperdine University and Georgia Machel from the National WIC Association. The project was funded by the National WIC Association through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • Study examines sociodemographic factors in multi-program take-up of safety net programs among California families

    Apr 10, 2024

    US safety net programs provide aid to low-income households through cash and in-kind assistance, such as food and healthcare benefits. Using data from the Assessing California Communities' Experiences with Safety Net Supports ACCESS,study researchers examined patterns of multi-program take-up, that is participation conditioned on eligibility in California. Sociodemographic factors associated with multi-program take-up were also identified. Among the four safety net programs examined (i.e., Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC, and Medicaid), NPI researchers found relatively low multi-program take-up of SNAP and WIC. Meanwhile, the take-up of Medicaid was high, both as an individual program and among those participating in other programs. Sociodemographic factors, including Income, age, and primary language spoken were associated with multi-program take-up. To improve multi-program participation, study researchers recommend streamlining application processes to reduce administrative burden, data sharing among safety-net programs, and targeted recruitment of under-enrolled subgroups. Increasing multi-program take-up of safety net programs among California families can contribute to improved health equity and address key social determinants of health. This study was conducted by NPI researchers Marisa Tsai and Wendi Gosliner, Joseph Yeb with Tufts University School of Medicine, Kaitlyn Jackson and Rita Hamad with Harvard School of Public Health, and Lia Fernald with the University of California  Berkeley, School of Public Health.

  • High support exists among parents of all income levels for School Meals for All in California

    Apr 8, 2024

    In a recent research brief, Nutrition Policy Institute researchers highlight the benefits of California's School Meals for All program which offers breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students at public and charter schools every instructional day, at no charge, regardless of household income. The program began in the 2022-2023 school year after temporary federal pandemic funding for universal meals ended. Prior to the pandemic, household income determined school meal charges. The brief shares findings from a 2023 NPI survey examining parents' perceptions regarding the policy's impact. Among a diverse representation of all income levels and ethnic groups, 80% of all parents were in support. Christina Hecht, NPI's senior policy advisor,  presented these findings and other NPI research on School Meals for All to the California State Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. In her public testimony, Hecht  explained that “...65% of parents across all income levels believe the School Meals For All program reduces stigma for their child about eating a school meal.” Findings can inform further efforts to continue the expansion of California's School Meals For All program to reduce financial strain, food insecurity, stress, and stigma among families. The research was led by Dania Orta-Aleman, Christina Hecht, Monica Zuercher, Ken Hecht, Samantha Sam-Chen, Lorrene Ritchie, and Wendi Gosliner from NPI and Juliana Cohen from Merrimack College.

  • NPI welcomes KC Whitsett as new project policy analyst

    Mar 28, 2024

    KC Whitsett joined the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources on March 25, 2024, as a project policy analyst. Originally from Virginia, KC earned a BS in Kinesiology and Health Sciences from the College of William & Mary. KC also holds a Master of Public Health from UC Berkeley, with an interdisciplinary concentration on research and evaluation methods for food access and nutrition programs. Her previous professional experiences include program and grant management and community health education. She has expertise in the evaluation of physical activity and food access programs—healthy corner store initiatives, mobile markets, SNAP incentives—and farmworkers' access to health care services. In her role at NPI, KC will support qualitative data collection and analysis for projects related to school meals, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—commonly known as WIC.

Please see additional news items in our News section