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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.

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  • New study shows school meal consumption during COVID increased higher intake of fruit and vegetables and sugary drinks

    Dec 2, 2023

    Nutrition Policy Institute researchers led a recent study published in the California Agriculture journal. During COVID-related school closures school meal consumption was associated with eating more fruits and vegetables.. Researchers administered online surveys to 3,297 fourth and fifth-grade students in 67 CalFresh Healthy Living–eligible schools and after-school programs in California during the pandemic. Survey results showed that, on average, students who ate one or more school meals daily consumed fruit and vegetables four times per day. This was significantly higher than students who did not eat school meals; they consumed fruits only two times and vegetables three times per day. However, 100% fruit juice accounted for 40% of daily fruit intake and students who ate school meals had significantly higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake with three-quarters of it coming from flavored milk. Study results suggest an opportunity for improvement in supporting and encouraging schools to continue providing nutritious meals, whole fruits instead of 100% juice, and reduce sugary drink consumption by promoting unflavored milk. The study was led by NPI researchers Kaela Plank, Amanda Linares, Sridharshii Hewawitharana, and Gail Woodward-Lopez. This study was conducted as a part of a contract with the California Department of Public Health with funding from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.

  • Research Brief: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participants appreciate behavioral science informed nutrition text messages

    Nov 29, 2023

    The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—known as SNAP nationally and CalFresh in California—provides food benefits to over 22 million low-income families in the US to supplement their grocery budget. New Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) research demonstrates that sending encouraging text messages to SNAP participants helps promote nutrition resources and stimulate positive feelings about the program. NPI researchers collaborated with the University of California, San Diego, Center for Community Health, to partner with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to send 5 monthly behavioral science-informed nutrition text messages to approximately 170,000 CalFresh participants. The text messages were sent in English and Spanish and provided information about the benefits of buying and consuming California-grown fruits and vegetables. Each text-message included a link to a  website which provided information about selecting, storing, and preparing fruits and vegetables, and budget-friendly recipes. Results highlighted that participants gained better knowledge on these subjects, as well as feeling good about participating in CalFresh and appreciating the program's efforts to help participants eat healthfully. Survey results demonstrated that 90%  of respondents appreciated the text-messages. This research brief demonstrates that further communication efforts through text-messages from SNAP agencies can help program participants eat more healthfully and improve their views on SNAP. The brief was developed by NPI researchers Celeste Felix, Ron Strochlic and Wendi Gosliner and Sena Karvas from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.

  • NPI job openings: Assistant or Associate Project Scientists to support evaluation of California’s universal school meals program

    Nov 28, 2023

    The Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources is seeking to hire two Assistant or Associate Project Scientists to support our work to evaluate California's universal school meals program. The positions will conduct literature reviews and develop research questions, hypotheses and study methods; develop participant recruitment and retention protocols and protocols for IRB submission; and design and conduct collaborative research and evaluation projects, including conducting quantitative and qualitative analysis. They will facilitate state and national interactions between researchers, policymakers, and diverse community groups. The positions will write grants, research reports and peer-reviewed publications and develop science-based policy and environmental solutions to lifestyle-related health problems for diverse populations. The salaries are $71,500 to $91,000 or $87,000 to $107,600 annually. The positions are one-year renewable term appointments with possible extensions. More information about the positions and how to apply is available online. Application packets must be received by December 11, 2023, to ensure full consideration (new deadline). Questions? Contact Tatiana Avoce: tavoce@ucanr.edu. The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

  • NPI welcomes Julia Nguyen as new personnel coordinator

    Nov 27, 2023

    Julia Nguyen joined the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources on October 17, 2023 as a personnel coordinator. Her background includes project management and diversity, equity and inclusion-related work and she began her master's in business administration studies at UC Davis this fall. Julia was referred to apply to UCANR through her agricultural network and has always admired the work NPI has done for underserved communities. She will be working closely with the NPI operations team to ensure that NPI personnel are supported on an administrative front for the important work that they do. Julia is focusing on international business and diversity, equity and inclusion in graduate school and in the future hopes to help ensure that intersectional management practices become the norm for any type of project or organization. She also has experience in agricultural sciences, international development, and food service.

  • Study finds that racial and ethnic disparities in infant diet quality index predict differences in later diet quality

    Nov 25, 2023

    A recent study found that higher infant diet quality scores observed in Hispanic Spanish-speaking participants account for certain racial and ethnic variations in later diet quality, suggesting that enhancing infant nutrition could mitigate early childhood diet disparities. Researchers focused on data from participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, to analyze nutritional practices based on racial and ethnic differences among young children. The researchers found that infant diet quality among Hispanic Spanish-speaking families accounted for 25% of later diet disparities based on racial and ethnic differences. The study was published in The Journal of Nutrition, including authors Lauren Au, Charles Arnold, and Sarina Lin from the University of California, Davis, Department of Nutrition, Lorrene Ritchie from the Nutrition Policy Institute, and Edward Frongillio from the University of South Carolina, Department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior.

  • Study finds that changes in food shopping and meal behaviors were linked to changes in dietary intake and bodyweight during the COVID-19 pandemic among low-income parents in California

    Nov 19, 2023

    The article, “Associations between Changes in Food Acquisition Behaviors, Dietary Intake, and Bodyweight during the COVID-19 Pandemic among Low-Income Parents in California” was recently published in the Nutrients journal. Low-income parents in California reported changes in food/meal acquisition behaviors, dietary intake, and body weight from before to during the pandemic through an online survey conducted from April through August 2021. The study found that decreased supermarket or farmer's market shopping was associated with decreased fruit and vegetable intake and increased unhealthy snack consumption. Online food and meal ordering were associated with higher intakes of sweets, salty snacks, fast food, and increases in weight. Increases in cooking healthy home meals were associated with improved nutrition outcomes. This research suggests a need for interventions that support healthy home cooking and address the negative effects of online food/meal shopping to help mitigate health disparities post-pandemic and prepare for future similar emergencies. The study was led by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers, Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Suzanne Rauzon, Sridharshi C. Hewawitharana, with Hannah R. Thompson of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and California Department of Public Health co-authors Ingrid Cordon and Lauren Whetstone.

  • Research brief: Health inequities may have been exacerbated by SNAP-Ed reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Nov 17, 2023

    A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute outlines the results and implications of the 2023 study: “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education reductions during COVID-19 may have exacerbated health inequities.” The study examined changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education programming by California's local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, when schools and other institutions closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the impact on public health programs like SNAP-Ed was immediate and large. As the pandemic continued, California's local health departments reported numerous challenges, including the diversion of staff, funding and other resources from programs like SNAP-Ed to emergency response. NPI researchers documented dramatic reductions in the reach and dose of local health department SNAP-Ed programming during the early stages of the pandemic. Reductions disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including those with higher poverty, higher proportions of Black and Latino residents and less healthy neighborhood conditions. Disproportionately reduced access to important health programs may have worsened health disparities in diet and physical activity-related chronic diseases, as well as increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. This study demonstrates the importance of an equity-centered approach to promoting healthy eating and active living, even—or perhaps especially—during public health emergencies. The peer-reviewed study was authored by NPI researchers Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Janice Kao, Evan Talmage and Carolyn Rider. The research brief was created by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including: Carolyn Rider, Miranda Westfall, Reka Vasicsek and Summer Cortez.

  • Participants new to WIC may benefit from more guidance on shopping for WIC foods

    Nov 16, 2023

    A recent research brief from the Nutrition Policy Institute illuminates the experiences of participants newly enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children—commonly known as WIC. The brief, based on the 2021 Multi-State WIC Participant Satisfaction Survey, shares experiences of 26,642 WIC participants surveyed across 12 WIC state agencies, focused on the impacts of temporary changes to the WIC food package during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 7,831 participants that responded to the open-ended question asking them to share any feedback about their WIC experience, comments were generally positive (43%), with only 7% reporting difficulty finding WIC foods. However, the study revealed that participants new to WIC, less than one year into the program, encountered more challenges shopping for WIC foods compared to those with longer enrollment periods. One participant expressed, “I still can't find some products that WIC is providing, it is very complicated to find products.” New participants often faced difficulties at store checkouts, citing confusion with the WIC card and App. One participant mentioned, "It's confusing how to use the WIC card at different stores, seems you have to learn by trial and error which can be embarrassing." Participants on WIC for varying durations requested flexibility in substituting whole fruits and vegetables in place of jarred infant foods and juice. One participant said, “I would like more money for fruit and veggies and maybe take away the juice option. My pediatrician and the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees.” The NPI research suggests providing enhanced support for new WIC participants, focusing on understanding WIC food packages and how to properly use the WIC App to shop for and identify WIC-approved foods, and considering expanded options for whole fruits and vegetables in place of jarred infant foods and juice. The research was conducted in collaboration with Gabriel Underwood and Loan Kim from Pepperdine University, Danielle Lee and Lorrene Ritchie from NPI, and Christina Chauvenet from the National WIC Association.

  • New video highlights Farm to Corrections Harvest of the Month Project

    Nov 15, 2023

    A new video highlights Nutrition Policy Institute's partnership with Impact Justice, ChangeLab Solutions, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to launch "Harvest of the Month," a program which brings fresh, California-grown produce into carceral institutions around California to improve the diets of the residents, as well as improve their overall health and well-being. A national 2020 study shows that 63% of incarcerated individuals rarely or never have fresh vegetables and 55% rarely or never have fresh fruit. In September, residents at three CDRC correctional facilities in Northern California received fresh pears grown locally in Sacramento County through the new program. One incarcerated individual shares in the video, “This is the best pear I have ever eaten, it was so good, so I ate all of it.” CDCR is responsible for feeding over 100,000 incarcerated individuals and they are the single largest purchaser of food in the state. The new program aligns with two state policies that supporting institutional procurement of local produce, including California Assembly Bill 778. CDRC aims to expand the program to all 33 of its facilities across the state by October 2025. Learn more about the new program in this news story.

  • The School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley launches new dietetic internship program for master’s in public health nutrition students

    Nov 14, 2023

    The School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley was recently granted candidacy for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics for their new Berkeley Public Health Dietetic Internship program. The program aims to create a new public health dietetic internship model that will prepare students to tackle adaptive changes from clinic to the community and from qualitative and quantitative to policy and food systems. The program is a two-year internship that currently accepts 10 interns annually during the fall who are admitted to the Master's in Public Health Nutrition at UC Berkeley. Students must have completed a Didactic Program in Dietetics to apply. The Nutrition Policy Institute will be a host organization for the program, and several NPI researchers—Lorrene Ritchie, Wendi Gosliner, Miranda Westfall, Suzanne Rauzon and Danielle Lee—serve on the program's advisory board. Applications to join the inaugural 2024 cohort are due December 4, 2023, at 8:59pm PST. Potential students are encouraged to attend the upcoming virtual and in-person open house informational sessions on November 14 and 16, 2023. For further questions, contact publichealthdi@berkeley.edu.

Please see additional news items in our News section