Hero Image

Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources logo

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!

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


  • Research Brief: School-based physical activity interventions that include policy changes together with improving physical activity opportunities may be the most effective approach for improving student fitness

    Jun 10, 2024

    A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute highlights promising school-based CalFresh Healthy Living—California's SNAP-Ed program—physical activity interventions. The study used latent class analysis to describe the predominant combinations of CFHL physical activity interventions implemented in California public schools in partnership with local health departments. Using Fitnessgram data from over 440,000 students in nearly 4,300 schools, the researchers assessed whether intervention combinations were associated with student cardiorespiratory fitness, as measured by V02 max. The study found that students in schools with CFHL interventions focused on establishing or improving wellness policies and increasing opportunities for physical activity had better cardiorespiratory fitness than students in schools without CFHL interventions or in schools with other types of CFHL intervention combinations. The peer-reviewed study was authored by Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Gail Woodward-Lopez, and Wendi Gosliner from the Nutrition Policy Institute, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati and Francesco Acciai from Arizona State University, and John Pugliese from the California Department of Public Health. The research brief was created by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including: Summer Cortez, Reka Vasicsek, Miranda Westfall, and Sridharshi Hewawitharana.

  • NPI partners to develop and evaluate a marketing campaign to increase school meal participation

    Jun 6, 2024

    Increasing participation in school meal programs can improve dietary quality and reduce nutrition insecurity. School food service directors have indicated an urgent need for marketing materials encouraging school meal participation. Nutrition Policy Institute will partner with Anna Grummon of Stanford University to develop and evaluate a marketing campaign to increase school meal participation. The evaluation will help to determine the school meal messaging that most resonates with parents. The two-year project, “Developing and evaluating a marketing campaign to increase school-meal participation to improve children's dietary quality and reduce food insecurity,” was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Healthy Eating Research program. The project started in November 2023 and includes NPI's Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht and Reka Vasicsek.

  • New Spanish podcast highlight’s NPI’s 10-year anniversary and Student Fellowship program

    May 30, 2024

    The Nutrition Policy Institute, founded in 2014, is celebrating a decade of impactful research. The latest episode of the Spanish-language podcast, Charla y Café al mediodía, features NPI senior researcher Ron Strochlic discussing the Institute's history and achievements. The podcast highlights NPI's origins at the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health and its significant research on sugar-sweetened beverage taxes, the CalFresh Market Match program, and improving access to drinking water in schools and nutritious food in California prisons. Former NPI student fellow, Anna Rios, shared how the NPI Student Fellowship supported her career development. Rios is now a Harvard Medical School-trained neuroscientist. The NPI Student Fellowship, developed in honor of NPI's founding co-director Patricia Crawford, was designed to diversify and bring more equity to the field of public health nutrition, offering a unique mentoring and training experience in applied research. The podcast, produced by Ricardo Vela from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, News and Outreach in Spanish, is available online in both video and audio. In honor of NPI's anniversary, donations to the NPI Student Fellowship are encouraged. Contributions made by June 30, 2024, will be matched up to $10,000 by an anonymous donor.

  • Study reveals parent perceptions of school meals associated with student participation in school meals

    May 27, 2024

    School meals have been shown to be the healthiest source of food for US students on average and have been associated with multiple benefits to students. However, not all students eat school meals, even if they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals based on their family income. This study examined the association between parent perspectives about school meals and student meal participation during the school year 2021-22 in the context of the California Universal School Meals policy. NPI researchers surveyed 1,110 parents of California K-12 students and identified three groups of parental perceptions: positive perceptions (e.g. liking school meals and thinking that they are tasty and healthy), perceived benefits to families (e.g. school meals save families money, time, and stress), and negative perceptions (e.g. concerns about the amount of sugar in school meals and stigma). More positive parental perceptions about school meals and their benefits to families were associated with greater student meal participation, while more negative parental perceptions were associated with reduced student participation in school meals. Overall, study results emphasize that parent perceptions of school meals may affect student participation in school meal programs and that effective communication with parents to ensure parents are familiar with the healthfulness and quality of school meals may be critical for increasing meal participation rates.  A podcast interview with researcher Monica Zuercher and a press release were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, further explaining the research study findings. The research study was led by NPI researchers Monica Zuercher,  Christina Hecht, Kenneth Hecht, Dania Orta-Aleman, Anisha Patel, Lorrene Ritchie, and Wendi Gosliner, as well as researchers Juliana Cohen, Deborah Olarte, and Leah Chapman with Merrimack College, Margaret Read with Partnership for a Healthier America, and Marlene Schwartz with the University of Connecticut.

  • New video in Spanish celebrates NPI’s ten-year anniversary

    May 24, 2024

    The Nutrition Policy Institute, founded in 2014, is celebrating ten years of high-impact research. A new video in Spanish highlight's NPI's accomplishments and contributions to public health in California related to universal school meals, improving the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC), provide fresh food in correctional facilities, improving quality and access to drinking water in schools and child care, and promoting access to fresh produce for families in need by promoting CalFresh (nationally known as SNAP) benefit use at farmers Markets. The video also highlight's the NPI Student Fellowship which aims to foster diversity in the next generation of public health nutrition leaders. The Spanish video description is below:

    UC ANR y NPI Celebran una década de impacto en la comunidad

    Únete a nosotros para celebrar una década de logros del Instituto de Políticas de Nutrición (NPI). Descubre cómo nuestras iniciativas han transformado la salud pública en California:

    • Comidas Escolares para Todos: Asegurando que cada niño tenga acceso a comidas nutritivas en la escuela.
    • Mejoras al Programa WIC: Optimizando el apoyo nutricional para mujeres y niños de bajos ingresos.
    • De la Granja a las Correccionales: Proporcionando alimentos frescos en instalaciones correccionales.
    • Beca Estudiantil NPI: Fomentando la próxima generación de líderes en nutrición pública.
    • Agua Potable en Escuelas: Garantizando la calidad del agua para una mejor salud infantil.
    • Beneficios de CalFresh en Mercados de Agricultores: Promoviendo el acceso a productos frescos para familias necesitadas.

    Tu apoyo es fundamental para continuar nuestra misión. Contribuye hoy y ayúdanos a seguir mejorando la nutrición en California. 

    The video, developed by the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resource's News and Outreach in Spanish, and a complementary news story, "Instituto de Políticas de Nutrición: 10 años de hacer que las opciones saludables sean más accesibles para todos," are available online.

  • 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. 

Please see additional news items in our News section