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  • Study examines associations among participants in safety-net programs with government perceptions, welfare stigma, and discrimination

    Feb 15, 2024

    Safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP nationally and  CalFresh in California, and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provide great benefits to families facing economic hardship and food insecurity. However, participation in these programs was lower in California compared to the national average. Nutrition Policy Institute researchers examined the associations of participation in SNAP and receipt of the Earned Income Tax Credit with perceptions of government, welfare stigma, and discrimination among families in California with low incomes. Researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey and interviews involving 497 caregivers of young children in California between August 2020 and May 2021. Study results highlighted that SNAP participants and EITC recipients had greater perceptions of social stigma compared to eligible non-participants in these programs in the beginning of the pandemic. Further, SNAP was associated with program stigma and experiences of discrimination among food-insecure participants. This study suggests that reducing stigma related to safety net program participation is important, and policymakers should consider initiatives to improve messaging and outreach that may help. The study was recently published in the Health Affairs Scholar journal. This study was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Richard Pulvera and Wendi Gosliner, along with Kaitlyn Jackson and Rita Hamad of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Lia Fernald with the School of Public Health, University of California Berkeley.


  • Nutrition Policy Institute comments to the US Food and Drug Administration’s strategies to reduce added sugars consumption in the United States

    Feb 13, 2024

    The excessive consumption of added sugars by Americans has surpassed the recommended levels outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, highlighting a pressing public health concern.The Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources submitted a public comment in response to the US Food and Drug Administration's call for strategies to reduce added sugars consumption in the United States. The comment outlines 13 recommended actions for federal agencies and four recommended actions that other stakeholders can take to minimize added sugars consumption. Additionally, NPI urged the FDA to address safety concerns around the replacement of added sugars with low- and no-calorie sweeteners, specifically among children. Federal agencies and stakeholders have ample opportunities to decrease added sugars consumption in the US. and NPI emphasized the need for action on recommendations to enhance food safety and empower consumers to make healthier choices. The public comment period was open from November 6, 2023, to January 22, 2024. All submitted comments are available to view online on Regulations.gov.


  • Nutrition Policy Institute expands social media presence to LinkedIn

    Feb 1, 2024

    The Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources is excited to announce the launch of our official LinkedIn Business Page. Follow us for the latest updates from NPI including research and policy insights, upcoming events, job openings and news on nutrition, food policy and public health. You can also stay connected with NPI by following us on X (formerly known as Twitter) and subscribing to our quarterly email newsletter, NPI's Research to Action news brief.

  • New study suggests a need for the simplification of the student SNAP process

    Jan 31, 2024

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP nationally, and commonly known as CalFresh in California, gives approximately 3.3 million college students access to essential food assistance. However, an estimated 57% of  SNAP-eligible students do not enroll. The research team conducted individual and group interviews from February 2020 and December 2021 through Zoom to gain insight into the student SNAP application process from the perspective of CalFresh county agency workers. Through this qualitative approach, the research team aimed to better understand the student SNAP application process from the perspective of county agency workers. The study identified 5 central themes, in which county agency workers perceived the process as challenging for students, and burdensome for administration workers. The research study was recently published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior by Suzanna Martinez, Sonali Singh, and Erin Esaryk with the University of California San Francisco, San Francisco's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Nutrition Policy Institute researcher, Lorrene Ritchie. 


  • NPI’s Wendi Gosliner interviewed for If I Could Change One Thing health policy podcast

    Jan 30, 2024

    Wendi Gosliner from the Nutrition Policy Institute discussed efforts to enhance population health and nutrition, focusing on eliminating disparities and improving federal food programs in a recent If I Could Change One Thing health policy podcast episode. Highlighting policy amendments during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gosliner emphasized the impact on food access, particularly for SNAP, WIC, school meal programs, and expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Stressing the importance of tackling food insecurity and reducing waste, she called for comprehensive interventions in federal nutrition programs. “When we think about growing food, and all of the inputs that are needed to grow food—the energy, the water, the soil, the human labor, the money to harvest it and transport it— then it gets to us, we buy it, we store it, and then we often throw it away," said Gosliner. "The amount of resources that's wasted with each food item that is thrown away is immense. And then not only that, but food, when it's decomposing in landfills, creates methane, which is a greenhouse gas contributor all on its own. So, for so many reasons, having us throwing away a lot of food is incredibly costly.” Gosliner, NPI's director of food policy research and translation, shared insights with co-hosts James Romine and Rocio Flores in season eight, episode one of the podcast. The podcast is produced by the San Diego State University, School of Public Health. Listen online.


  • Study examines differences in California parent’s perceptions of school meals during COVID by race and ethnicity

    Jan 29, 2024

    In May 2020, running until the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the US Congress authorized the US Department of Agriculture to issue nationwide waivers that allowed all schools to provide universal free school meals to mitigate the impacts of school closures as well as the broader economic challenges faced by families during the COVID-19  emergency. This study aimed to examine parent perceptions about school free meals and whether these perceptions differed by race and ethnicity. In May 2022, 1100 California parents of K-12 students from varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and State regions responded to a survey to share their perspectives about school meals during the school year 2021-22. Across all racial and ethnic groups, California parents reported that free school meals offered multiple benefits to families, saving them money, time, and stress, and expressed that the stigma associated with school meals was low. However, parents expressed that there was an area for improvement in the variety, taste, and healthfulness of school meals, where parents of Hispanic and Asian students reported less favorable perceptions of these qualities than parents of White students. This study suggests that there is strong support among parents for free school meals, but further efforts are needed to implement a variety of culturally appropriate school meals and make improvements in their taste and healthfulness. Results from the study were recently published in the Health Affairs Scholar journal. The study was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Monica Zuercher, Christina Hecht, Kenneth Hecht, and Dania Orta-Aleman in collaboration with Juliana Cohen, Deborah Olarte, and Leah Chapman from Merrimack College, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati from Arizona State University,  Michele Polacsek from the University of New England, Margaret Read from Share Our Strength, Anisha Patel from Stanford Pediatrics, and Marlene Schwartz from the University of Connecticut. 


  • Study outlines strategies needed for financial stability in an evaluation of a food hub intervention

    Jan 16, 2024

    Nutrition Policy Institute researchers studied an intervention for the expansion of the Mandela Health and Wealth Net, a food hub-based healthy retail initiative located in Oakland, California. The Mandela Produce Distribution food hub aggregates, distributes, and markets source-identified food products to enhance the accessibility of affordable, high-quality produce within low-income, low-access neighborhoods. The Nutrition Policy Institute research team examined how, with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mandela Partners was able to expand their food hub while implementing complementary interventions to ensure that the residents of low-income, low-access neighborhoods had increased access to fruits and vegetables. New produce retail sites were carefully selected to be places where neighborhood residents already frequented; complementary interventions included taste tests, marketing, accommodating SNAP-EBT payment, and offering a dollar-matching program for produce purchased using SNAP-EBT. This combination of strategies resulted in improved accessibility and purchases of fruits and vegetables in low-income, low-access neighborhoods and benefited local stores and regional farms; however, the overall food hub net losses increased during the period of expansion. Researchers suggest that for food-hubs to be financially self-sustaining, adjustments may be needed to reduce operating costs and increase revenues. The study led by Janice Kao, Gail Woodward-Lopez, Maria Isabel Rangel, and Aviva Hicks was published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition.


  • Editorial urges bold action for equitable access to nutrition assistance by all

    Dec 20, 2023

    More Americans are now sick with diet-related conditions than are well. In the American Journal of Public Health's special issue on "Policies and Strategies to Increase Equitable Access to Family Nutrition," Lorrene Ritchie and Wendi Gosliner of the Nutrition Policy Institute advocate for bold action to improve the health and diets of all Americans. Their editorial entitled “Bold Action Needed for Equitable Access to Nutrition Assistance by All” along with the supporting research featured in the special issue emphasize that while federal nutrition assistance helps one in four Americans and over half of school-aged children, more needs to be done to address food and financial insecurity and improve the diet and health of Americans. Ritchie and Gosliner suggest that, “Currently the nutrition assistance programs conflate two separate issues, one involving people facing poverty with inadequate resources to secure adequate food and the other involving structural supports to the food system and societal norms that facilitate abundant access to and promotion of relatively cheap and unhealthy options, leading to poor diets being the status quo.” They recommend rethinking nutrition assistance's role in combating poverty, suggesting income and housing support, and separately, restructuring federal nutrition assistance programs to support healthy food consumption for all, like providing school meals for all K-12 students, and restructuring retail food environments to create new healthy norms. The special issue and editorial were published online on December 20, 2023.


  • Study finds that SNAP and WIC stores offer healthier food retail environment in low-income California neighborhoods

    Dec 19, 2023

    A recent study examined how stores' participation in federal assistance programs, such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program— commonly known as WIC and SNAP or CalFresh in California—influence the availability and quality of healthy foods in low-income California neighborhoods. The study assessed 731 convenience stores and small markets, and found that stores enrolled in both SNAP and WIC had greater availability of healthy food options and higher quality fresh produce compared to stores participating in neither program. Further, small markets more often carried a broader selection of high-quality fresh produce than convenience stores. The study findings suggest that implementing policies incentivizing store involvement in SNAP and WIC can improve access to healthy foods for low-income individuals. The study recently published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Richard Pulvera, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Hannah Thompson, Wendi Gosliner, and Cindy Leung with the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. The authors thank the staff at the California Department of Public Health's Nutrition and Physical Activity Branch, local health department staff and participating stores, and Gail-Woodward Lopez.


  • NPI's director of community health Suzanne Rauzon retires

    Dec 18, 2023

    Suzanne Rauzon, director of community health for the Nutrition Policy Institute, will retire in January 2024. Rauzon's University of California career began over twenty years ago when she joined the UC Berkeley Center for Weight and Health, which joined NPI in 2015. Rauzon has mentored numerous students, NPI staff and researchers. She worked on community health interventions including a variety of Kaiser Permanente initiatives to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Rauzon also pioneered new research tools including the highly influential community intervention dose index used to evaluate multiple community intervention strategies. She will continue to support NPI as an emeritus researcher beyond January 2024. Learn more about Rauzon's career and legacy in this news story. To support Rauzon's legacy and the ongoing work in health and nutrition, you can donate to NPI's Student Fellowship, which provides students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to work on NPI research and be mentored by NPI researchers.


  • New study shows school meal consumption during COVID increased 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.

    This news post is also available in Spanish and in a brief Spanish-language video.


  • 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. This news post is also available online in Spanish.


  • 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.