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  • Study finds that SNAP-Ed interventions modified during the COVID-19 pandemic increased student fruit and vegetable intake

    Jan 30, 2023

    The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed), known as CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) in California, is the largest nutrition education program in the United States. CFHL supports healthy eating and active living in eligible California communities through direct education and policy, systems, and environmental changes, with a large portion of program activities taking place in schools. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced K-12 school closures, school-based in-person CFHL programming was adapted for online delivery. A new study examined the impact of modified CFHL program delivery during COVID-19 on dietary intake and physical activity among students in 47 intervention and 17 comparison schools. Researchers found that participation in CFHL during school closures significantly increased student fruit and vegetable intake. Findings demonstrate the protective effect of comprehensive nutrition and physical activity education programs during emergency social distancing measures. This study, published in the Public Health Nutrition Journal, was conducted by Amanda Linares, Kaela Plank, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, and Gail Woodward-Lopez of the Nutrition Policy Institute with funding from the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.


  • New study shows variation of WIC participants’ perceptions and satisfaction with WIC nutrition education and services by race, ethnicity, and language preference

    Jan 25, 2023

    The federal Special Supplemental Nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, aims to safeguard the health of over 6 million low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 in the United States by providing nutritious foods, information on healthy eating, and referrals for additional services. Nutrition education is an essential feature of WIC, making it unique compared to other federal nutrition programs. Researchers evaluated differences in WIC participants' perceptions and satisfaction with WIC nutrition education and services by race, ethnicity, and language preference in a sample of nearly 3000 California WIC participants surveyed in 2019. Spanish-speaking Hispanic participants reported the highest levels of satisfaction with WIC nutrition education compared to other groups. Hispanic participants were also more likely to change their behaviors after receiving WIC nutrition education compared to non-Hispanic White and Black participants. Participants prefer to receive WIC nutrition education through a variety of methods including in-person one-on-one, video/DVD, online, group sessions, and two-way text messaging. Across all groups, participants reported that the fruits and vegetables they receive in the child WIC food package was the top reason for continuing to participate in WIC. These findings can inform efforts to improve WIC participant retention. The study was published in the journal Nutrients. Study contributors include Alana Chaney and Lauren Au from UC Davis, Lorrene Ritchie and Marisa Tsai from the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, Shannon Whaley, Catherine Yepez, and Martha Meza from Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC, a program of Heluna Health, Hallie Randel-Schreiber from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and Susan Sabatier and Adrian Young from the California Department of Public Health, WIC Division. The research was funded by The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the California Department of Public Health WIC Division.


  • University of California researchers release new, user-friendly fact sheets on sugary drinks

    Jan 18, 2023

    University of California's Research Consortium on Beverages and Health, with support from the American Heart Association, has released six short fact sheets to help educate both community members and decision-makers on the risks of over-consumption of sugary drinks. The fact sheets aim to provide the evidence base, expressed in simple talking points:

    The Consortium is comprised of faculty working across the field of sugar science from all ten UC campuses and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. The Consortium is coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute under the leadership of Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht, and Pat Crawford. Please contact Ken Hecht for more information about the Consortium and Christina Hecht for additional resources for community education on healthy beverage choices.


  • NPI job opening: Research Data Analyst

    Jan 17, 2023

    A Research Data Analyst 3 position is available at the Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, located in Oakland, CA. This position will support evaluation studies conducted by NPI through its CalFresh Healthy Living contract with the California Department of Public Health. In California, SNAP-Ed is called CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) and is the largest nutrition education and obesity prevention program in the United States, with more than one-third of California residents eligible for CFHL. The Research Data Analyst 3 position requires the ability to independently perform data analysis, data management, data visualization, and reporting of organizational, policy and environmental data and individual-level data for studies of nutrition, physical activity and obesity. This position is a contract appointment that is 100% fixed through September 30, 2023. The pay scale is $6,908.33 to $9,800.00 per month. More information and instructions on how to apply are available online. The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, protected veteran status or other protected categories covered by the UC nondiscrimination policy.


  • New data brief demonstrates how an increase to the WIC cash value benefit affected fresh fruit and vegetable redemption trends

    Jan 12, 2023

    A new research brief from the Nutrition Policy Institute and PHFE-WIC researchers shows that an increase in the WIC cash value benefit (CVB) enabled WIC participants to introduce more fresh fruits and vegetables to their diets. The CVB was increased in June 2021, from $9 per month to $35 per month per child, and later revised to $24 per month per child in October 2021. After adjustment for inflation, the WIC CVB will remain at $25 per month through September 2023. The data brief represents findings from a larger study of over 2,700 WIC participants in Southern California, which recorded experiences and perceptions of the COVID-related increase to the WIC CVB. Data show that as CVB amounts increased, WIC participants spent more money on fruits and vegetables, and purchased a greater variety of fruit and vegetables. Results support permanent increases to the CVB to increase access to nutritious fruits and vegetables by low-income families. The brief was developed by Catherine Yepez, Christopher Anderson, and Shannon Whaley of PHFE-WIC, a program of Heluna Health, in collaboration with Lauren Au of the University of California, Davis, Department of Nutrition, and Marisa Tsai and Lorrene Ritchie of the Nutrition Policy Institute at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. This research was supported by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Grant No. 77239).


  • New NPI report and brief share results from the CDFA Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program

    Jan 9, 2023

    Lack of refrigeration is reported as a leading barrier to corner stores stocking fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2018, the California legislature funded the Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to offer a Healthy Refrigeration Grant Program, providing grants to corner stores in food resource-poor neighborhoods to purchase refrigeration units to increase access to California-grown fruits and vegetables. A new report from NPI shows storeowners that participated in the program perceived increases in their store's ability to sell produce after installing the CDFA refrigerator. Storeowners reported the CDFA refrigerator allowed them to waste less produce and increase the variety and freshness of produce they sell. Of the 51 storeowners that participated in the study, only 14% reported “lack of refrigeration” as a barrier to stocking fresh fruits and vegetables after participating in the program, compared to 51% before participating in the program. The findings are also summarized in a two-page policy brief. Report and brief authors include Carolyn Chelius and Wendi Gosliner from the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, as well as former NPI intern Caroline Long and volunteer Taylor Baisey from UC Berkeley. The work was funded by CDFA.


  • NPI job opening: Project Policy Analyst 4, CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit Manager

    Dec 16, 2022

    A Project Policy Analyst 4 position is available at the Nutrition Policy Institute, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, located in Oakland, CA. This position will serve as the Unit Manager for NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living contract with the California Department of Public Health. In California, SNAP-Ed is called CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) and is the largest nutrition education and obesity prevention program in the United States, with more than one-third of California residents eligible for CFHL. Under the supervision of the Director of NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, the Unit Manager will provide overall coordination and management of the Unit's projects and activities that aim to understand the process, outcomes, and impact of the CalFresh Healthy Living program. The Unit manager will ensure the activities defined in NPI's contract with the CDPH are executed and deliverables are met in a timely and rigorous fashion. This position is a career appointment that is 100% fixed. The pay scale is $82,900 to $117,600 per year. To assure full consideration, applications must be received by January 13, 2023. The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, protected veteran status or other protected categories covered by the UC nondiscrimination policy.


  • The ACCESS Study investigates take-up of the Earned Income Tax Credit among eligible Californians

    Dec 16, 2022

    The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) lifts more families with children out of poverty than any other social safety net support in the United States. The EITC and the CalEITC provide income support up to $6000 for qualifying economically disadvantaged California families, but studies suggest that at least 20% of eligible families are not accessing the benefits. The Assessing California Communities' Experiences with Safety Net Supports Survey (ACCESS) study was launched to understand awareness, access, and barriers to EITC take-up. A recent ACCESS publication shows that among 411 EITC-eligible California female caregivers of young children interviewed from August 2020 to April 2021, 9% did not receive EITC benefits because they did not file taxes. Another 16% did file taxes but did not get the EITC despite being eligible. The people least likely to receive the EITC may be those who would benefit from it most: people who speak a primary language other than English, younger parents/caregivers, and those with lower incomes. Differences in EITC receipt were found according to how tax filers filed their taxes. The paper, published in the Health Affairs Journal, was written by co-first authors Wendi Gosliner from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute and Rita Hamad from UC San Francisco, as well Erika Brown, Mekhala Hoskote, Kaitlyn Jackson from UC San Francisco, and senior author Lia Fernald from UC Berkeley. The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with additional support from the Tipping Point Foundation and the UC Berkeley Population Center.


  • NPI director to serve on National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee to review interventions to improve infant and toddler feeding behaviors

    Dec 14, 2022

    Lorrene Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute, will serve as an ad-hoc committee member for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study on Complementary Feeding Interventions for Infants and Young Children under Age 2: Scoping of Promising Interventions to Implement at the Community or State-Level. The committee is tasked to conduct a scoping review and assess available information on interventions aimed at improving infant and young child feeding behaviors. The project is sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional committee members include committee chair David A. Savitz from Brown University Alpert Medical School and Frank R. Greer from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, Laura E. Caulfield from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Elizabeth Yakes Jimenez from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Valerie J. Flaherman from the University of California, San Francisco Institute for Health Policy Studies, Rafael Pérez-Escamilla from the Yale School of Public Health, Charlene M. Russell-Tucker from the Connecticut State Department of Education and Shannon E. Whaley from Heluna Health Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC.


  • NPI welcomes Reka Vasicsek as new program assistant

    Dec 13, 2022

    Reka Vasicsek joined the Nutrition Policy Institute on December 6, 2022 as a program assistant. She received her bachelor's degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in French and Spanish literature and obtained her master's degree in human nutrition with a specialization in public health from the University of Glasgow. Reka is passionate about working at the intersection of nutrition, public health, and social justice and working with communities to mitigate the impact of climate change on food security. Her past research focused on the cardiometabolic impacts of fiber supplementation, as well as iodine bioavailability after modulation of the gut microbiome. She has experience assessing school lunch programs and previously worked with Friends of the Earth's climate-friendly school food team. Reka brings her experience to NPI to support operational and research project functions. She will work collaboratively with NPI researchers and business departments at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources and other UC and non-UC locations.


  • Christina Hecht comments on America’s concurrent food and water security crises in a Food & Environment Reporting Network article

    Dec 12, 2022

    Christina Hecht, senior policy adviser with the University of California's Nutrition Policy Institute, was featured in a Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) article titled “Why America's food-security crisis is a water-security crisis, too,” published on November 20, 2022. Hecht's research on drinking water safety, access, and consumption informs her advocacy for equitable water access. Her work also highlights water's importance, as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages. She also coordinates the National Drinking Water Alliance, founded under NPI's leadership in 2015 with the mission of enabling people to choose water. In the FERN article, Hecht highlights the link between making healthy beverage choices and tap water safety, saying, “We discussed whether we needed to prioritize making sure that tap water was safe, but in 2015, we really didn't think that that was a big issue. Then Flint happened.” This story also appeared in Mother Jones journal on November 25, 2022.


  • Nutrition Policy Institute partners with National WIC Association and Pepperdine University to conduct survey of WIC participants from multiple states in 2023

    Dec 9, 2022

    Nutrition Policy Institute will collaborate with the National WIC Association and Pepperdine University to survey WIC participants from multiple states about their experience with WIC services to inform USDA and state efforts to increase participation and retention of women, infant and children on the program. The project builds on previous surveys conducted in multiple states in 2021 with WIC participants on their experience with WIC during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the increase to the WIC Cash Value Benefit for fruits and vegetables. The NPI research project team includes Lorrene Ritchie, Celeste Felix, Ken Hecht, Reka Vasicsek and Hannah Thompson, who will work in collaboration with Loan Kim at Pepperdine University and Christina Chauvenet and Georgia Machel from the National WIC Association. The 23-month project began in November 2022. This project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


  • Policy briefs elevating parent voices on the importance of school meals now available in Spanish

    Dec 8, 2022

    Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nutrition Policy Institute policy team, Christina Hecht and Ken Hecht, have partnered with a Stanford University research team and two San Joaquin Valley community-based organizations, Dolores Huerta Foundation and Cultiva La Salud, to help improve access to school meals using an iterative process of investigation, sharing back and discussion, and policy advocacy. The partnership's work has led to local policy wins in response to parent concerns, for example, adjusting meal service practices during the pandemic to accommodate families' needs, and reducing the amount of flavored milk provided to school children. Their work has supported the development and implementation of California's School Meals for All program as well as federal-level advocacy for a limit on the amount of added sugars permitted in school meals. The team has conducted their work in both Spanish and English and Spanish-language versions of their policy briefs are now available online. Check out both versions:

    This work was supported with funding from the American Heart Association Voices for Healthy Kids, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, Stanford Medical Scholars Program, Stanford Pediatric Resident Research Grant, and Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry. This work also received a United States Public Health Service 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award.


  • NPI leads special issue on improving school nutrition and student health in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

    Dec 8, 2022

    Nutrition Policy Institute researchers served as guest editors for a special issue in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) focusing on 21st-century global innovations in school nutrition to improve the diet, food security, and ultimately the health and well-being of school-aged children. The special issue, titled “Improving School Nutrition: Innovations for the 21st Century” includes over a dozen articles from school nutrition researchers across the globe. Domestic topics included maintaining school food operations and summer meal distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools' responses to student wellness needs during COVID, optimizing school nutrition programs post-COVID, the impact of a universal school breakfast program, efficacy and cost-effective of transitioning from whole apples to sliced apples in the national school lunch program, parental perceptions of school meal nutritional quality, evaluating the prevalence of using evidence-based practices to increase student meal participation and decrease food waste across a national sample of elementary schools, and evaluating food packaging waste in schools. International topics included evaluation of school food policies in New Zealand, an evaluation of school curriculum to support improved food literacy across 11 countries, diet quality of children participating in the United Kingdom's holiday food program and evaluating an educational intervention to improve the dietary habit of school-aged children in vulnerable socioeconomic conditions in Peru. Guest editors of the special issue include NPI's Wendi Gosliner and Lorrene Ritchie in collaboration with Gurpinder Singh Lalli at from the University of Wolverhampton in the UK. All 14 articles included in the special issue are available open-access online.


  • NPI receives grant to evaluate the impact of the California Fruit and Vegetable pilot on farmers markets and CalFresh shoppers

    Nov 23, 2022

    The California Fruit and Vegetable EBT Pilot Project aims to develop and refine a scalable model for increasing the purchase and consumption of California-grown fresh fruits and vegetables by delivering supplemental benefits to CalFresh recipients in a way that can be easily adopted by USDA Food and Nutrition Service authorized retailers in the future. The California Department of Social Services EBT, in partnership with CalFresh, Office of Systems Integration, and California Department of Food & Agriculture awarded three grants to non-profit organizations or government agencies to meet this goal. Nutrition Policy Institute's Wendi Gosliner received $90,313 as part of a larger $537,690 grant from CDSS to collaborate with the Ecology Center to evaluate and understand the experiences and impacts of the pilot project on farmers' market managers, vendors, and CalFresh shoppers. The Ecology Center of Berkeley coordinates the Market Match consortium and will pilot the new program in Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Alameda, Napa and Sacramento counties. The two-year project began on October 1, 2022. The NPI project team includes Carolyn Chelius and Sridharshi Hewawitharana. Gosliner has conducted evaluations of CDFA's Nutrition Incentive Program for the past five years.


  • Research brief on study that identified limited implementation of California’s Healthy Default Beverage law

    Nov 4, 2022

    A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute describes a study that identified limited implementation of California's Healthy Default Beverage Law (SB 1192) for orders made online. The law requires restaurants selling children's meals that include a beverage to make the default beverage water, sparkling water, flavored water with no added natural or artificial sweeteners, or unflavored milk or non-dairy milk alternative. Researchers randomly sampled 226 fast food restaurants located in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) eligible census tracts in California and “ordered” 631 kids' meals from restaurant websites and three popular online ordering platforms. Researchers recorded beverage offerings as well as additional charges (“upcharges”) for beverages. Findings indicate that only 6% of orders reflected optimal implementation of the Healthy-by-Default Beverage law. Further, 41% of orders that offered water had an upcharge ($0.51 on average) and 11% of orders that offered unflavored milk had an up charge ($0.38 on average). No observations had upcharges for soda. The findings indicate that, in order to support California's SNAP-Ed goal for reducing sugar sweetened beverage intake, specific language, monitoring, and future legislation may be necessary to ensure the law is applied to online-ordering and in-restaurant self-service kiosks. The study and research brief were authored by NPI's Cal Fresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including Hannah Thompson, Ron Strochlic, Sonali Singh, Kaela Plank, Anna Martin, and Gail Woodward-Lopez.


  • Wendi Gosliner honored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Susie Nanney Culture of Health Champion Award

    Nov 1, 2022

    Nutrition Policy Institute researcher Wendi Gosliner received the Susie Nanney Culture of Health Champion Award in recognition of her work on improving nutrition for marginalized populations and promoting a culture of health in the design and implementation of food assistance programs. She was honored with the award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellows Program—of which Wendi is a 2013-2014 alumna—which was presented to her at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine building in Washington, DC, on Oct. 14, 2022 during their annual meeting. Wendi is the principal investigator or co-principal investigator of several collaborative research projects that exemplify her award, including but not limited to: a California Department of Agriculture-funded project to increase access to and consumption of California-grown specialty crops in the California corrections system, a California state-funded evaluation of California's universal school meals program, and two RWJF-funded projects to explore perceptions and take up of the earned-income tax credit and other safety net supports among young California families with low-income.


  • New study identifies benefits of and challenges to participation in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program by independent child care centers and their sponsors

    Oct 31, 2022

    The federal Child and Adult Care Food Program provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks for over 4.2 million children in the US at participating child care sites. Nutrition Policy Institute researchers collaborated with the CACFP Roundtable to identify benefits of and barriers to participating in the CACFP by independent child care centers and their sponsors. Nearly one-in-three child care centers participating in CACFP across the nation are considered independent centers, meaning they are independently owned and operated, not owned by a corporation and operate at a single physical site. Through focus groups and interviews conducted with 16 independent centers and 5 sponsors of independent centers in California, December 2021 through March 2022, researchers identified several benefits of and barriers to CACFP participation as well several facilitators to support participation. The study also highlighted the important role sponsors play in supporting independent centers to participate in the CACFP. The participating centers and sponsors were geographically diverse, located across all California Department of Social Services-established CACFP administrative regions, from both rural and non-rural settings. Length of CACFP-participation ranged from one to 10 or more years, and one tribal and one government/military independent center also participated in the study. Findings were published in an article in the journal Nutrients as well as a research brief. The study was conducted by Lorrene Ritchie, Danielle Lee, and Christina Hecht from NPI, in collaboration with Elyse Homel Vitale and Samantha Marshall from the CACFP Roundtable, and Lindsay Beck from the University of California, San Francisco, Nutrition & Food Services. The study was funded by the California Department of Social Services.


  • New study assesses the impact of socioeconomic stressors on health outcomes among caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic

    Oct 28, 2022

    The COVID-19 pandemic caused sudden economic, childcare, and housing disruptions to families with low incomes and young children, resulting in poor health outcomes such as food insecurity and depressive symptoms. These findings are shared in a new study that interviewed 464 racially diverse female caregivers with low income in California. Data collected as part of the Assessing California Communities' Experiences with Safety Net Supports Survey (ACCESS) from August 2020 to May 2021 showed that most caregivers reported disruptions to childcare and employment, and fewer reported housing disruptions. The women experiencing childcare and housing disruptions had significantly higher depressive symptoms, lower self-rated health and greater food insecurity than those not experiencing the disruptions. Experiencing employment disruptions was not associated with the health outcomes assessed. The research highlights structural deficits of policies and other supports for those facing childcare and housing disruptions during the pandemic, and suggests avenues to enhance the health of families with young children. The study published in the BMC Public Health Journal was conducted by Erika M. Brown, Rita Hamad, and Kaitlyn E. Jackson from the University of California San Francisco, Lia C.H. Fernald and Mekhala Hoskote with the University of California Berkeley, and Wendi Gosliner with the Nutrition Policy Institute. This project was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Tipping Point, University of California (R00RG2805), University of California Office of the President, and Berkeley Population Center at the University of California, Berkeley.


  • Lorrene Ritchie quoted in News Nation article on research to support the increased Cash Value Benefit for WIC participants to spend on fruits and vegetables

    Oct 27, 2022

    Lorrene Ritchie, Nutrition Policy Institute director and cooperative extension specialist, was quoted in an Oct. 17, 2022 News Nation article, “WIC extension led to fewer hungry kids; will it continue?”. The article speaks to the impact of inflation and supply chain issues on families and their ability to afford groceries. Done in collaboration with Dr. Shannon Whaley and her team at Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC, NPI research involving participants of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) was highlighted in the article. Her work to understand how the recent federal increase in money WIC participants receive to spend on fruits and vegetables, known as the Cash Value Benefit, was featured. Ritchie was quoted, “going up by just $15 a month per child may not sound like much, but for many families, it adds up, especially if there are multiple young children in the program.” The article also includes quotes from several WIC families in her study who benefited from the increase in money from WIC to spend on fruits and vegetables.