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Posts Tagged: Nutrition Policy Institute

Study finds schools across the nation have too much lead in drinking water

Despite increasing awareness of the issue of lead in drinking water, UC Nutrition Policy Institute and Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that many students in the U.S. attend public schools in states where not all taps are tested for lead, according to reports in various media outlets including The Guardian, NBC News and The Nation.

“All kids, no matter where they live, should have access to safe drinking water in school,” said Angie Cradock of Harvard's Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, who led the study team. “Drinking water is important for helping kids grow up healthy, and water should be safe to drink.”

Many students attend public schools in the U.S. where tap water is not tested for lead contamination.

The researchers found that there is no uniformity in states' approaches to create and oversee programs to test for elevated lead in school drinking water. When collected, data are not regularly made available to guide action to reduce potential exposure to lead. About half of the country's students are at public schools in states that don't have programs or requirements to test drinking water in those schools.

Of the 24 states (plus Washington, D.C.) with a statewide program to test school drinking water for lead, only 12 states had data that could be analyzed by the research team. In these 12 states, 44 percent of all schools had at least one tap that tested higher than their state's threshold for action, and 12 percent of all samples had a lead concentration higher than the state's action level. The report also describes the features of statewide initiatives in operation between Jan. 1, 2016, and Feb. 28, 2018, in 24 states and the District of Columbia to conduct testing for lead in school drinking water.

The report was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

For more information, see the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health website.

Posted on Thursday, March 7, 2019 at 4:40 PM
Focus Area Tags: Family Health

NPI study finds that prices for fruits and vegetables may be higher in low-income neighborhoods

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

Published online in March 2018 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study, conducted by researchers at UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, involved more than 200 large grocery stores, 600 small markets, and 600 convenience stores in 225 low-income neighborhoods (where at least half of the population was at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) and compared observed prices to purchased price data from chain grocery stores in the same counties during the same months.

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a Nutrition Policy Institute study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

The study found that produce prices for the items examined (apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and tomatoes) were higher in stores in low-income neighborhoods than the average prices of those items sold in stores in the same counties during the same month. Fruits and vegetables for sale in convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods were significantly more expensive than those for sale in small markets or large grocery stores. Yet even in large grocery stores the study found prices in the low-income neighborhoods to be higher than average county grocery store prices during the same month.

“Americans eat too few fruits and vegetables to support optimal health, and we know that dietary disparities among socioeconomic groups are increasing,” said study author Wendi Gosliner. “This study suggests that one important issue may be fruit and vegetable prices — not just that calorie-per-calorie fruits and vegetables are more expensive than many unhealthy foods, but also that there are equity issues in terms of relative prices in neighborhoods where lower-income Californians live.”

Additionally, the study examined the quality and availability of fruits and vegetables in stores and found that while less than half of convenience stores (41 percent) sold fresh produce, even fewer (1 in 5) sold a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, and few of the items that were for sale were rated by trained observers to be high quality (25 percent for fruits and 14 percent for vegetables).

“This study suggests that convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods currently fail to provide access to high-quality, competitively priced fresh fruits and vegetables," said Pat Crawford, nutrition expert and study author. “A healthy diet can prevent disease and reduce health care costs in the state. States need to explore new ways to help ensure that families, particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods where convenience stores are the only food retailers, have access to healthy, high-quality foods that are affordable,” Crawford added.

The study also found that convenience stores participating in federal food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]) were more likely to sell fresh produce and to offer higher quality and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than stores not participating in either program.

The study was conducted under contract with the California Department of Public Health. Funding is from USDA SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 9:05 AM
Focus Area Tags: Family Food Health

Announcing California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Nutrition Policy Institute are pleased to announce March 5 - 9, 2018, as California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week. During this week, a range of partners statewide, including the Governor, the Secretary of Agriculture, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as many other agency leaders in public health, natural resources management, nutrition, and other sectors, are coming together in an unprecedented collaboration to raise awareness about the impacts of food waste in our homes, workplaces and communities.

This collaboration grew out of a meeting held in February 2017 in which the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute jointly convened state agencies delivering nutrition education programming to discuss the impacts of food waste and strategize solutions the agencies could advance together. The planning group identified an opportunity to generate and issue shared messaging during National Nutrition Month, a goal that has evolved into California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week, a coordinated multi-sector effort to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and social impacts of food waste in California.

Food waste is a significant issue. The United States is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill. That translates to $218 billion lost, including costs of food to consumers and retailers, as well as costs of wasted water, energy, fertilizer, cropland, production, storage and transportation. CalRecycle estimates that Californians throw away almost 12 billion pounds of food each year – 18% of all landfill use in this state. The food in landfills decomposes and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

In addition, that food loss could have fed people, not landfills, if only it had been used, instead of tossed. In California, nearly 5 million people are food insecure, lacking consistent access to enough food. Roughly 1 in 8 Californians are experiencing hunger, and 1 in 5 of those are children. 



Reducing food waste requires action by partners throughout the food system. During Food Waste Prevention Week, stay tuned to the Nutrition Policy Institute Twitter page and the UC ANR Twitter and Facebook pages for food waste prevention resources, tips and ideas.

You can also share food waste prevention ideas by participating in the Food Waste Reduction Hero Photo Challenge. Simply take a few photos that show how food waste happens in your home, workplace or community and what actions/changes you're making to reduce food waste. Share your submissions via social media platforms using the hashtag #SaveTheFoodCA and tag @SaveTheFood on Twitter and/or Instagram, or email your submissions  to SaveTheFoodCA@gmail.com. Please include your location.

For more about Food Waste Prevention Week, read Rose Hayden-Smith's UC Food Observer article, see the Nutrition Policy Institute's Research to Action news brief, and watch UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston's video.  


Even incorporating a few simple food waste prevention actions has great potential to reduce food waste in California. Your efforts to be a Food Waste Reduction Hero this week, and into the future, will make an impact.   

Thank you for helping to make a difference during this inaugural California Food Waste Prevention Week!

 

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 8:09 AM

Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

No joke: The reality of the starving student and what UC is doing to help

As we celebrate the winter holiday season with its many joyful occasions, it's sobering to think how many people are in need of nutritious food. Millions of people are at risk of going hungry, says Feeding America. And according to groundbreaking studies by the University of California, we now know that a large number of college students are among the hungry.

A significant problem, “starving students” are not a lighthearted joke: students are going hungry and sometimes homeless, too. Food and housing insecurity among college students threatens their health, as well as their academic achievements.

Gauging college student food insecurity

The University of California began examining the issue of student food insecurity in 2015 with the Student Food Access and Security Surveys funded by President Napolitano as part of the UC Global Food Initiative. The resulting Student Food Access and Security Study was authored by the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute's Lorrene Ritchie and Suzanna Martinez and UC Santa Barbara's Katie Maynard.

The Student Food Access and Security Study examined the results of two surveys administered online in spring 2015 to a random sample of more than 66,000 students across all 10 UC campuses. Fourteen percent of the students -- 8,932 undergraduate and graduate students in all -- responded.

Nineteen percent of the students responding to the survey had “very low” food security, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent of survey respondents had “low” food security, which the USDA defines as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Added together, an alarming 42 percent of the students surveyed were food insecure.

Communicating best practices and lessons learned

Soon after the Student Food Access and Security Survey results were published, partners of the UC Global Food Initiative throughout the UC system began developing the Student Food Access and Security toolkit.

The toolkit compiles best practices that have evolved at UC campuses as the university advanced efforts to nourish and support students.

Each section of the toolkit provides examples across multiple campuses to highlight the range of activities underway, as well as lessons learned.

Meeting basic needs: Food security and housing security

Expenses other than tuition can make up more than 60 percent of the cost of attending college today. The cost of living for college students has risen by more than 80 percent over the past four decades.

To better understand the prevalence of food insecurity among University of California students, the university has continued to examine the issue of student food insecurity and is beginning to assess students' housing insecurity. Food security and housing security are basic needs that students must meet to maintain their health and well-being so that they can focus on achieving academically.

Moving forward: implementing a basic needs master plan

A new report, “Global Food Initiative: Food and Housing Security at the University of California” was released December 20, 2017, and an executive summary is also available. This new report recognizes student basic needs as a statewide and national issue.

UC has done much over the past three years to help students meet basic needs. The findings from the new report will help UC go even further. The new findings will inform strategies for addressing basic needs security, including the creation of a UC basic needs master plan.

Perhaps we can retire the “joke” of the starving student after all.

Additional resources:

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 12:56 PM
Focus Area Tags: Health

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