Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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The UC Nutrition Policy Institute drives a drinking water movement

The National Drinking Water Alliance wants to make water the easy, appealing substitute for sugary beverages. (Photo: CC BY 2.0)
The Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) in Oakland has been funded to serve as the hub of a new national alliance that works on issues in drinking water safety, access and consumption.

The alliance aims to make plain water the easy, appealing substitute for sugary beverages – soda, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and sweetened coffee and tea drinks. The alliance is also actively working on the safety of tap water in the nation's schools and childcare settings.

“To make water the beverage of choice will require a movement,” said Christina Hecht, a member of the NPI team. “NPI will build bridges, spearhead the creation of shared resources, align messages, strategies and aims, and coordinate strong external communications.”

NPI was formed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2014 to conduct, evaluate and share research related to the impact of nutrition and physical activity on public health. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded NPI a $960,000 grant to coordinate the National Drinking Water Alliance for three years.

“Even when water is available, too many children and adults choose sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Hecht, who will serve as the National Drinking Water Alliance coordinator. “In our American diet, sugary drinks are the top source of added sugars for both adults and children, and, remarkably, they are the single largest source of calories for teens aged 14 to 18.”

But Hecht is quick to point out that if people are to make the switch to water, water needs to be easily accessible and they need to know that it is safe to drink.

High consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with obesity and other chronic health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. UCLA scientists reported in March that the diabetes epidemic in California is “out of control.” The study says 55 percent of the state's population has prediabetes or diabetes – many of them are undiagnosed.

“Simply switching to water is a relatively easy lifestyle change that can have a big impact on the intake of added sugar and excess calories, reducing diabetes risk,” Hecht said. “It can also improve oral health.”

The National Drinking Water Alliance includes government agencies, education officials, researchers, water industries, and non-governmental organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Academy of Pediatrics Campaign for Dental Health, and the American Heart Association. They believe by sharing knowledge, resources and connections, they will hasten progress toward their common goal.

Fortunately, the current state of safe drinking water in the U.S. is mostly favorable. About 90 percent of Americans get their water from public utilities and 95 percent of those supply safe water. In some areas, however, water can become contaminated on the path between utility and tap, typically with lead. Sometimes other contaminants can leach in through breaks in pipes.

“We all recognize that, if we are going to tell people to drink water, they need to have confidence that the tap water is safe,” Hecht said. “At the moment, we don't know the magnitude of the problem of unsafe drinking water. The alliance is highly focused on policy as the most effective tool to bring about broad change.”

The National Drinking Water Alliance plans a Congressional hearing on national drinking water and is developing best practices for effective access to safe drinking water in schools and childcare settings.

Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at 8:48 AM

UC Irvine’s Sorooshian to lead Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy

Soroosh Sorooshian

The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has appointed Soroosh Sorooshian as chair of the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy. Sorooshian is distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at UC Irvine.

The forum, a program of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources, was launched in 1996 with an endowment gift from the Bank of America honoring then-retiring bank chairman and CEO Richard Rosenberg. Experts from all over the world convene at the Rosenberg Forum to identify ways in which conflict in the management of water resources can be reduced and to promote science-based policies to govern the management of water resources.

“I'm delighted that the University of California, through the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, is carrying out the vision of Richard Rosenberg in reducing conflict in water resources management through dialogue and information sharing between scientists and policymakers,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “We are pleased that Dr. Soroosh Sorooshian, with his wide range of expertise and prominence in the international community, will be leading this important work as the incoming chair of the Rosenberg Forum.”

The forum meets biennially at different locations around the world. Previous forums have been held in San Francisco (1997), Spain (1999 and 2008), Australia (2002), Turkey (2004), Canada (2006), Argentina (2010), and Jordan (2013). The most recent forum was in January 2016 in Panama City, Panama.

“Over the past 30 years, the Rosenburg Forum has raised UC's stature in international water conflict resolutions,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The forum will continue to develop new approaches and solutions to addressing water problems around the world under the leadership of Dr. Sorooshian, an accomplished and brilliant scientist.”

Attendance at the forum is by invitation and limited to 50 water scholars and senior water managers. Participants devote their time at each forum to discussions of previously commissioned papers, which are published following the meeting. The conclusions and findings of each forum are also published.

“The need for approaches and solutions to securing clean, reliable water sources crosses all political, ethnic and territorial boundaries,” said UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman. “But how we get to those solutions varies greatly, depending on culture, financial resources and social norms. I'm confident that Soroosh Sorooshian will be able to find ways to transcend the differences and find workable solutions for all. I'm proud that UCI can contribute to making great progress on such global issues.”

Sorooshian is also director of the Center for Hydrometeorology and Remote Sensing in the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UC Irvine. His fields of interest include hydrometeorology, water resources systems, climate studies and application of remote sensing to water resources issues in arid and semi-arid zones. Sorooshian is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has garnered many international and national awards for his work. His appointment was effective April 1, 2016.

“I am honored to be appointed chair of the Rosenberg Forum and serve after my dear colleague Henry Vaux Jr., professor emeritus of resource economics at the University of California Riverside, who has filled this role since the forum was established,” Sorooshian said. “I've also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rosenberg. He is a remarkable and humble man whose wisdom and knowledge of international issues are unmatched. I thank him for sharing his vision of the role the Rosenberg Forum can play in addressing international water issues, and I look forward to this new opportunity.”      

UC releases new cost studies for growing almonds

Almonds growing on the tree.
UC Agricultural Issues Center has released three new studies on the cost and returns of growing almonds in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys. One study focuses on organic production of almonds.

The cost analyses are based on hypothetical farm operations of well-managed orchards, using practices common to each region. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the studies. Two studies estimate the costs for establishing and producing almonds grown in the northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Valley using micro-sprinkler irrigation. These are multi-year studies, estimating costs from previous crop (orchard removal) through orchard establishment and the production years.

The study for organic almonds takes into consideration growing conditions in the northern San Joaquin Valley and complying with the National Organic Program. This study is based on an orchard that began the transition period and certification as organic after the second year of establishment. The trees in this study are in production and at full bearing. This organic almond orchard uses a solid-set sprinkler system.

The economic life of the orchards used in this cost analysis is 25 years. The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for the almond crop, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.

Almond orchard in bloom.
The new studies are titled as follows:

  • Sample Costs to Establish an Orchard and Produce Almonds in the San Joaquin Valley – North- 2016
  • Sample Costs to Establish an Orchard and Produce Almonds in the Sacramento Valley – 2016
  • Sample Costs to Produce Organic Almonds in the San Joaquin Valley - North - 2016

Free copies of these studies and other sample cost of production studies for many commodities are available. To download the cost studies, visit the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.

The cost and returns program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center, which is part of UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Don Stewart at the Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or destewart@ucdavis.edu, or Christine Gutierrez at (530) 752-1520 or cagut@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 2:16 PM

It's not just climate change: Study finds human activity is a major factor driving wildfires

Beyond climate change, humans contribute another set of factors that influence wildfires, including where structures are built, and the frequency and location of ignitions from a variety of sources—everything from cigarettes on the highway, to electrical poles that get blown down in Santa Ana winds.
A new study examining wildfires in California found that human activity explains as much about their frequency and location as climate influences. The researchers systematically looked at human (anthropogenic) behaviors and climate change together, which is unique and rarely attempted on an area of land this large.

The findings suggest many models of wildfire predictions do not accurately account for anthropogenic factors and may therefore be misleading when identifying the main causes/drivers of wildfires. The newest model proportionately accounts for climate change and human behavioral threats and allows experts to more accurately predict how much land is at risk of burning in California through 2050, which is estimated at more than 7 million acres in the next 25 years.

Climate change affects the severity of the fire season and the amount and type of vegetation on the land, which are major variables in predicting wildfires. However, humans contribute another set of factors that influence wildfires, including where structures are built, and the frequency and location of ignitions from a variety of sources—everything from cigarettes on the highway, to electrical poles that get blown down in Santa Ana winds. As a result of the near-saturation of the landscape, humans are currently responsible for igniting more than 90 percent of the wildfires in California.

“Individuals don't have much control over how climate change will effect wildfires in the future. However, we do have the ability to influence the other half of the equation, those variables that control our impact on the landscape,” said Michal Mann, assistant professor of geography at George Washington University and lead author of the study. “We can reduce our risks by disincentivizing housing development in fire-prone areas, better managing public land, and rethinking the effectiveness of our current firefighting approach.”

The researchers found that by omitting the human influence on California wildfires, they were overstating the influence of climate change. The authors recommend considering climate change and human variables at the same time for future models.

“There is widespread agreement about the importance of climate on wildfire at relatively broad scales. At more local scales, however, you can get the story quite wrong if you don't include human development patterns,” said co-author Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension fire ecology specialist whose lab is at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is an important finding about how we model climate change effects, and it also confirms that getting a handle on where and how we build our communities is essential to limiting future losses.”

Between 1999 and 2011, California reported an average of $160 million in annual wildfire-related damages, with nearly 13,000 homes and other structures destroyed in so-called state responsibility areas - fire jurisdictions maintained by California, according to Mann. During this same period, California and the U.S. Forest Service spent more than $5 billion on wildfire suppression.

In a model from 2014 that examined California wildfires' destruction over the last 60 years, Dr. Mann estimated that fire damage will more than triple by mid-century, increasing to nearly half a billion dollars annually. “This information is critical to policymakers, planners, and fire managers, to determine wildfire risks,” he said.

The paper, “Incorporating Anthropogenic Influences into Fire Probability Models: Effects of Human Activity and Climate Change on Fire Activity in California,” published Thursday in PLOS ONE.

Press release written by Emily Grebenstein, George Washington University, emgreb@gwu.edu, 202-994-3087

Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2016 at 1:19 PM
  • Contact: Jeannette Warnert, (559) 240-9850, jewarnert@ucanr.edu
Tags: Climate Change (6), Max Moritz (4), wildfire (12)

WIC food improves preschool children’s diet quality

UC researchers found that half of WIC kids had eaten green vegetables the previous day, in contrast to only one in five non-WIC children.
In the U.S., where one of five children entering elementary school is overweight, a healthy diet is critical for preschool children, who are setting their eating patterns for the future.

In 2009, more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk were included in the food package provided by USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). As a result, the quality of diets improved for the roughly 4 million children who are served by WIC, according to a study by researchers at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital in Oakland, UC San Francisco and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute.

“Although the findings only showed significant improvement for consumption of greens and beans, the other areas for which WIC has put in important efforts – increased consumption of whole fruits rather than fruit juice, increased whole grains – all show trends in the right direction,” said lead author June Tester, a physician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, “and there is opportunity for further study in the future when more years have passed after this landmark change in the WIC package.”

Diets of children age 2 to 4 compared

For the UC study, which will be published in the May issue of Pediatrics journal, researchers analyzed the diets of 1,197 children, ages 2 to 4 years, from low-income households before and after the 2009 change in the food package.

The researchers used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to compare a nationally representative sample from 2003 to 2008 with diets in 2011 to 2012. The researchers calculated the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), which is a score with 100 possible points measuring adherence to dietary guidelines, from two 24-hour diet recalls. For children in households using WIC, this score increased from 52.4 to 58.3 after the policy change. After adjusting for characteristics in the sample and trends in the comparison group, the researchers showed that there was an increase of 3.7 points that was attributable to the WIC package change. This represents important evidence of an improvement in the diets for these children in WIC households.

Children don't eat enough green vegetables

“Vegetables are part of a healthful diet, but in general, children don't eat enough of them,” Tester said. Using the Healthy Eating Index, the researchers calculated the Greens and Beans score, which counts dark green vegetables and includes any legumes, such as beans and peas, that were not already counted as protein foods on a different score. 

After the food package was changed, the Greens and Beans score increased for children in WIC but not for their counterparts. Roughly half of the children in WIC households had eaten some vegetables, whereas only one in five non-WIC children had consumed any green vegetables at all in the two days their parents were surveyed.

Important policy change

The change in the WIC food package is an important policy change in the effort to improve the quality of diets of young children, said Tester, a pediatrician.

Tester noted that the results of this study will be useful to the Institute of Medicine committee that is reviewing and assessing the nutritional status and food needs of the WIC-eligible population and the impact of the 2009 revision to WIC food packages. The committee will make recommendations for changing the food packages.

Establishing healthy eating patterns

“Increasing consumption of nutritious foods such as green leafy vegetables and whole grains in the low-income children served by WIC will help them establish healthier eating patterns for their future,” said co-author Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist with UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The switch from whole milk to low-fat milk was​ ​well received by the clientele and did not result in decreased milk consumption among the preschoolers, noted Tester, Crawford and co-author Cindy Leung, postdoctoral scholar at UCSF Center for Health and Community.

This study is the first to report on the significant improvements in diet quality in young children associated with the WIC package change using a nationally representative sample, and the first to do so with the updated Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010). The National Institutes for Health funded this study.

Para leer la versión en español de este artículo, visite http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/Noticias/?uid=6735&ds=199.

Posted on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 9:00 PM

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