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

UC blogs

As Americans struggle with obesity and diabetes, help is on the way

Introduction of new nutrition facts labels will provide more information to consumers.
The iconic black-and-white Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods in the U.S. is getting its first makeover in two decades. The federal government's decision last month to update the food label means that for the first time, beginning in 2018, labels will list how much added sugar is in a product.

The decision, reflecting the latest science, will be felt well beyond the label. University of California food experts praised the labeling changes and offered six key takeaways.

1. Listing added sugar is the most important label change.

The new label will list the amount of added sugar in a product, both in grams and as a percentage of the daily recommended allowance.

“That's key,” said Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor of health policy and UC Global Food Initiative subcommittee member. “That will be really helpful for consumers.”

Added sugar – any sugar added in the preparation of foods such as table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and others – can be found in hundreds of products such as cereal, yogurt, pasta sauce and salad dressing. But the biggest source is sugar-sweetened beverages, which account for nearly half of Americans' intake of added sugar.

One 20-ounce soda will take you over the recommended amount of sugar for an entire day,” said Pat Crawford, senior director of research for the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The new label will allow people to reasonably see what they're doing when they're consuming high-sugar products.”

The current label lumps added sugar with naturally occurring sugars in the foods themselves, which is a deceptive practice, said Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley clinical professor emeritus and editorial board chair of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Listing added sugar “will hopefully guide people away from consuming products with a lot of added sugar,” he said.

Pat Crawford
2. Americans need to consume less sugar.

More than one out of three adults in the U.S. is obese. Nearly half of U.S. adults have prediabetes or diabetes, raising their risk of heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. Among U.S. children, more than 1 in 6 is obese, and diabetes and prediabetes rates are rising. Amid these alarming statistics, there's a growing concern about too much added sugar in diets.

“It's important to give the public the information they need in order to modify their diets,” Crawford said. “We are now finding significant effects on diabetes and heart disease rates for those who regularly consume sugary beverages. A large study of women over an eight-year period found that the risk of diabetes among women who consumed one or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day was nearly double the risk among women who consumed less than one serving per month. Further, drinking one 12-ounce soda a day increases the risk of cardiovascular mortality by almost one-third.”

Crawford noted that the new federal dietary guidelines for the first time recommend limiting added sugars in the diet to no more than 10 percent of one's daily calories.

“The average amount of added sugar in the American diet is more than 20 teaspoons per day, nearly all of which is added to our foods during processing,” Crawford said. “Since about half of this sugar comes in the form of beverages, we have to rethink our beverage choices. Water should be the beverage of choice.”

Consumers will be very surprised to see the percentage of daily value of added sugar in one soda drink, said Michael Roberts, executive director of the UCLA Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy and UC Global Food Initiative subcommittee member. “Time will tell whether this information changes human behavior, i.e., consuming less soda. To be fair, sugar pops up everywhere, not just soda, so the impact that these changes will have on consumers and manufacturers will be interesting to watch.”

3. Expect manufacturers to make product changes.

When the federal government required that manufacturers add trans fat information on the label a decade ago, the food industry responded by marketing more products with lower trans fats, Crawford said.

“Trans fats are now not allowed to be added to foods during processing, but it all began with labeling,” Crawford said. “We're going to see some big shifts in the marketplace with products lower in sugars such as cereals, yogurts, spaghetti sauces and beverages, of course. We can look forward to recipe reformulation, which will make products more competitive. It's a great first step for reducing sugar consumption. In preparation for the new labels, manufacturers are working on creating products with lower levels of added sugars.”

For manufacturers, the trick will be to keep food tasting good to consumers while reducing sugar, Roberts said. “Other large manufacturers will pursue new products that are not heavy on added sugars,” Roberts said. “For example, Coke and Pepsi sell bottled water.”

“There is a push to at least re-size products,” Schmidt added. “There certainly will be an effort for front-of-package labeling that says ‘low sugar.'”

4. The new label could lead to regulations limiting sugar.

“Including added sugar on the label will be a game-changer for those debates about what is a healthy diet for people in the federal food-assistance programs,” said Schmidt, lead investigator on the UCSF-led SugarScience research and education initiative. “Once you've got added sugar on the label along with a daily reference value, policymakers will be in the position to set standards for the quantity of added sugar allowed in school lunches and other federal food programs.”

Changes like this have happened before, Schmidt noted. “In the U.K., the government said salt consumption is way too high and mandated that packaged food manufacturers reduce the amount of sodium in their products. It worked like a charm – they just gradually reduced the excess salt in foods to everyone's benefit.”

5. The new label makes changes beyond sugar.

The new label also will list more realistic serving sizes and will list calories in a larger and bolder font. “This will help people assess how many calories they are actually consuming,” Swartzberg said. (View a complete list of label changes here.)

6. Further steps could help consumers.

While praising the label changes, UC experts say further steps could help consumers make more informed choices:

  • Adding front-of-package labeling that states whether the product is high in sugar, salt or fat: “This banner on the front of packages would make it simple for a consumer to see whether a food is healthy or whether it has ingredients that contribute to risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity or cancer,” Crawford said.
  • Having food vendors add “stoplight” stickers: “There is the stoplight idea of labeling products with green, yellow and red stickers – green for the low-sugar products and red for the high-sugar ones,” offered Schmidt.
  • Promoting environmentally sustainable food practices: “(We should) consume more plant-based foods and less meat,” Swartzberg suggested.
  • Increasing research: “The label change is not enough: Further research, education and sound policies will need to be developed to motivate more healthy eating,” Roberts said.

 

The new Nutrition Facts label shows calories in large, bold print and specifies the amount of 'added sugars.'

 

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 8:09 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg

Root out weed problems with upcoming courses at UC Davis

Weed Day

Weeds are a pervasive and expensive problem in California. They can choke waterways, crowd out native species on rangeland, and rob farmers of crop yields. According to the California Invasive Plant Council, the annual cost of invasive plant work in California is at least $82 million.

The University of California has robust educational resources to help those engaged in the battle, and this summer UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources personnel are offering a trio of programs to help in the effort.

Weed Day: July 7, 2016

The 60th annual Weed Day will be held at UC Davis on July 7 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program gets under way in the Buehler Alumni Center.

Weed Day will be of interest to pest control advisers, chemical company cooperators, faculty, students and regulatory officials. It is an opportunity to learn about the latest research and to visit current weed-control field trials. The event begins with a bus tour to the research plots. Following lunch, staff and students will present information on projects that are either not in-season or located too far off campus for viewing.

“We have tomatoes, walnuts, and almonds, as well as aquatic research results, and a weed identification quiz,” said professor and UC Cooperative Extension specialist Kassim Al-Khatib, chair of this year's event. “We'll be hearing about control of medusahead, management in grapes, a new herbicide for rice, and many studies on herbicide resistance issues.”

For additional information and to register.

Diagnosing Herbicide Symptoms: July 8, 2016

The Weed Research and Information Center at UC Davis is offering a new course, Diagnosing Herbicide Symptoms, on July 8 at the Bowley Plant Science Teaching Center.

This program will be of interest to pest control advisers, chemical companies, field investigators and insurance adjusters. The course focuses on how an herbicide injury situation can arise, what information can help diagnose herbicide problems during field investigations, and what tools are available.

Topics include herbicide modes of action, symptom development, recovery from herbicide injury, economic damage, and other areas. Instruction takes place in a lecture, field visit, and hands-on demonstrations. Course instructors include UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) specialists Kassim Al-Khatib and Brad Hanson, UCCE farm advisor John Roncoroni, and Napa County Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark.

For additional information and to register.

Aquatic Weed School: Sept. 7–8, 2016

The Aquatic Weed School will be held Sept. 7–8 at the Bowley Plant Science Teaching Center.

This intensive course is designed for those involved in consulting, research and management of aquatic weed systems throughout the western United States. Topics include ecological classification and impacts of aquatic weeds, biology of aquatic weeds, physical and chemical characteristics of aquatic ecosystems, regulatory issues, developing an aquatic management plan, aquatic weed identification, equipment demonstration, adjuvants and surfactants for aquatic systems, pest prevention for aquatic weeds, physical and mechanical control methods, biological control, chemical and non-chemical control, and a case study of a complex management plan.

For additional information and to register.

Need more information? Contact Gale Pérez with the UC Weed Research and Information Center, (530) 752-1748, gperez@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 8:41 AM

Insight into the environmental impacts of cannabis agriculture

Google Earth Image of a cannabis grow site. The resolution of Google Earth images allowed the researchers to detect marijuana plants that were previously missed with other remote sensing techniques.
As policy liberalization rapidly transforms the multi-billion-dollar cannabis agriculture industry in the United States, the need for regulation and assessment of environmental impacts becomes increasingly apparent. 

A recent study led by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic used high resolution satellite imagery to conduct a systematic survey of cannabis production and to explore its potential ecological consequences. 

Published this spring in Environmental Research Letters, the study focused on the “emerald-triangle” in northern California's Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, which many believe is the top cannabis-producing region in the United States.

The UC Berkeley-based Butsic and his co-author Jacob Brenner used Google Earth imagery to locate and map grow sites (both greenhouses and outdoor plots) in 60 watersheds. Most cannabis grow sites are very small, and have gone undetected when researchers used automated remote sensing techniques, which are commonly used to detect larger changes such as deforestation.

“We chose to use fine-grained imagery available in Google Earth and to systematically digitize grows by hand, identifying individual plants. Most plants stand out as neat, clear, little circles,” said Brenner, who is on the faculty of the Department of  Environmental Studies and Science at Ithaca College. “The method was laborious — it took over 700 hours — but it proved to be highly accurate.”

Butsic and Brenner paired their image analysis with data on the spatial characteristics of the sites (slope, distance to rivers, distance to roads) and information on steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, both of which are listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. These and other species are vulnerable to the low water flows, soil erosion, and chemical contamination that can result from nearby agriculture.

Results of the study show 4,428 grow sites, most of which were located on steep slopes far from developed roads. Because these sites will potentially use significant amounts of water and are near the habitat for threatened species, Butsic and Brenner conclude that there is a high risk of negative ecological consequences.

“The overall footprint of the grows is actually quite small [~2 square kiliometers], and the water use is only equivalent to about 100 acres of almonds,” says Butsic, who is in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at Berkeley. According to Butsic, California currently has more than one million irrigated acres of almonds.

He stresses that the issue lies in the placement of the sites: “Close to streams, far from roads, and on steep slopes — cannabis may be a case of the right plant being in the wrong place.”

Last year, California legislature passed laws designed to regulate medical marijuana production, and state voters will weigh in on whether to legalize recreational marijuana this coming fall. Given these changes as well as the profitability of cannabis production, Butsic expects that marijuana cultivation will expand into other sites with suitable growing conditions throughout the region. He and Brenner assert that ecological monitoring of these hotspots should be a top priority.

Bills recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown have made some advances in this direction — requiring municipalities to develop land use ordinances for cannabis production, forcing growers to obtain permits for water diversions, and requiring a system to track cannabis from when it is first planted until it reaches consumers.

But the researchers say that regulation will likely be a constant challenge because it will rely on monitoring procedures that are just now emerging, as well as voluntary registration from producers and budget allocation from the state for oversight and enforcement.

“Some of the same fundamental challenges that face researchers face regulators as well, primarily that cannabis agriculture remains a semi-clandestine activity,” says Brenner. “It has a legacy of lurking in the shadows. We just don't know — and can't know — where every grow exists or whether every grower is complying with new regulations.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 10:20 AM

USDA school kitchen grants enable kids to make healthy food choices

Children at Ygnacio Elementary School in Concord pick up lunch from a new serving counter.
Thanks to new equipment in school kitchens, made possible by special USDA grants, schools around the country are now serving fresher, healthier and more appealing food to students, according to research by the UC Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI).

"Years of federal neglect have resulted in many poorly equipped school kitchens, making it impossible to serve the nutritious meals that students need, particularly in light of the obesity epidemic that has affected so many youngster," said Kenneth Hecht, NPI coordinator.

During the past six years, Congress provided nearly $200 million to help schools purchase new equipment. Pew Charitable Trusts engaged NPI to see whether the grants enabled schools to make more meals from scratch with locally grown food and lead children to make healthy food choices.

NPI researchers visited 19 schools across the country to see new equipment in action and interview food service professionals, administrators and students. Their report was issued this month by Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Just one new appliance or serving station can have surprising impact on meal programs and students,” Hecht said. “Because of the USDA's School Kitchen Grants, more students are choosing school meals and they are eating more fruits, vegetables and other healthy options.”

The Nutrition Policy Institute, a statewide program that is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, contracted with Pew to take a close look at a sample of representative schools that received the USDA kitchen equipment grants. The 19 schools – in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, North Dakota and Maine – were chosen to represent a range of sizes, grade levels and community types (urban, suburban and rural).

One of the schools in the study was Ygnacio Valley Elementary School in Concord, where the worn and dimly lit serving line made meals look lackluster. With the USDA grant, the school purchased a new serving counter with heated and refrigerated serving wells to keep dishes at proper temperatures, a salad bar and under-counter lighting that draws attention to colorful produce and other healthy fare.

“Children are taking and eating more fruits and vegetables because they can actually see how beautiful the food is and get to it easily,” says Megan Webb, the school's food service manager.

Another California school involved in the research, Robertson Intermediate School in Daly City, used the grant funds to purchase a large, three-door refrigerator and a warming oven. The upgrades helped the school increase the number and appeal of its entrée options and made it possible to contract with a different meal vendor for the 2015-16 school year.

“We absolutely needed new equipment; what we had barely functioned,” said Audra Pittman, superintendent of the Bayshore Elementary School District.

“The food is really good,” said one student cafeteria helper. “It's much better than last year.”

 

Posted on Friday, June 17, 2016 at 8:45 AM

Citrus industry, UC Riverside and UCCE team up to fight a citrus killer

Leaves on a Florida tree show symptoms of HLB disease. The new biosafety lab at UC Riverside will help scientists battle the disease. (Photo: Beth Grafton-Cardwell)
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, will soon have a new resource to help them fight a disease devastating the citrus industry.

On June 6, citrus industry, university and government leaders gathered at UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection to announce a joint effort to fight huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening disease. Huanglongbing is a bacterial plant disease fatal to citrus trees

The effort will result in construction of a biosafety-level 3 plant facility in Riverside, about two miles north of UC Riverside.

The biosafety-level 3 plant facility will allow researchers, including many from UC Riverside who are experts on citrus pests, diseases and breeding, to conduct work with plant pathogens that previously couldn't be done in Southern California. (There is only one other such facility in California – at UC Davis.)

The new biosafety-level 3 building will be built and owned by the California Citrus Research Foundation, which is funded by citrus growers.

At the June 6 gathering, Kim Wilcox, chancellor of the UC Riverside, spoke about the establishment in 1907 of the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside. That research station eventually grew into UC Riverside. He noted that the research station received a boost after a 1913 freeze that devastated the citrus industry.

“Now, unfortunately, 100 years later, we have a different kind of natural threat, Wilcox said. “It's not weather in this case but an insect. And again the university, the federal government and private partners have come together and said ‘We can address this.'”

Georgios Vidalakis and Mark Hoddle are two UC Cooperative Extension specialists based at UC Riverside who will benefit from the facility.

Vidalakis is a UCCE specialist in plant pathology and director of the Citrus Clonal Protection Program at UC Riverside. The program provides a safe mechanism for the introduction into California of citrus varieties from around the world.

“Having access to live plants that carry the bacteria is very, very important to our program because it allows us to develop and validate diagnostic techniques much more quickly,” Vidalakis said.

Vidalkis has ongoing projects at the biosafety-level 3 plant facility in Davis as well as one in Maryland. Having his experimental material hundreds or thousands of miles away is a difficult, costly and inefficient way to conduct science, he said.

“This new facility in Riverside will help tremendously in the fight against HLB,” he said. “It is also a great investment for future threats to the California citrus industry.”

Hoddle is a UCCE specialist in entomology and director of Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. In recent years, Hoddle has released two species of wasps native to Pakistan that are natural enemies of the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector of a bacterium that causes HLB.

Hoddle called the biosafety facility a critical resource for righting HLB that will greatly assist UC Riverside researchers.

“This investment will likely allow more rapid and cost effect progress in developing mitigation strategies and novel technologies for managing HLB in California's iconic citrus crop,” Hoddle said.

Posted on Monday, June 13, 2016 at 9:47 AM

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