- Author: Liz Sizensky
- Author: Ann Brody Guy
The San Francisco Chronicle reported this exercise in a 2016 interview with Crawford about newly approved USDA nutrition labels that would include added sugar information and thereby eliminate the need for such complex computations by consumers. Sadly, these nutrition guidelines have yet to come out. Why not, if we know that added sugar is related to heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay and other negative health conditions? Why hasn't this regulation been adopted? Crawford works to provide the research needed by policymakers to reduce the barriers to implementation of helpful policies such as this one.
Pat Crawford's work on improved food labeling is but one example of the way that for decades her timely and rigorous research has demonstrated the role of sugary foods and beverages in the development of diabetes, and obesity and in helping to fuel America's childhood obesity epidemic. In countless ways Crawford, who is retiring this year after more than 40 years of service at the University of California, has supported the adoption of public policies that promote safer, healthier food and beverages for all people, across the state and the nation.
You can draw direct lines from her resume to countless major policy advances in nutrition education and public health. Since earning her master's degree in public health nutrition and her registered dietician credential at UC Berkeley in 1972, Crawford has been a force of unceasing productivity as a researcher, an evaluator, an educator and a leader. Early in her career she managed the nation's largest biracial study of girls' health, the National Growth and Health Study. During the course of this long-term study, she went back to school to obtain her doctorate in public health nutrition. She soon was hired as the first UC Cooperative Extension Nutrition and Obesity Prevention specialist and she co-founded and directed UC Berkeley's Atkins Center for Weight and Health. The work of the center focused largely on food and nutrition policy to improve the health of children, and it provided a structure whereby University research could be effectively shared with community health workers throughout the state. Local and state health professionals found in the center an extension partner eager to conduct research that would answer important questions and provide real-world solutions, productively linking research, policy and practice.
The Center for Weight and Health, which in 2015 merged with the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), became known for rigorous research that is aligned with UC ANR's core values of addressing food security, obesity, socioeconomically based health disparities, and access to healthy foods. After the merger, Crawford became NPI's Senior Director of Research, working with her long time collaborator, Lorrene Ritchie, the NPI director.
Ritchie stated that in addition to Crawford's academic achievements, she is the consummate mentor — a “career godmother” for Ritchie and many others. She said, “Pat has an uncanny ability of knowing what you are good at — even before you yourself do — and mentoring you to build on that strength. Likewise, she has an uncanny ability to know your weaknesses, and help you to overcome those by developing new skills or pairing you with others who have those skills.”
That kind of nurturing is rare, Ritchie noted, particularly in the competitive environment of academia. Through mentoring, she added, Crawford has ensured new generations of researchers will continue this work.
“Pat has proven that you can be caring and compassionate yet still be highly effective.”
What does highly effective look like? A few examples illustrate the impact that Pat Crawford's work has had on nutrition policies and trends.
To improve the food environment at child care centers and schools, the Center/NPI provided the evidence for:
- California's 2010 Healthy Beverages in Childcare Law, requiring child care centers to make water and other healthy beverages available at all times.
- The 2013 Foundations for Healthy Nutrition in Childcare Act, requiring nutrition education for all child care providers.
- “Competitive food” policies — banning unhealthy sodas and snacks that competed with more nutritious school lunches — a policy that started in California and later was implemented at the federal level in the USDA's 2016 “Smart Snacks Standards.”
- The expansion of school garden and cooking programs in California and nationwide.
- An expansion of support for replacing packaged foods with healthier scratch cooking in school cafeterias.
To promote more nutritious food in programs serving low-income families the Center/NPI advocated:
- Improvements in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program including quadrupling the amount of vegetables and legumes WIC provides and adding information about physical activity needs for young children.
- Food bank policies that increase the amount of fruits and vegetables distributed and reduce the amount of snack foods and sugary beverages. Their free online course on how to make these policy shifts is a popular web resource for food banks across the country.
To advance education and communication:
- Crawford co-founded the first interdisciplinary conference on childhood obesity. Twenty years later, the biennial meeting is the premier obesity conference in the nation.
- The “My Healthy Plate” nutrition-education tool, which replaced the old Healthy Eating Pyramid, was developed, tested, presented and promoted by Crawford and her extension colleagues before the plate concept was officially adopted by USDA in 2011.
- California became the first state to put calories on chain-restaurant menus. Crawford's evaluation of Kaiser Permanente's pilot study of menu-board labeling provided the evidence needed by policymakers. Calorie labeling in chain restaurants has been expanded nationwide.
- Crawford's evaluation of California's SNAP-Ed program, the education arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (or SNAP, previously known as food stamps), has informed programming focused on the prevention of chronic disease through efficacious nutrition changes in the environment.
Although Crawford would be quick to tell you that her work is collaborative, she has been a researcher or important influence on nearly every population-based nutrition policy success. She has served as president of the California Nutrition Council and on countless state and national committees and task forces focused on improving health and addressing obesity, including being an advisor to California's Let's Get Healthy Task Force. Most recently, she co-authored a seminal Healthy People 2020 report for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, on model policies to increase fruit and vegetable intake in the population.
Training the next generation
Given her commitment and her influence, it's no wonder that Pat Crawford won the 2013 David Kessler Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Public's Health, as well as multiple honors from the American Public Health Association. In 2018, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health honored Crawford as one of its 75 most influential alumni in recognition of her significant contributions to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity in California and across the country. And she's not done yet — as an emeritus Cooperative Extension specialist, her research will go on. That won't surprise anyone who knows her. As Crawford said in a 2015 interview, “What keeps me passionate is knowing that change is possible when high-quality, policy-relevant research is conducted and communicated to decision-makers and those who work with children.”
To honor the work that Crawford does and to continue this kind of work, the Nutrition Policy Institute has established a student fellowship fund to train the next generation of students on nutrition research and its policy impacts. Donors to the student fellowship fund help honor Crawford and help NPI continue its work to improve the nutrition and health of children.
- Author: Rose Hayden-Smith, PhD
Dave, tell us more about where you're from.
I was born and raised in Maryville, Tennessee. From fifth through ninth grades, I lived in northern New Jersey, and then we moved back to Maryville. I attended Westminster College, near Pittsburgh. It changed my life in so many ways. For starters, I met my wife Mary Lynn there; we married the week after I graduated.
I also found my life's work there. There was a political science professor named Dale Hess, who became my mentor and friend. I went on to earn an MA in political science from Ohio State and was on track to do my Ph.D. there. Midway through the program, I decided it wasn't for me. I ended up at the University of Oregon. I studied community organizing, interviewing 18 community organizers at different stages in their lives. The question was: What sustains political commitment over time?
After a brief stint at San Jose State, I got a job at Mercer University in Atlanta. Sadly, the college was disbanded a few years later. That put us on the road to look for different opportunities. We ended up in Davis. After a semester as a “freeway flyer” teaching at three different community colleges, I showed up, hat in hand, on what became a series of wonderful opportunities at UC Davis.
What has your career trajectory been at UC?
I started teaching political science at UC Davis in the Fall of 1990. I knew Gail Feenstra, and she told me that SAREP was looking for an economic and public policy analyst. I told her, “I don't know anything about agricultural policy.” I didn't feel especially well qualified, but was asked, “Do you know a good idea when you see one?” I said, “I think so” and got the job.
I worked at SAREP and for the Political Science department. In 1996, Al Sokolow, Jim Grieshop, and Joan Wright put together a proposal to ANR Associate Vice President Henry Vaux to create the California Communities Program. I was tapped as its inaugural (and only) director. In 2000, a community development specialist position opened at UC Davis. I've been in that role for 19 years.
As a community development specialist, it was about finding partners who knew things I knew nothing about. I was fortunate to have had many wonderful individuals and groups to collaborate with over the course of my career, both within and outside of Extension.
I also served as the Strategic Initiative Leader for Healthy Families and Communities for almost four years, succeeding Sharon Junge and preceding Keith Nathaniel. I left that role when I started as the Associate Dean for Social and Human Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 2014.
Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
Pride doesn't come easily to good Calvinist Presbyterians! But I am proud to have done some form of specialist work in 38 of California's 58 counties. I spent a lot of time out in counties working with local advisors on projects. That work attempted to reflect the best intention of our system to bring campus and community together, to connect them, and to make sure learning is going both directions. Not just campus to community, but also community to campus.
I'm proud that the California Communities Program had a series of yearly conferences that highlighted critical topics in community development. Those conferences were good at including both internal and external audiences, connecting the university with stakeholders and the community.
My dad was a coach. In our family, it was all about the team. I pride myself on being a good team player. That's sometimes meant leading, and other times being a pinch hitter or utility infielder, or sometimes it's just lugging the bats back to the car. I've tried to find teams that matter and contribute in whatever way I can to their work.
What about memorable research?
I was fortunate to have had articles voted best in a journal for a particular year on three occasions. The most impactful one was a 2012 piece called “What works is workarounds,” which drew on more than 2,000 interviews I conducted with other team members in local communities throughout California. But the first one was the most interesting story.
Joan Wright and I were working in Humboldt County with Deb Giraud. We provided technical assistance to nine nonprofit groups and helped them develop outcome assessment plans for their own organization. Simultaneously, we did surveys and focus groups with foundations and agencies in the community that were funding the nonprofits. What was it they wanted to know? The funny thing was what came out on the other end: the old tried-and-true metrics, like the number of jobs created and wage levels of those jobs. None of the fancier new indicators mattered to funders.
Joan and I basically wrote the article – “Outcomes Assessment and the Paradox of Accountability” – as we drove five hours from Arcata back to Davis after our last trip up there. The article sort of wrote itself and won an award. It was the easiest writing experience I've ever had.
“As retirement has grown near, my main emotion has been gratitude.
UC has given me so many wonderful opportunities
that I would never have dreamed up myself."
What would you want to tell advisors and others beginning their career with UC?
I would say to find the people in the organization that you trust and who embody some kind of wisdom and experience that you value. Don't be afraid to call on them for advice and assistance.
The other thing is not to be afraid to make the job what you think it needs to be. The reality is that at its best Extension is a living organization, an adaptive organization, a responsive organization. It has to be willing to try new things, be new things, while holding on to the best of our land grant tradition. Often when people are starting out – particularly with our merit and promotion processes and other kinds of bureaucratic processes – there's a natural push towards meeting organizational expectations. That's important, but it's not the heart of the work and it's not what is going to keep you excited and passionate about the work. It's not what will keep you connected with the community and with what's on the minds of locals. I think it's important to keep focused on the passions that drew you to the work in the first place.
Any other takeaways?
I'm struck by the contradictions of the time we're in. In some ways, an organization like Cooperative Extension is absolutely more critical, more vital, and has more to contribute to public life than ever before. If there's anything missing in our public life, it is institutions that can bring people together, solve problems, realize dreams, and do so in a way where evidence, reason, and thoughtful discussion are the modus operandi, and not just passion and tribalism. We need this desperately. At its best, Extension does this and yet, here we are in an organization that has seen a decades-long funding decline, and in the eyes of some is becoming less and less relevant.
Part of the land grant mission, and the vitality of that, is to promote leadership and active citizenship in communities, and to promote connections between university and community. We live in a culture that has grown increasingly anti-intellectual. All things university-related have come to be considered ivory tower: disconnected, elite self-interested. We need to take seriously that critique, but it's not all we are, or all that we should be or could be. Extension at its best represents what that alternative can look like.
What are your hopes for retirement?
Mary Lynn and I are moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, to be closer to our son, daughter-in-law and our new grandson, Pax. I hope to do more writing, including potentially writing a book. I'm looking forward to joining a new church with my wife where she doesn't have to be the pastor; that will be a new experience for us. I'll certainly get involved in the civic life of Fort Collins in whatever ways make sense. No big travel plans for me: I'm a homebody; been there and done that. However, I would like to explore Colorado when it doesn't interfere with golf!