- Author: Liz Sizensky
Lunches served in the National School Lunch Program have higher nutritional quality than lunches brought from home, according to the largest comparison study conducted to date.
Published in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the study, conducted by researchers at UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, involved nearly 4,000 elementary school students in Southern California.
“This rigorous study confirms what we have long known: The school lunch program, which has served the country's students since 1946, makes an invaluable contribution to their nutritional well-being, their health and their academic performance," said Lorrene Ritchie, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition Policy Institute and a senior author of this study. "And thanks to the recent, improved nutrition standards, it will only provide stronger, more essential support for our children's success.”
School lunch consumption was associated with higher overall diet quality. School lunch eaters also consumed diets that were higher in dairy-rich foods, lower in empty calories from solid fats and added sugars, and lower in refined grains than students who ate lunches from home.
Established in 1946, the National School Lunch Program is a federal nutrition assistance program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches in over 100,000 K-12 schools throughout the United States. School lunches are required to meet certain nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New requirements increase the availability of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and reduce sodium and fat in school lunches. Guidelines on calorie limits are set to ensure age-appropriate sized meals for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
During the 2014-15 school year, the program served lunches to about 30.5 million children each school day. More than 21.5 million of these students qualified for free or reduced-price service. Given the program's broad reach and its targeting of low-income children, the nutritional improvements shown in this study are of considerable benefit to needy students for whom school lunch may represent roughly one-third of their daily calories.
Since the study was conducted, new and more rigorous nutritional standards have been implemented, thus increasing the likelihood that school lunches are contributing to healthy overall diets – and reversing the extremely worrisome obesity epidemic. Currently as many as one-third of U.S. youth are obese or overweight.
Three University of California students will be working with scientists in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources to study food security, nutrition education and agricultural research and extension.
“It is imperative to get students involved in UC ANR's activities to move the world toward food security for all and a more sustainable future,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The fresh ideas that the UC Global Food Initiative fellows contribute will help us extend what we learn through research to improve the health of Californians.”
Brown, a native of San Diego, will work closely with Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute, on a student food-security research project. In the spring of 2015, nearly 9,000 students from all 10 UC campuses participated in a survey, which was designed to document the prevalence of food insecurity among students and to identify characteristics of students who experience food insecurity. Brown, a public health graduate student at UC Berkeley, will help analyze the survey results to better understand factors contributing to food insecurity and the consequences on students. Since arriving at UC Berkeley, she has worked with several organizations in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Food Security Taskforce, to identify and eliminate barriers to achieving food security.
The University of California aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. Through its Global Food Initiative, UC is building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among its 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and UC ANR to improve food security, health and sustainability.
To get UC students involved in the Global Food Initiative effort, the UC Office of the President is providing fellowship funds to each UC campus, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR.
The “Technology and Design Innovation to Support 21st Century School Nutrition” project will assess the impact of using a “SmartMeal” technology platform, distributed points of sale and staff promotion of school meals at 12 SFUSD middle and high schools. Sixty percent of the district's students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, as part of the National School Lunch Program, the country's largest child nutrition program. The researchers say that improving dietary intake among low-income youth is essential to reducing obesity, and schools are arguably the most important venue for change.
“Improving school meals is critical for addressing social inequities to healthful food access, said Lorrene Ritchie, Ph.D., RD, UCANR Nutrition Policy Institute director, Cooperative Extension specialist and co-primary investigator. “Poor nutrition is a primary cause of the obesity epidemic that threatens the health of American children, especially in low-income communities. We are targeting schools for interventions because most school-age children spend half of their waking hours and consume up to half of their daily calories in school.”
“This project will test whether we can change behavior by addressing the reality of today's adolescent lifestyles,” said Kristine Madsen, MD, associate professor in the School of Public Health and co-primary investigator.
“Mobile phones are ubiquitous among teens from diverse economic backgrounds, which makes this technology an ideal tool for promoting healthful food choices and nutrition education.”
The Nutrition Policy Institute was created in 2014 by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the division of the University of California charged with sharing research-based information with the public about healthy communities, nutrition, agricultural production and environmental stewardship. NPI seeks to improve nutrition and health in low-income communities in California and the nation by engaging in research and communications that inform, build and strengthen policy. Visit NPI online at http://npi.ucanr.edu. SFUSD's Future Dining Experience (http://www.sfusdfuturedining.org/) is funded by USDA and the Sara & Evan Williams Foundation.
The U.S. government should promote plain drinking water as the beverage of choice, according to comments submitted today by the University of California's Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) at a public meeting for oral testimony on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The institute also urged the U.S. Department
of Agriculture to add a symbol for water to its MyPlate graphic.
NPI experts said the government should employ strong language encouraging consumption of plain drinking water as a strategy in the fight against childhood obesity. Studies have established that Americans' single largest source of added sugars is sugar-sweetened beverages, that sugar-sweetened beverages are among the top sources of calories for U.S. children and teens, and that there are income and racial disparities in sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
“It is clear from the evidence that a major contributor to obesity is sugary drinks,” said NPI Director Lorrene Ritchie. “And the healthiest alternative to sugary drinks is plain water.”
NPI noted that the Advisory Committee's 2015 scientific report said, “Strategies are needed to encourage the U.S. population to drink water when they are thirsty.” MyPlate – the infographic used by USDA to portray the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – is the “ideal platform” from which to encourage water consumption, according to NPI. In its comments, the institute said, “the addition of a water symbol will enable MyPlate to promote water consumption along with its other strong messages about a healthy diet.”
Ritchie said NPI is encouraging the public to join them in sending a message to the government. “Tell Washington to make water first for thirst and ask the USDA to reinforce it with an icon for water on MyPlate,” she said.
NPI developed a “Take Action!” page on its website with easy-to-follow guidelines for submitting comments on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The “Take Action!” web page is located at http://npi.ucanr.edu/water.
The Nutrition Policy Institute was created in 2014 by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the division of the University of California system charged with sharing research-based information with the public about healthy communities, nutrition, agricultural production and environmental stewardship. The institute seeks to improve eating habits and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in California children and their families and beyond. Visit NPI online at http://npi.ucanr.edu.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
November 19, 2014
Pam Kan-Rice, (510) 206-3476, firstname.lastname@example.org
UC students receive fellowships to study food issues
UC Berkeley senior Jacqueline Chang, UC Davis graduate student Samantha Smith and UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Kevi Mace-Hill each have been awarded a $2,500 fellowship.
The fellowships are supported by the UC Global Food Initiative, which UC President Janet Napolitano, together with UC's 10 chancellors, launched in July in an effort to help put UC's campuses, the state and the world on a pathway to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. The UC Office of the President is providing $7,500 to each UC campus, ANR and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the fellowships, which will be awarded to both undergraduate and graduate students, with funds allotted at each campus's discretion in three $2,500 portions.
Jacqueline Chang, UC Berkeley
Chang will work with Lorrene Ritchie, director of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, on a food security research project. The UC Berkeley senior, who is majoring in nutritional science with an interest in food insecurity, will assist in developing and conducting a survey to assess the prevalence of hunger and inadequate access to food among UC students across all 10 campuses. She will write a report and present the survey findings to Napolitano in the spring. Chang, a native of the Southern California community of San Marino, has worked with the Berkeley-based organization Feeding Forward to raise awareness of hunger, food insecurity and food waste.
Samantha Smith, UC Davis
Smith, a public health graduate student at UC Davis, with direction from Connie Schneider, director of UC ANR's statewide Youth, Families and Communities Program, will interview UC scientists about their research and extension efforts in agriculture, food and nutrition statewide and capture their stories to share with the public via blogs and social media. Smith, a native of Pleasanton, earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Sonoma State University and is a California Wellness Foundation Fellow.
Mace-Hill will lead a group of graduate students that organizes seminars and workshops for students interested in careers in Cooperative Extension. Their goal is to improve graduate student preparedness for extension, outreach and applied research. Her fellowship will support the UC Berkeley graduate student-led Cooperative Extension Showcase.
The annual event brings UC Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists who conduct research and extension in nutrition, youth development, agriculture and natural resources to the Berkeley campus to discuss their work and network with graduate students. At the showcase in the spring, students will have an opportunity to meet potential mentors. Mace-Hill, a native of LaVeta, Colo., earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in biology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in biological pest control at UC Berkeley.
Through its Global Food Initiative, UC is building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among its 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and ANR to improve food security, health and sustainability.