Nutrition Policy Institute researchers led a recent study published in the California Agriculture journal. During COVID-related school closures school meal consumption was associated with eating more fruits and vegetables.. Researchers administered online surveys to 3,297 fourth and fifth-grade students in 67 CalFresh Healthy Living–eligible schools and after-school programs in California during the pandemic. Survey results showed that, on average, students who ate one or more school meals daily consumed fruit and vegetables four times per day. This was significantly higher than students who did not eat school meals; they consumed fruits only two times and vegetables three times per day. However, 100% fruit juice accounted for 40% of daily fruit intake and students who ate school meals had significantly higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake with three-quarters of it coming from flavored milk. Study results suggest an opportunity for improvement in supporting and encouraging schools to continue providing nutritious meals, whole fruits instead of 100% juice, and reduce sugary drink consumption by promoting unflavored milk. The study was led by NPI researchers Kaela Plank, Amanda Linares, Sridharshii Hewawitharana, and Gail Woodward-Lopez. This study was conducted as a part of a contract with the California Department of Public Health with funding from the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.
A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute outlines the results and implications of the 2023 study: “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education reductions during COVID-19 may have exacerbated health inequities.” The study examined changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education programming by California's local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, when schools and other institutions closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the impact on public health programs like SNAP-Ed was immediate and large. As the pandemic continued, California's local health departments reported numerous challenges, including the diversion of staff, funding and other resources from programs like SNAP-Ed to emergency response. NPI researchers documented dramatic reductions in the reach and dose of local health department SNAP-Ed programming during the early stages of the pandemic. Reductions disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including those with higher poverty, higher proportions of Black and Latino residents and less healthy neighborhood conditions. Disproportionately reduced access to important health programs may have worsened health disparities in diet and physical activity-related chronic diseases, as well as increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. This study demonstrates the importance of an equity-centered approach to promoting healthy eating and active living, even—or perhaps especially—during public health emergencies. The peer-reviewed study was authored by NPI researchers Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Janice Kao, Evan Talmage and Carolyn Rider. The research brief was created by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including: Carolyn Rider, Miranda Westfall, Reka Vasicsek and Summer Cortez.
A recent study finds that comprehensive school-based Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education, also known as SNAP-Ed, interventions focused on improving wellness policies and increasing physical activity opportunities are associated with better student fitness. Researchers identified predominant combinations of school-based, physical activity-focused SNAP-Ed interventions and then looked at how they affected student fitness. Study data included over 442,000 fifth and seventh-grade students attending nearly 4,300 public schools in California communities with low-income in 2016-2017. Students in schools with SNAP-Ed interventions combining policy changes and improved physical activity opportunities had better cardiorespiratory fitness, as measured by VO2 max. On average, these students had 1.17 mL/kg/min greater VO2max than students at schools without interventions. They also had greater VO2 max compared to students in schools with any other type of intervention combination. This study suggests that focusing on both wellness policy changes and increased physical activity opportunities may have a synergistic effect and may warrant prioritization in SNAP-Ed program planning and implementation. The study, published in Preventive Medicine, was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Gail Woodward-Lopez, Hannah Thompson, and Wendi Gosliner; Arizona State University researchers Punam Ohri-Vachaspati and Francesco Acciai; and California Department of Public Health researcher John Pugliese.
A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute outlines the results and implications of the 2020-21 study, “The impact of SNAP-Ed interventions on California students' diet and physical activity during COVID-19.” For many school-aged children in the United States, school closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of consistent and reliable access to nutritious meals and opportunities for physical activity. Local health departments implementing the CalFresh Healthy Living program adapted their program delivery to continue to reach children with interventions that promote healthy eating and active living. In their study, NPI evaluators found that CalFresh Healthy Living interventions had a positive impact on students' fruit and vegetable intake. The study and research brief were authored by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including Amanda Linares, Kaela Plank, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Gail Woodward-Lopez, Miranda Westfall, Reka Vasicsek and Summer Cortez.
The article “Parent perceptions of changes in eating behavior during COVID-19 of school-aged children from Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) eligible households in California” was recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports. The study examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the eating behaviors of school-aged children from households with low income eligible for the Supplemental Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) in California. Researchers assessed parent perceptions of changes in their children's eating habits throughout the pandemic, identifying shifts in dietary patterns that included a decreased use of school meals, and other changes observed by parents such as cooking at home, fast food, and fruits and vegetable consumption. The research underscores the need for tailored strategies in schools and at home to support the nutritional well-being of children during future public health emergency conditions. The study was led by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Suzanne Rauzon, Sri Hewawitharana, Erin Esaryk, Hannah Thompson, Gail Woodward-Lopez, and California Department of Public Health co-authors Lauren Whetstone and Ingrid Cordon.