- Author: Katherine Lanca
- Editor: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Christina Hecht
Grab-and-go meals replaced cafeteria lunch lines during COVID-19 campus closures to ensure that students have reliable access to food. To understand strategies that can improve participation in school meal programs, a study during COVID-19 documented how parents perceived the quality, healthfulness, and benefits of the grab-and-go school meals. Parents from eight school districts in the San Joaquin Valley, California, a region of predominantly Latino farm worker communities, participated in the study. Using a predetermined protocol, parents photographed all meal items provided in their students' school meals for a full week. They then participated in focus groups and group discussions to describe their perceptions of the school meals. Parents expressed appreciation for the convenience of grab-and-go meals, consistent access to food, and safety when collecting meals from school sites during the pandemic. Parents also reported concerns about unappealing meals, lack of variety in foods, and unsafe food packaging. The most common concern parents shared was about the healthfulness of packaged food items. Parents noted sugary, greasy, and fatty options, which did not meet their children's preference for fresh fruit and vegetables. Research findings suggest ways in which school meals can better appeal to both parents and their children to reduce food waste, support those who are food insecure, and increase school meal participation. Researchers of the publication in the Nutrients journal include Tatum Sohlberg, Emma Higuchi, Valeria Ordonez, Gabriela Escobar, Janine Bruce, and Anisha Patel from the Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Ashley De La Rosa and Cecelia Castro from Dolores Huerta Foundation, Genoveva Islas from Cultuva La Salud, and Ken Hecht and Christina Hecht from the Nutrition Policy Institute. This study was supported by funding from No Kid Hungry, Stanford Pediatrics Residency, and Stanford Children's Health Community Benefits Grant.
California's San Joaquin Valley is home to many low-income Latino agricultural-worker families who disproportionately experience food insecurity and diet-related diseases. Yet free school meal participation is surprisingly low. Through the existing alliance between the Nutrition Policy Institute, Stanford Medicine's Partnerships for Research in Child Health, Cultiva La Salud, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Stanford University Office of Community Engagement will fund a new project to co-create culturally and linguistically relevant materials for Spanish-speaking families, utilizing their feedback, that explain the history of school meals, United States Department of Agriculture nutrition requirements, and how families can advocate for school meal improvements that fit within the constraints of the school nutrition programs. The funding will also support dissemination of report findings to the USDA and other key nutrition advocacy groups. The 8-month project started in January 2023, and includes NPI's senior policy advisor Christina Hecht and policy director Ken Hecht. Learn more about their project online, and visit the NPI website to learn more about our work to evaluate school meals for all in California and other states.
- Author: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Lorrene Ritchie
The latest issue of Stanford Medicine Magazine showcases Nutrition Policy Institute's collaborative research with pediatrician Anisha Patel from Stanford Medicine, Department of Pediatrics to improve access to drinking water for school children. The article, titled "Gulp: With drinking water out of reach for many kids, a pediatrician partners with schools to get them access,” chronicles the development of a rich partnership between Patel, community advocates, and NPI's senior policy adviser Christina Hecht, policy director Ken Hecht, as well as a collaborative National Institutes of Health-funded research project conducted by Patel and Nutrition Policy Institute, the Water First project. The Stanford Medicine Magazine article was published online on January 23, 2023.
- Author: Christina EA Hecht
- Editor: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Lorrene Ritchie
University of California's Research Consortium on Beverages and Health, with support from the American Heart Association, has released six short fact sheets to help educate both community members and decision-makers on the risks of over-consumption of sugary drinks. The fact sheets aim to provide the evidence base, expressed in simple talking points:
- What are Sugary Drinks? and 7 Reasons to Skip Sugary Drinks provide simple insights into sugary drink ingredients and how they can be harmful.
- The Health Harms of Sugary Drinks gives facts on the leading health risks of consuming these drinks.
- Sugary Drinks and COVID illustrates how sugary beverages, with their risk to cardio-metabolic health, can worsen the impact of diseases such as COVID-19.
- The Heavy Environmental Impact of Sugary Drinks provides data that illuminate the consequences of sugary drink consumption on the environment.
- How Four Cities in California are Using Sugary Drink Tax Revenue showcases how excise taxes levied on distributors of sugary drinks have funded projects to improve health in vulnerable populations in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Albany, California.
The Consortium is comprised of faculty working across the field of sugar science from all ten UC campuses and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. The Consortium is coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute under the leadership of Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht, and Pat Crawford. Please contact Ken Hecht for more information about the Consortium and Christina Hecht for additional resources for community education on healthy beverage choices.
Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nutrition Policy Institute policy team, Christina Hecht and Ken Hecht, have partnered with a Stanford University research team and two San Joaquin Valley community-based organizations, Dolores Huerta Foundation and Cultiva La Salud, to help improve access to school meals using an iterative process of investigation, sharing back and discussion, and policy advocacy. The partnership's work has led to local policy wins in response to parent concerns, for example, adjusting meal service practices during the pandemic to accommodate families' needs, and reducing the amount of flavored milk provided to school children. Their work has supported the development and implementation of California's School Meals for All program as well as federal-level advocacy for a limit on the amount of added sugars permitted in school meals. The team has conducted their work in both Spanish and English and Spanish-language versions of their policy briefs are now available online. Check out both versions:
- School Meals: Kids Are Sweeter with Less Sugar / Comidas Escolares: Los Niños Son Más Dulces con Menos Azúcar
- Parent Voices: School Meals for All / Voces de los Padres: Comidas Escolares para Todos
- Parent Voices: Local Foods for School Meals / Voces de los Padres: Alimentos Locales para las Comidas Escolares
- Parent Voices: Summer EBT / Voces de los Padres: Transferencia electrónica de beneficios (EBT) de Verano
This work was supported with funding from the American Heart Association Voices for Healthy Kids, The Center at Sierra Health Foundation and the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, Stanford Medical Scholars Program, Stanford Pediatric Resident Research Grant, and Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry. This work also received a United States Public Health Service 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award.