Wendi Gosliner from the Nutrition Policy Institute discussed efforts to enhance population health and nutrition, focusing on eliminating disparities and improving federal food programs in a recent If I Could Change One Thing health policy podcast episode. Highlighting policy amendments during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gosliner emphasized the impact on food access, particularly for SNAP, WIC, school meal programs, and expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Stressing the importance of tackling food insecurity and reducing waste, she called for comprehensive interventions in federal nutrition programs. “When we think about growing food, and all of the inputs that are needed to grow food—the energy, the water, the soil, the human labor, the money to harvest it and transport it— then it gets to us, we buy it, we store it, and then we often throw it away," said Gosliner. "The amount of resources that's wasted with each food item that is thrown away is immense. And then not only that, but food, when it's decomposing in landfills, creates methane, which is a greenhouse gas contributor all on its own. So, for so many reasons, having us throwing away a lot of food is incredibly costly.” Gosliner, NPI's director of food policy research and translation, shared insights with co-hosts James Romine and Rocio Flores in season eight, episode one of the podcast. The podcast is produced by the San Diego State University, School of Public Health. Listen online.
In May 2020, running until the end of the 2021-2022 school year, the US Congress authorized the US Department of Agriculture to issue nationwide waivers that allowed all schools to provide universal free school meals to mitigate the impacts of school closures as well as the broader economic challenges faced by families during the COVID-19 emergency. This study aimed to examine parent perceptions about school free meals and whether these perceptions differed by race and ethnicity. In May 2022, 1100 California parents of K-12 students from varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, and State regions responded to a survey to share their perspectives about school meals during the school year 2021-22. Across all racial and ethnic groups, California parents reported that free school meals offered multiple benefits to families, saving them money, time, and stress, and expressed that the stigma associated with school meals was low. However, parents expressed that there was an area for improvement in the variety, taste, and healthfulness of school meals, where parents of Hispanic and Asian students reported less favorable perceptions of these qualities than parents of White students. This study suggests that there is strong support among parents for free school meals, but further efforts are needed to implement a variety of culturally appropriate school meals and make improvements in their taste and healthfulness. Results from the study were recently published in the Health Affairs Scholar journal. The study was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Monica Zuercher, Christina Hecht, Kenneth Hecht, and Dania Orta-Aleman in collaboration with Juliana Cohen, Deborah Olarte, and Leah Chapman from Merrimack College, Punam Ohri-Vachaspati from Arizona State University, Michele Polacsek from the University of New England, Margaret Read from Share Our Strength, Anisha Patel from Stanford Pediatrics, and Marlene Schwartz from the University of Connecticut.
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.
Nutrition Policy Institute researchers will present at the American Public Health Association 2023 Annual Meeting & Expo . The conference brings in over 1,000 sessions, centered on creating a healthier nation by working together to overcome social and ethical challenges. NPI researchers Wendi Gosliner, Lorrene Ritchie, Christina Hecht, Kenneth Hecht and Monica Zuercher co-author two poster sessions. The first is presented by Leah Chapman from Merrimack College titled, “Universal free school meals during the pandemic: A qualitative analysis of parent opinions from California and Maine” on November 13 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The second is presented by Deborah Olarte from Merrimack College on November 13 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. titled, “School food authorities' perceptions of the barriers to student participation in universal school meals during the 2021-2022 school year: A mixed-methods study.” The conference will take place in Atlanta, Georgia from November 12-15 with live virtual options for attendees.
Nutrition Policy's Institute's Celeste Felix will present at the 2023 California Resource and Recovery Association Conference about NPI's latest project evaluating how a large, urban school districts' transition to scratch cooking and using reusable serviceware can impact students' dietary intake and environmental sustainability. The conference is hosted by California's largest statewide recycling association and takes place in Burlingame, CA August 13-16, and Celeste will be co-presenting with Ben Schleifer from the Center for Environmental Health and Fremont Unified School District's recycling coordinator, Stephanie Willits on August 15 from 2:45 to 4:15 p.m. Ben, Stephanie, and Celeste will be highlighting the school districts' reusable tray and cutlery pilot project, which is part of a larger study, “Transition to Freshly-Prepared School Meals: Impacts on Meal Appeal, Student Participation, Intake, Food and Packaging Waste & School Finances,” funded by the US Department of Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, grant number 2020-68015-30736. This study is conducted by NPI, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and FUSD in partnership with the Center for Environmental Health and StopWaste.