Nearly 40% of community college students experience food insecurity and may skip meals because they can't afford to eat. The Nutrition Policy Institute, along with the University of California and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, endorsed the Food for Thought Act, bicameral legislation that would bring free meal programs to community college campuses and minority serving institutions—helping address food insecurity for students at those institutions. The Food for Thought Act will also provide funding to conduct campus outreach and provide information to participating students on eligibility for federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and collect data on food insecurity on campuses to expand anti-hunger programming. Grant funding can also be used to update much needed food infrastructure on campus that students can use and build food pantries and community gardens on campus. The Food For Thought Act was introduced by Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and joined by Representative Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), and Senators Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) on July 20, 2023. The legislation has numerous co-sponsors in both the House and Senate and endorsements from experts in food insecurity and higher education.
The University of California Research Consortium on Beverages and Health, a group of faculty from every UC campus coordinated by the Nutrition Policy Institute, has released two new resources to support reducing consumption of sugary drinks. The first is a factsheet, University Beverage Pouring Rights Contracts – And Alternatives, which aims to educate university stakeholders about beverage “pouring rights” contracts that allow a beverage company—usually PepsiCo or Coca-Cola—nearly exclusive rights to market and sell its products throughout the university's campus and during events. The factsheet outlines the variety of stipulations present in these contracts and suggests alternative strategies for healthier, more up-to-date beverage procurement. The second resource is a living document, an Interactive Table of Policy Strategies to Reduce Consumption of Sugary Drinks (US – Proposed and Enacted). The table portrays the landscape of federal and tribal, state, city, workplace and educational institution policies in use in the US to reduce consumption of sugary drinks: excise taxes on sugary drink distributors, bans or restrictions on sugary drink sales or service, and other policies such as restrictions on marketing, requirements for labeling, or regulation of vending machine contents. It includes links to the policy language to provide sample language for entities that are considering developing new policy. Consortium members Ken Hecht from NPI, Kristine Madsen from UC Berkeley and Jennifer Falbe from UC Davis were interviewed about these topics in a July 10, 2023 story in The Daily Californian, “A unique responsibility': Campaigns work to limit soda consumption, stop UC pouring rights contracts.”
- Author: Katherine Lanca, UC Global Food Initiative Fellow, UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute
Cooperative Extension researcher: Nutrition course a boon for UC Berkeley students
College students across the nation are struggling to meet their basic food needs. Within the University of California system of 280,000 students, 38% of undergraduate students and 20% of graduate students report food insecurity.
As part of the UC Global Food Initiative, in 2015 the Nutrition Policy Institute (a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide research center) identified student food insecurity as a UC systemwide problem, prompting the UC Regents and campuses to collectively address the issue.
All 10 UC campuses now have on-site basic needs centers, providing food, emergency housing and support services. The UC system and campus working groups recognize that meeting basic needs, such as food, is a multidimensional challenge.
In response to the 2022 White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, which called for national efforts to reduce diet-related disease and food insecurity, UC renewed their commitment to cut the proportion of students facing food insecurity in half by 2030. Campuses will partner with local counties to maximize enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as CalFresh in California), provide food for students who do not qualify for CalFresh, and allocate campus food resources to historically underserved student populations.
NPI's collaborative researchers continue to monitor the impact of these efforts, in addition to other interventions, such as supporting students in building basic culinary skills, to improve food security. One multipronged approach to address food insecurity at UC Berkeley is a 14-week course on Personal Food Security and Wellness with a Teaching Kitchen laboratory component.
Sarah Minkow, who teaches the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley, shared that students learn about nutrition and gain culinary skills through the Cal Teaching Kitchen.
The curriculum is designed with consideration for the time, cost and convenience of healthy eating. Discussions include food safety, calculating nutrient needs, mindful eating and reading nutrition labels. The Teaching Kitchen laboratory brings the lessons to life through knife skills, “no-cook” cooking, microwave cooking and sheet pan meals.
Minkow enthusiastically highlighted her students' “overwhelmingly positive [response to the] lecture and lab,” suggesting the benefits of an interactive learning environment to garner student engagement.
“Students often give feedback that they wish this was a required course for all UC Berkeley students,” said Minkow. She noted one barrier to reaching more students: capacity of the Teaching Kitchen space.
Susana Matias, a Cooperative Extension specialist at the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology and collaborative researcher with the NPI, evaluated the impact of the Personal Food Security and Wellness course at UC Berkeley.
Matias reported that increasing food literacy and culinary skills among students has shown to increase intake of fruits and vegetables, and frequency of cooking, and reduce the number of skipped meals. Her study on the impact of the 14-week nutrition course also found a significant decrease in student food insecurity.
Across the UC System, students are benefiting from their campus Teaching Kitchens, including UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Riverside. Other campuses such as UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara offer basic student cooking classes as well.
Katherine Lanca, UC Global Food Initiative fellow working with NPI, attended the 2022 Teaching Kitchen Research Conference as part of her fellowship to learn about the latest research on teaching kitchens supporting equitable health outcomes.
The conference was hosted at UCLA by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Nutrition in association with the Teaching Kitchen Collaborative. Teaching kitchens are a promising approach to supporting food security and cultivating lifelong habits, especially among a college student population./h3>
Nutrition Policy Institute and affiliated researchers were featured in a Morning Ag Clips article on Oct. 20, 222, “Nutrition Policy Institute work underpins historic White House conference”. The article introduced the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which took place on Sept. 28, the first time since it was originally hosted 50 years ago. During the conference, the Biden administration announced a national strategy “to end hunger in America and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030 so fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases.” NPI director and Cooperative Extension specialist Lorrene Ritchie was quoted in the article: “Science is the work of many – and no one study answers all the questions – but we have a tremendous body of work that has contributed to this conference.” The article also highlighted NPI's recommendations to conference organizers on encouraging drinking water over sugar sweetened beverages, quoting NPI's senior policy advisor Christina Hecht, “NPI's recommendations were built on lots of work by many water researchers and advocates over the years.” The article also quoted NPI affiliated research Suzanna Martinez at the University of California, San Francisco about her collaborative work with NPI on alleviating food insecurity for college students. “The work that we're doing here in California tends to set the stage for what happens in other states.”
University of California researchers have found that campus food pantries may help improve college students' overall well-being, including mental and physical health and sleep sufficiency, especially for those experiencing food insecurity. Study results from a 2019 online survey of 1,855 University of California students that used their campus food pantries showed that students who visited their campus food pantry more frequently reported improved perceived health, improved mental health (fewer depressive symptoms), and improved sleep sufficiency. The study was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior by principal investigator Suzanna Martinez from the UC San Francisco Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, along with co-authors Gwen Chodur from UC Davis, Erin Esaryk from UCSF and the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, Sevan Kaladjian from UC Irvine Center for Educational Partnerships, Lorrene Ritchie from the UC NPI, and Michael Grandner from the University of Arizona Department of Psychiatry. The study was funded by the state legislature to the University of California Basic Needs Initiative.