The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—also known as WIC—serves nearly half of children born in the US at some point before their fifth birthday. WIC participation enhances food security, diet quality, and developmental outcomes of children. The program offers a Cash Value Benefit to purchase fruits and vegetables, and additional benefits to purchase other specific healthy foods. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cash Value Benefits were increased from $9 for children and $11 for women to $25 for children, $44 for pregnant and postpartum women and $49 for breastfeeding women in June 2021. These higher amounts will end on September 30, 2023 without Congressional action. The Nutrition Policy Institute and Heluna Health's Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC Program released a policy brief highlighting research showing that the increased Cash Value Benefit improves participants' produce purchases, fruit and vegetable consumption, food security and satisfaction with WIC, and increased sales for farmers and local retailers. Extension of this benefit is critical as one-in-seven participants reported they were somewhat or very unlikely to continue on WIC if benefits decrease.
Lack of refrigeration is reported as a leading barrier to corner stores stocking fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2018, the California legislature funded the Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to offer a Healthy Refrigeration Grant Program, providing grants to corner stores in food resource-poor neighborhoods to purchase refrigeration units to increase access to California-grown fruits and vegetables. A new report from NPI shows storeowners that participated in the program perceived increases in their store's ability to sell produce after installing the CDFA refrigerator. Storeowners reported the CDFA refrigerator allowed them to waste less produce and increase the variety and freshness of produce they sell. Of the 51 storeowners that participated in the study, only 14% reported “lack of refrigeration” as a barrier to stocking fresh fruits and vegetables after participating in the program, compared to 51% before participating in the program. The findings are also summarized in a two-page policy brief. Report and brief authors include Carolyn Chelius and Wendi Gosliner from the UC Nutrition Policy Institute, as well as former NPI intern Caroline Long and volunteer Taylor Baisey from UC Berkeley. The work was funded by CDFA.
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.
For the second time since 1969, the White House is holding a conference on US nutrition. The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, planned for September 2022, aims to provide a comprehensive package of strategies to reduce hunger and improve nutrition and health in the US. Under the direction of Ambassador Susan Rice and in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, the White House Conference team actively sought input from Americans, both to tell personal stories about hunger, nutrition and health and to offer recommendations for strategies. Nutrition Policy Institute's Christina Hecht submitted recommendations to promote and enable drinking water in place of sugary drinks. Hecht was also part of a national drafting team for recommendations for strategies to reduce sugary drink consumption. Others at NPI have also participated in several listening sessions to inform the White House Conference.
The federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides balanced and nutritious meals to nearly 800,000 California preschoolers each day. Research conducted by the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute shows that CACFP-participating childcare sites offer better quality meals compared to sites that do not participate. The CACFP can also reduce family food insecurity. California Senate Bill 1481 (Becker)—Food with Care—would establish a free daily meal program for children in childcare centers and homes that participate in CACFP, while also ensuring adequate and fair pay for child care providers. The bill is co-sponsored by CACFP Roundtable and Nourish CA. A new NPI policy brief synthesizes research showing the need for increased access to healthy food for preschool-aged children in California, citing inadequate access to healthy food contributing to increased risks of children's developing poor health outcomes such as overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease, and other health and psychological issues. These health issues can cost California over $71 billion dollars annually.