A study, “Effectiveness of a School Drinking Water Promotion and Access Program for Overweight Prevention,” led by Dr. Anisha Patel from Stanford University, along with researchers from the University of California's Nutrition Policy Institute and UC San Francisco, finds that a school-based intervention to enable and promote tap water consumption can prevent overweight in 4th-grade students. The randomized controlled trial analyzed data collected from 1262 students at 18 low-income, ethnically diverse elementary schools in California. The Water First program included the installation of a water dispenser with cups in the cafeteria, and two water bottle filling stations in other high-traffic areas of each school, classroom lessons related to healthy beverage choice, and schoolwide water promotion over one school year. Researchers observed a 3.2 percentage point difference in the prevalence of overweight among students in intervention schools compared to those in schools that did not receive the intervention. National standards set by Healthy People call for a 2.3% reduction in childhood obesity by 2030. While Water First did not affect obesity prevalence, it prevented overweight—an important target for preventing the onset of obesity. The study is a significant addition to the evidence base on the importance of enabling the consumption of plain water given its finding that improving and promoting access to safe and appealing drinking water can prevent weight gain in children. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will be featured in the September 2023 issue of Pediatrics and was published online on August 7, 2023. A short video of study findings is available in English and Spanish, and the study was featured in multiple media outlets including an August 7, 2023 news story in HealthDay, "Some Schools Respond to Child Obesity by Focusing on Water," an August 7, 2023 video in CBS News, "Getting kids to drink more water at school may prevent excess weight gain," an August 10, 2023 news story in CNN, "How water-bottle fill stations can impact children's health, according to a new study," and an August 10, 2023 article in Physicians Weekly, "School-based water promotion program associated with lower overweight prevalence." The Water First intervention materials are available online. Dr. Patel is a member of the National Drinking Water Alliance, which is coordinated by NPI.
During the pandemic, the United States Department of Agriculture temporarily offered free school meals every school day to all students at no charge, but this federal provision ended in June 2022. As a result, California became the first state to expand the universal meals program beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. Other states considering expansion of free school meals may be following current research on the impact of free school meals in California. The New York Times invited Monica Zuercher, a project scientist with the Nutrition Policy Institute, to share her knowledge of free school meals. Zuercher was featured in The New York Times for Kids article titled ‘What if every kid got a free lunch?' by Katherine Cusumano in which she spoke to research-proven benefits of free school meals, particularly better attendance rates and improved health outcomes. Research on states that operate a free school meal program illustrate benefits and feasibility of free school meals programs for other states to follow. The New York Times for Kids article ‘What if every kid got a free lunch?' was published in print on January 29, 2023. The Nutrition Policy Institute documents further resources, research, and publications on School Meals for All on the Nutrition Policy Institute website Resources tab.
In April 2023, CalFresh (California's version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits were reduced for over 3 million program participants due to the ending of COVID emergency increases. Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Wendi Gosliner and Samantha Sam-Chen were featured in a University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources article in English and Spanish and a video interview to recognize inadequacies of the benefit amount. Gosliner points out that many CalFresh participants are eligible for other safety net programs, some of which they may not be accessing. “With the high cost of living, ongoing inflation and extreme income and wealth disparities, people are being forced to explore every possible avenue just to feed themselves and their families,” she said. In the video interview, Sam-Chen encourages CalFresh participants to utilize other nutrition assistance programs designed to supplement benefit amounts, specifically California's Market Match Program. The Market Match Program is administered at farmers markets and gives CalFresh shoppers a dollar-for-dollar match, from $10 to $15 dollars, to buy local fruits and vegetables. Sam-Chen, whose research evaluates MarketMatch, explained that “..con ese dinero adicional, pueden comprar más frutas y verduras,” in English, “...with that additional money, they [participants] can purchase more fruits and vegetables.” Both voices from the Nutrition Policy Institute expressed concerns about families losing critical funds to feed their families at this time, and noted that CalFresh participants may be eligible for other supporting programs to help them feed their families in the context of the benefit cuts. The article titled “UC ANR experts offer counsel as CalFresh benefits shrink, participants face hunger” was written by Mike Hsu, UC ANR senior public information representative. It was also featured as a FarmProgress news article titled “UC offers counsel as CalFresh benefits shrink” on April 20, 2023.
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.
Successful partnerships between the Nutrition Policy Institute, UC Davis, the California WIC Association, the National WIC Association and Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC were featured in a recent UC Agriculture and Natural Resources article. The article highlights collaborative efforts to inform Federal and State program and policy changes to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which serves over 6.3 million participants across the nation. Lorrene Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute, emphasized that the relationship with WIC-serving organizations is critical to the success of the research. “They tell us what we need to know to be able to inform policy and to be able to help quickly.” Ritchie also said she appreciates their ability to disseminate the information to stakeholders. The article also features partners Lauren Au from UC Davis, Shannon Whaley from Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC, Karen Farley from the California WIC Association, and Christina Chauvenet from the National WIC Association.