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Patricia Crawford, a catalyst for change, retires after 40 years

Patricia Crawford
Patricia Crawford's work on improved food labeling is but one example of the way that her timely, rigorous research has demonstrated the role of sugary foods and beverages in the development of diabetes and obesity and in helping to fuel America's childhood obesity epidemic. In countless ways Crawford, who is retiring this year after more than 40 years as a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, has supported the adoption of public policies that promote safer, more healthful food and beverages for all people.

There are direct lines from her resume to major policy advances in nutrition education and public health. Crawford's research and outreach have influenced nutrition policies and trends to improve the food environment at child care centers and schools, promote more nutritious food in programs serving low-income families and advance education and communication.

Since earning her master's degree in public health nutrition and her registered dietician credential at UC Berkeley in 1972, Crawford has been a force of unceasing productivity as a researcher, evaluator, educator and leader. Early in her career, she managed the nation's largest biracial study of girls' health, the National Growth and Health Study. During the course of this long-term study, she went back to school to obtain her doctorate in public health nutrition.

She soon was hired as the first UC Cooperative Extension nutrition and obesity prevention specialist and she co-founded and directed UC Berkeley's Atkins Center for Weight and Health. The center focused largely on food and nutrition policy to improve the health of children, and shared research results with community health workers. Local and state health professionals found an extension partner eager to conduct research that would answer important questions and provide real-world solutions, productively linking research, policy and practice. 

Friends and colleagues celebrated Crawford career accomplishments at her retirement party.

The Center for Weight and Health, which in 2015 merged with the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), became known for rigorous research that is aligned with UC ANR's core values of addressing food security, obesity, socioeconomically based health disparities, and access to healthy foods. After the merger, Crawford became NPI's senior director of research, working with her long-time collaborator, NPI Director Lorrene Ritchie.

Ritchie stated that in addition to Crawford's academic achievements, she is the consummate mentor — a “career godmother” for Ritchie and many others.

“Pat has an uncanny ability of knowing what you are good at — even before you yourself do — and mentoring you to build on that strength,” Ritchie said. “Likewise, she has an uncanny ability to know your weaknesses, and help you to overcome those by developing new skills or pairing you with others who have those skills.”

Kelly Brownell, Jen Falbe, Crawford and May Wang at the retirement party.

Although Crawford would be quick to tell you that her work is collaborative, she has been a researcher or important influence on nearly every population-based nutrition policy success in the past four decades. She has served as president of the California Nutrition Council and on countless state and national committees and task forces focused on improving health and addressing obesity, including being an advisor to California's Let's Get Healthy Task Force. Most recently, she co-authored a seminal Healthy People 2020 report for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, on model policies to increase fruit and vegetable intake in the population.

To honor the work that Crawford does and to continue this kind of work, NPI has established a student fellowship fund to train the next generation of students on nutrition research and its policy impacts.

Read more about Crawford's accomplishments.

Posted on Friday, July 26, 2019 at 2:24 PM
  • Author: Liz Sizensky
  • Author: Ann Brody Guy

Experts combine research with policy to reduce childhood obesity

From left, Tom Harkin, Kevin Concannon and Ken Hecht discuss federal nutrition assistance programs.
More than 1,700 nutritionists and other experts on children's health gathered in San Diego June 29 – July 2 to share lessons learned about efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Collective Impact: Developing a Shared Vision to Achieve Greater Success was the theme of the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference held at the Town and Country Hotel and Conference Center.

The conference was hosted by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), California Department of Public Health, California Department of Education, the California Endowment and Kaiser Permanente.

NPI hosted a preconference workshop on June 29 to bridge the gap between research and policy regarding the federal nutrition assistance programs and the Dietary Guidelines, which reach more Americans than any other nutrition policy.

Chelsea Clinton was the opening plenary speaker.
“The Nutrition Policy Institute's preconference session at the Childhood Obesity Conference provided a rare, if not a first, opportunity for policymakers and administrators, nutrition researchers, advocates and funders to sit together to identify today's key policy issues and developments and then to propose evidence-based research to inform those potential policy debates and developments,” said Kenneth Hecht, NPI director of policy, who spearheaded the session. “The session participants also focused on another extremely important question: How to improve communications in both directions between researchers and policymakers.”

At the opening plenary, Chelsea Clinton, vice president of The Clinton Foundation, talked about projects her family's foundation is involved in to improve children's health and literacy.

Lorrene Ritchie discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare.
During a workshop session, Lorrene Ritchie, NPI director, and other panelists discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare settings. Patricia Crawford, NPI senior director of research at NPI and other panelists presented data on childhood obesity trends and racial/ethnic disparities in California and discussed the health and financial consequences. They also discussed the cost-effectiveness of national and state excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and labels to inform consumers of the health risks of consuming sugary drinks.

Hecht moderated a conversation on policy between former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. The two influential figures discussed the growth of the federal nutrition assistance programs over 40 years and reflected on obstacles overcome and successes achieved.

Hecht also moderated a panel discussion on local and national initiatives that are linking farm-fresh produce to food bank recipients. NPI researcher Elizabeth Campbell, who participated in the discussion with a local farmer, a food bank employee and a public health anti-hunger advocate, said food banks should have policies to guide the nutritional quality of their inventory.

During the closing plenary, First Lady Michelle Obama sent video greetings to the Childhood Obesity Conference attendees to praise them for their work and encourage them to continue to fight to protect and improve child health.

Public research universities have a critical role in addressing the complex challenge of child obesity, said Janet Napolitano.
Also at the closing session, UC President Janet Napolitano spoke about UC's Global Food Initiative (GFI) “to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable.”

“It is public research universities like the University of California that can and will help lead the way as our nation grapples with this complex challenge of pediatric obesity,” Napolitano said. She then gave a few examples of UC projects that target social and environmental factors that contribute to overweight and obesity.

“Janet Napolitano is the first UC president to speak at the Childhood Obesity Conference,” said Ritchie. “I think it demonstrates her commitment to the Global Food Initiative and the work we do at UC ANR.”

Since the biennial conference's inception, Crawford and members of the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley, and more recently members of NPI, have been involved in its planning. Crawford announced she is “passing the baton” to Ritchie to guide the conference moving forward.

PowerPoint presentations from the conference are online at http://www.childhoodobesity2015.com/bios.cfm?pid=902. Photos and postconference information can be seen on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #COC15.

 

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 10:11 AM
 
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