Posts Tagged: Nutrition Policy Institute
University leaders, faculty and students from across the U.S. and around the world are working together to tackle a complex set of challenges that prevent millions of people from getting enough of the right foods. In March 2021, UC Davis, the UC Global Food Initiative and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Nutrition Policy Institute, in partnership with the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University, hosted a summit for members of Universities Fighting World Hunger, where more than 500 attendees from 22 countries sought solutions to the tragedy of world hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition that results in chronic diseases and obesity.
The 16th annual summit, held virtually for the second time, introduced a new way to address hunger by focusing on its connections to global climate change and the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic.
Opening keynote speaker Bill Dietz, director of the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University, called the multiple threats to human well-being a “syndemic” driven by political power, capitalism, social norms and structural racism.
He suggested triple-duty solutions to the syndemic. For example, for U.S. populations, increasing plant-based foods and reducing beef consumption leads to (1) healthier diets that reduce obesity, diabetes and cancer; (2) improves nutritional quality and food security; and (3) lowers greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and cattle production.
“I don't mean to say we eliminate beef,” Dietz said. “Beef can be healthy if grass fed and contains micronutrients. We need to reduce it. I don't pretend that's an easy lift. There is resistance at the highest levels of government. But we need to generate the political will to turn that around.”
Dietz recommended the development of local and regional food systems for food resilience, health, equity and environmental sustainability. Regional systems are more agile and not devoted to monoculture, such as that found in the U.S. Midwest where great swaths of land are managed exclusively for corn production.
“The question is not what we need to do, but how to do it,” Dietz said. “We need to act now. We need to build political will. We need to hold leaders accountable.”
A new Green Revolution
On the world stage, increasing access to food must address poverty, inequality, wars and politics, said Rattan Lal, distinguished professor of soil science at Ohio State University.
The projections that the earth will have 2 billion more residents by 2050 means there's a need for a new “Green Revolution,” Lal said. In the 1950s, fears that food production was lagging behind population growth were rampant. The fears were not realized due to the mid-century Green Revolution, in which research and technology boosted agricultural production worldwide with advances in variety selection, irrigation, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Yields rose exponentially.
“This miracle saved hundreds of millions from starvation,” Lal said. “Despite all that progress, there is still hunger.”
To meet food demand anticipated in 2050, the new Green Revolution must be different.
“Rather than input based, it must be natural resources based,” Lal said. “The strategy is to produce more food from less land, less water, less fertilizers and less energy.”
Managing agricultural land with regenerative principles – such as maintaining year-round soil cover, eliminating tillage and applying integrated nutrient management – leads to healthy, sustainable and productive soils that lock up carbon and minimize greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
“Something I hope to see protected in the new Farm Bill – the rights of soil,” Lal said. “Soil is a living entity. It has rights. We have a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water Act. It is time for a Healthy Soil Act. I hope it will be in 2022 or 2023. That involves policy translating science to action.”
The benefits of soil health are research-proven, but not yet widely implemented on farmland around the world, an example of a dichotomy shared by summit keynote speaker Jeffrey Sachs, an economist with the Center for Sustainable Development. He quoted the well-known observation of science fiction writer William Gibson, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed.”
“There are solutions. I call them pathways. They are not gimmicks,” Sachs said. “Our work is to build the public understanding and awareness of the importance of these pathways.”
Sachs encouraged summit attendees to advocate locally and at the state and federal levels to promote new food systems approaches.
“Write blogs, op-eds and suggestions. What can corporations commit to? What should governments commit to? What can the food industry commit to?” Sachs said. “A lot of agricultural policies promoted by large commercial interests neglect environmental objectives. What we need is a one-world approach to move beyond the narrow view of a powerful corporate lobby and move to ecosystem sustainability in agriculture, carbon storage, healthful diets and a culture of appreciation of agriculture and healthful food.”
A role for land grant universities
Lorrene Ritchie, director of UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, said she believes UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and other land grant institutions can help direct humanity along a pathway of human and planet health.
“We have nutrition programs, dairy and beef research, irrigation, pest control, production, and natural resources expertise, and are well positioned to work together,” Ritchie said. “As a nutrition researcher, I can bring expertise on human dietary needs, while others can identify the crops that are most environmentally sustainable in different ecosystems. How we can get the best nutrition with the smallest environmental impact is the key question to address.”
Consumers can also help protect the planet's health with information to make educated decisions about their food choices.
“I would like to see food labeling not only for nutrition, but also on the product's sustainability,” she said.
Impacts from food on the planet's health involve production, water use, transportation, packaging and other factors.
“It kind of makes you dizzy to think about balancing impacts to human health and planet health. At UC ANR, we have the expertise and we can contribute to making progress in California and beyond in that regard. Complex problems will require multiple solutions – the time to act is now,” Ritchie said.
The first study of California law that requires schools to test tap water for lead found that the majority completed the testing on time, and only 3% reported any tested taps with lead in the water higher than the state's 15 parts per billion (ppb) limit. About 30% of the 240 randomly selected public schools in the study didn't report their results within three months of the deadline.
The study, Water Safety in California Public Schools Following Implementation of School Drinking Water Policies, was published in the January issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention online publication.
“Because we strongly encourage people to drink water rather than sugary beverages, we need to have confidence that tap water is safe,” she said. “But this is a complex issue with shared responsibility among public water systems, school administrators and regulating agencies.”
Access to safe drinking water in schools is essential to help avoid the developmental and health consequences for children associated with consuming contaminated water, under hydration or excessive intake of sugary beverages.
Schools that get water from public utilities can expect the water they receive to meet federal and state water quality standards. However, 16% of study schools received water from a utility that violated health-based standards, such as elevated levels of contaminants or failure to adhere to disinfectant protocols. When water flows into buildings through pipes that contain lead – such as those made entirely of lead, or galvanized iron or leaded brass, or connected with lead solder – and especially when water sits stagnant in lead-containing plumbing, lead may leach into the water before it flows from the tap.
In October 2017, California passed Assembly Bill 746, which mandated that public water utilities sample and test for lead in tap water of public schools that were built before 2010. The law is designed to identify and mitigate sources of lead in water. Funds to upgrade school drinking-water plumbing were also earmarked in the state budget. Working with their local water suppliers, the schools selected taps for sampling. The number of taps that released water with lead was very low, and even those sources are not necessarily unhealthy for drinking, Hecht said.
“When we test tap water, we're not talking about every drop of water that comes from the tap,” she said. “We test the first water that comes out of the tap after it has been stagnant in the pipes. Once the taps are in use and water is flowing, the lead level should drop dramatically.”
Although few schools (3%) had even one tap in violation of California state standards for lead, violations increased to 16% when the federal Food and Drug Administration standard for bottled water was applied. The FDA requires that bottled water not exceed 5 ppb of lead.
The 174 schools in the study collectively tested 1,238 independent water sources – such as playground, hallway and gym drinking fountains, classroom faucets, food service areas and restroom taps in 2019. Some of the tests took place in locations that serve staff, such as teachers' lounges, nurses' stations, distribution sources and maintenance areas. Without detailed guidelines to follow, some schools tested only 1 tap; others tested as many as 76.
“Testing only a subset of taps in a facility prevents full identification of which schools need to undertake lead remediation actions,” Hecht said.
Hecht and her co-authors – Isioma Umunna, Anisha Patel and Lauren Blacker of Stanford University, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, and Emily Altman of UC Berkeley – conclude that, in the future, states should require schools to test to nondetectable levels of lead for maximum data collection and require that at least one water source in food service areas be tested.
The information and recommendations from the study are already informing California legislation designed to protect children from lead exposure from water. A new law, Assembly Bill 2370, will require all licensed childcare centers to test taps for lead by 2021 and every 5 years thereafter. The inconsistencies experienced in AB 746 compliance revealed the need for detailed guidelines on the number of taps facilities should test, the required locations for testing, clear naming conventions to identify taps and reporting procedures.
Schools across the nation are removing chocolate milk from their meal programs to reduce students' intake of added sugar.
Some people are concerned the new policy will lead to a decrease in students' milk consumption and, specifically, reduce the essential nutrients that milk provides, such as calcium, protein and vitamin D. They also fear the policy could lead to an increase in milk waste. However, results from a study conducted by UC Nutrition Policy Institute may alleviate these concerns.
While the study found that the number of students who selected milk during lunch dropped by about 14% in the year the chocolate milk was removed, there was a no significant difference in the proportion of milk wasted before and after policy implementation. Milk consumption declined by about 1 ounce per student post policy implementation, resulting in a small but statistically insignificant decrease in the average amount of calcium, protein, or vitamin D consumed from milk.
The chocolate milk removal policy did result in a significant reduction in added sugar consumption from milk, by an average of 3.1 grams per student. These results suggest that a school meal chocolate milk removal policy may reduce middle and high school students' added sugar intake without compromising intake of essential nutrients nor increasing milk waste.
The study was conducted by NPI affiliated researchers Hannah Thompson and Esther Park from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health in collaboration with NPI researchers Lorrene Ritchie and Wendi Gosliner, and Kristine Madsen from the Berkeley Food Institute and UC Berkeley School of Public Health. The study was published online on August 27, 2020 in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease. The full study is available online.
Raw hunger or thirst usually draws people to buy snacks from vending machines. Healthy options, calorie counts and reminders help consumers make good-sense decisions when they slip in coins or a credit card, according to research by a working group organized under UC's Global Food Initiative and led by the UC Nutrition Policy Institute.
The working group set out to develop guidelines for food service providers at all 10 UC campuses and other UC facilities in stocking and promoting healthy options in their vending machines. They also created a toolkit with step-by-step guidance in making the switch, including everything from early meetings with students, food service and vendors to anticipating and preparing for barriers to implementation.
As part of the project, the Nutrition Policy Institute evaluated data from six UC campuses that show healthy vending options are growing in popularity, which eases concerns about a potential reduction in profit by making vending healthier.
“In 2005, California began introducing policies limiting junk food in vending machines and student stores on K-12 campuses,” said Janice Kao, a researcher at the Nutrition Policy Institute and chair of the working group. “Today's college students are used to having healthy snack options in schools. Customer resistance that some vendors talk about isn't necessarily the case anymore.”
Two UC campuses – UCLA and UC San Francisco – have been early adopters in making healthy vending machine choices available. According to the evaluation, the two locations achieved the goal of having 70% of their beverage vending products fit the “healthy” description. Other UC campuses are working on adding healthy options – with a wide variation in implementation and definition of “healthy.”
The Global Food Initiative working group recommends a higher standard for “healthy” snacks than some campuses and vendors. The key difference is the decision that an item can only be considered “healthy” if the first ingredient is a fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy, protein or whole grain.
“This guideline means some granola bars cannot be considered a healthy snack,” Kao said.
Even so, the evaluation results showed improvement in the sales of healthy products.
“Campuses that have actively worked on healthy vending saw greater sales of healthy snacks and drinks,” Kao said. “We want to learn from those experiences and develop systemwide standards to provide consistency. With everyone following the same guidelines, there is potential to take advantage of systemwide food procurement economies of scale and contribute to meeting UC's sustainability goals.”
The NPI evaluation compared the greenhouse gas emissions associated with traditional vending and healthy vending. A dramatic difference emerged when comparing candy bar ingredients and healthy snack bar ingredients. Greenhouse gas emissions of candy bar ingredients were estimated to be more than twice as high as healthy snack bar ingredients.
Now more than ever, California is full of heroes: front-line workers in our hospitals, farm fields and essential businesses. And even though schools are closed, they are full of heroes, too: teachers implementing distance learning and kitchen workers who have stepped up to the heroic task of providing meals for children in their communities, despite the challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
School nutrition professionals continue to provide nutritious food that meets dietary standards, the kitchens provide employment, and the hungry students provide a multi-million dollar market for California's agricultural products.
Researchers at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources's Nutrition Policy Institute received an email earlier this spring with a subject line that simply said, “HELP!!!” Local community groups had learned that some Central Valley school districts would not be providing meals over spring break. Even though that might not be cause for alarm some years, this year it would hurt. In the eight-week period between March 14 and May 14, 2020, the California Employment Development Department processed 4.7 million unemployment benefit claims – nearly seven times more claims than over a two-month period at the height of the 2008 recession. EDD estimates that California unemployment reached nearly 25% by mid-May.
That is why school meals are more important than ever.
On receiving the request for HELP!!!, the Nutrition Policy Institute teamed with a Stanford pediatrician to distill critical information from USDA and the California Department of Education. Connecting with child nutrition professionals throughout the state, they gleaned tips and best practices, and added COVID-19-specific resources from the Community of Practice convened by LunchAssist and the Center for Ecoliteracy. The team produced informational flyers targeted to California school district officials and food service directors:
- Child Hunger Doesn't Take a Spring Break (2-pager)
- Calling all Districts! USDA Summer Meals Can Keep Kids Healthy (4-pager)
The resources provide explanations and resources for operating school meal programs during non-instructional periods through either the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) or the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).