Posts Tagged: nutrition
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and UC Master Gardeners partner with nonprofit MORE in El Dorado County
A nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in El Dorado County, MORE has found kindred spirits in helping their clients live fuller and healthier lives – the staff and volunteers of University of California Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC.
Since 2018, these programs – both affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have helped enrich the lives of about 60 clients at MORE, which offers services ranging from independent-living skills development to job training and placement.
“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we like to make with the community,” said MORE CEO Susie Davies, who has been with the Placerville-based organization for 40 years. “This has just been incredible; our people have learned above and beyond what we could even have imagined in nutrition and gardening.”
The three-party partnership, which Davies calls a “win-win-win,” offers a course that combines gardening and nutrition lessons, as well as a new cooking and food safety-focused class developed by educator Cailin McLaughlin in collaboration with MORE staff.
During one session, MORE clients enjoyed preparing a “plant part salad,” following a botanical lesson on the edible components of plants – fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and stems. “It was fun to cut the celery and broccoli,” said Jared (first names are used to protect privacy). “I like pouring the sauce in.”
“I liked everything about creating the salad,” said Deanne, another participant.
“MORE is the dream site, the best you could ever hope to go to, with the programming and the clients always being lovely and really just being down for anything,” said McLaughlin, a CalFresh Healthy Living nutrition educator at the Central Sierra UC Cooperative Extension office. “It's just a really cool place to be.”
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC is one of the organizations in California that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). UC Davis administers the SNAP-Ed grant and UC Cooperative Extension educators deliver the lessons throughout the state.
‘Part of our MORE family'
Through the gardening and nutrition program, clients learn and apply their skills in the garden and greenhouse at the MORE facility and in the nearby Sherwood Demonstration Garden maintained by UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County.
“The participants get a chance to harvest, plant, pull weeds and learn about integrated pest management, both in the vegetable garden and in the orchard,” said Tracy Celio, the local UC Master Gardeners program manager who worked with former CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educator Miranda Capriotti to develop the program.
“It's a very good program,” said Tony, a MORE client. “I can learn things.”
While experiencing the pride in bringing fresh produce to their home or to the MORE kitchen for use in the meal service, the clients are also taking away nutritious and healthy recipes. Jordan Postlewait, director of community access programs at MORE, said participants now know how to use ingredients from the garden to create dishes such as tomato salsa and fruit salad.
“They've taken the recipes that Cailin has given them and they go home and serve their whole group home what we had made for a snack,” Postlewait said. “They are paying attention to what they're eating.”
As a result of this awareness and knowledge of nutritious foods, Davies said that MORE clients are healthier, more energized and alert, and ready to learn. She is quick to credit the expertise and enthusiasm of McLaughlin, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE program coordinator Mariana Garcia, and the UC Master Gardeners staff and volunteers.
“They have the same dedication and commitment to excellence in their preparation for every session as our staff,” Davies said. “They just became part of our MORE family.”
“I like seeing Cailin and Tracy and all the staff who are my friends,” said Kenion, a MORE client.
Cooking lessons create possibilities for kitchen time, jobs
In April, two groups, each composed of six people, began participating in a new five-session course combining nutrition, food safety and basic cooking techniques. Each two-hour session included a nutrition lesson, a physical activity and time in MORE's commercial kitchen.
“It was fun getting in the kitchen and learning how to prepare my own meals,” Jared said. “I learned how to safely use a small skillet.”
Another participant, Kyle, said he uses the recipes to cook for his roommates. “I liked learning new cooking skills and recipes,” he said.
McLaughlin adapted a youth-oriented healthy eating curriculum, approved for use by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, and tailored it for adults at MORE.
“The whole goal is to get them closer to an independent living circumstance, where either they can live in a group facility or have their own apartment – and knowing how to cook and identify healthy recipes is a huge component of that,” McLaughlin explained.
The guided kitchen experiences – and equipment like plastic safety knives – not only benefit the participants but also give their family members reassurance and confidence to include them in meal preparation.
“We've actually been asked by staff at MORE, and also by clients' parents, where we got the knives, because they would like to have their family member in the kitchen with them, if they can do it safely,” McLaughlin said. “They didn't know things like safety knives existed; they didn't know you could adapt a silicone food guard to keep them from burning themselves on a burner.”
In addition to enhancing the clients' family time, the cooking lessons could also set them up for future employment. Davies said she is in talks with a local chef about establishing a culinary training for the clients.
“This cooking program could be a preparation program for them to be involved in the culinary training program,” she said. “That's what we're really excited about.”
McLaughlin added that, for future sessions of the cooking and food-safety series, past participants have expressed interest in serving as kitchen aides and mentors.
Partners nurture clients' relationships with nature, community
Empowering clients with new skills and fostering a sense of ownership of the garden are both cornerstones of the partnership programs. Beginning in 2019, participants from MORE each adopted a tree in the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard to monitor and nurture.
“Almost every time they come to the garden, we check those fruit trees,” Celio said. “The trees are doing so many things throughout the year, so they're following the cycle: they watch the leaves drop; they watch the fruit come in; they see what a freeze does to their tree; they see what pests do to their tree.”
The participants experience the challenges of gardening – from managing rabbits and squirrels to coping with the loss of a pear tree due to disease – as well as its many joys.
“I liked seeing the butterflies and different plants; the butterflies drink from the bushes,” said Jen, a MORE client. “My favorite thing is the rose garden.”
At the same time, the clients have built strong relationships with the core group of UC Master Gardener volunteers and the dozen or so “vegetable garden crew” volunteers. Celio stressed that the garden programs, which were recently recognized by the statewide UC Master Gardeners program with a Search for Excellence Award, are truly collaborative.
MORE participants often bring their own ideas; one man, for example, became interested in composting and worked with MORE staff to establish a worm bin at the MORE facility garden.
“Every time I see that client, he will tell me how the worms were doing and he'll tell me how healthy the plants are that are growing next to the worm bin,” Celio said, adding that he also worked at a table during a MORE fair, teaching other clients and their family members about vermiculture.
Advocating for the greater good of the community is central to another CalFresh Healthy Living, UC collaborative project at MORE, in partnership with Stanford University's Our Voice initiative. Using an online tool and app, 12 clients have been taking photos and sharing feedback on their health and wellness experience at MORE, specifically about their walking trail. With that information, they are building a case to make the path safer and more enjoyable.
Responding to their feedback, along with the other partnership programs that are building vital skills and community, demonstrate to MORE's clients that they are appreciated and respected.
“The request from the people that we serve is that they want to be seen, they want to be heard, and they want to be valued by other community members,” Davies said. “And this is really showing them that they are valued and being seen and heard.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
University of California Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program in Santa Clara County partnered with multiple community organizations to hold a 4-H Nature Explorers Day Camp at Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy in East San Jose from July 17 to July 21.
Organizers wanted to reach more participants this year than they had in the inaugural 2022 camp, so they structured the program for different K-8 grade levels to attend on different days. 79 campers participated, which was a 130% increase over the number of campers last year.
“Everything we did during the week was focused on environmental science,” said Susan Weaver, 4-H Regional Program Coordinator. “We partnered with Project Learning Tree, UC Environmental Stewards, UC Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC– as well as community agencies related to the natural environment.”
Numerous activities engaged the youths such as field trips; demonstrations; and sessions themed around trees as habitats, birds and bugs, and being “leaf detectives.” 4-H Adult Volunteer, Laura Tiscareno, took charge of the hands-on Project Learning Tree sessions. Craft time included making nature-themed wind chimes and spinning paper snakes.
Bilingual teen camp counselors guided small groups of students for the duration of the day camp. In situations where the adult facilitator did not speak Spanish, teens translated information into Spanish for students with less English confidence.
“These kids call me ‘teacher' and it's awesome,” said Rodrigo, one of the counselors. “The camp benefits me a lot because I connect with children and in the future, I can even be a teacher if I wanted to.”
Another counselor, Andrea, learned about communication. “It's a bit different with kids at different age levels,” she said. “Since we had kindergarten through eighth grade, we had to switch our tactics from grade to grade so that they would understand us and we'd be able to understand them. Also learning how to bond with them so that they would pay more attention.
One highlight of the week was a field trip for third through eighth graders to the Master Gardeners location at Martial Cottle Park, where students learned about vermicomposting and made their own individual countertop worm habitat and composter.
Campers especially enjoyed the interactive demonstrations. “My favorite part is going on all the field trips because we went to a garden, and we've been catching worms and doing stuff about worms,” said one student. “It's really fun going on trips.”
Another camper said, “Something I would like to change about camp is having more time here.”
The program culminated in a Nature Camp Festival at Escuela Popular in partnership with community agencies. Youth enjoyed games, meeting reptiles, outdoor science activities, arborist crafts, a “Rethink Your Drink” table to make a fresh fruit drink, tamales, a nacho bar and more.
Representatives from the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center discussed animals that live in local neighborhoods and how the Center supports people to keep the animals safe. Victor Mortari of Vexotic Me talked about and showed snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other creatures, making the kids squeal while learning about them. As a fun added bonus, 4-H Community Educator Zubia Mahmood arranged to have a local team come to teach soccer skills as a healthy living activity.
The event increased the youth's interest in environmental education and involved Latino youth and adults who are new to 4-H – representing a community that has not historically benefited from the 4-H program. The teen teachers also increased their leadership and career readiness skills; post-camp surveys showed that all the teen counselors see 4-H as a place where they can be a leader and help make group decisions. Some campers noted in the survey that they wanted the camp to be every day, all summer!
National 4-H funded the camp in 2022 and 2023, allowing organizers to provide meals, T-shirts, water bottles and other items to foster belonging and promote healthy living. Community partners, crucial to the program's success, included the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley, Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy, Silicon Valley Water and Silicon Valley Wildlife Center.
Teen counselors and campers working on a nutrition activity.
Nutrition Policy Institute researcher influenced obesity research, SNAP-Ed evaluation
Young people across California and the U.S. enjoy healthier, more nutritious food options at school, thanks to the contributions of Gail Woodward-Lopez, who retired on July 1 as the associate director of research at the Nutrition Policy Institute, a part of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Woodward-Lopez officially joined UC ANR in 2015, when she and other researchers at the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley merged with NPI. But her association with UC ANR goes back much further, as her work at CWH was always directed by UC Cooperative Extension academics – including the research that paved the way for California's “junk food ban” in schools.
Two bills, signed in 2005, set nutrition standards in California for “competitive foods”– the items sold in vending machines and from food service a la carte (as opposed to federally subsidized school meals). That legislation – which inspired similar policy changes across the country – was informed by the work of Woodward-Lopez and her colleagues, who had looked at the financial impact of establishing those standards.
“Our study was so pivotal that I literally had people calling me from the floor of the Senate or the Assembly when they were debating that legislation,” recalled Woodward-Lopez.
Changing perceptions of population weight gain
Originally intending to pursue a career in neurobiology, Woodward-Lopez found that lab work didn't suit her temperament. Seeking to work more directly on social issues, she embarked on a public health path, with an emphasis on nutritional aspects that incorporated her interest in biological sciences.
Woodward-Lopez's early work focused on a challenge that was just beginning to catch the attention of researchers: the rapid rise in the Body Mass Index (BMI) among the U.S. population. In tracing the causes of this epidemic, she and her colleagues shifted academic and public attention toward the host of environmental factors that contribute to weight gain – instead of focusing exclusively on an individual's choice to eat healthy and be physically active.
“Two decades ago, Gail led groundbreaking work to identify the determinants of obesity when child obesity was emerging as a public health concern,” said Nutrition Policy Institute Director Lorrene Ritchie. “While we and other researchers across the nation were working on generating more evidence to inform action, she had the vision that we could use a variety of existing data – from trends to trials – to point to the main causes.”
Many of the researchers' conclusions, which were published in the 2006 book “Obesity: Dietary and Developmental Influences,” stand to this day.
Helping to set the identity and agenda of the Center for Weight and Health when it was founded in 2000, Woodward-Lopez moved policy and practice beyond educational approaches and public awareness campaigns. As she noted: “No one thinks sugar-sweetened beverages are good for you.”
“Education alone is not going to work if people do not have access to the healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, if they're not safe in their neighborhoods, or if they can't afford the healthy options,” she explained.
Given her seminal role in the field, Kaiser Permanente sought out Woodward-Lopez as a “thought partner” on the organization's community-based obesity prevention programs and school health work.
“Gail brought deep rigor and expertise, of course, but also a super-practical, community-focused perspective to our work,” said Loel Solomon, professor of health systems science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine. “Her integrity and values around health equity were evident in everything we did together, and our communities are so much the better for it.”
Elevating and enhancing CalFresh Healthy Living
At the Nutrition Policy Institute, the focus of Woodward-Lopez's work has been refining the evaluation and delivery of SNAP-Ed, the educational component of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as “food stamps”). Known in California as CalFresh Healthy Living, SNAP-Ed represents the largest single source of ongoing funding for nutrition and physical activity promotion in the state – outside of the WIC program which serves women, infants and young children.
“CalFresh Healthy Living can really impact millions of people,” Woodward-Lopez said. “For county health departments, this is one of their main sources of funding and provides the backbone for everything else they do in nutrition and physical activity.”
But given the variety of interventions implemented by health departments in response to local needs, determining the efficacy of those efforts is a daunting task. Woodward-Lopez and her NPI colleagues have been instrumental in devising creative approaches that help pinpoint the most effective public health measures.
For example, NPI researchers found that combining school policy changes with increased opportunities for physical activity during the school day was the best strategy to encourage student fitness. They discovered that reductions in nutrition programs during the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected communities of color. And they also continue to emphasize that interventions need to be tailored to the specific cultural and political conditions within a community.
“I think in all of the work we do, we try to come up with those practical applications – what does this mean for communities? How can we do this differently? How are our findings actionable?” Woodward-Lopez said.
Her contributions toward the evaluation of California Department of Public Health SNAP-Ed have impressed and inspired Lauren Whetstone, chief of CDPH's Research, Evaluation and Strategic Alignment Section, Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch.
“Gail and her team have elevated the quality of our evaluation work and the evaluation support that we provide to local health department grantees,” said Whetstone, who has worked with Woodward-Lopez for nearly a decade. “Gail contributed substantially to statewide SNAP-Ed evaluation as well, again working collaboratively to ensure high quality evaluation. Our work is all the stronger due to Gail's dedication to excellent SNAP-Ed evaluation.”
To the benefit of the field and community health, Woodward-Lopez said she plans to remain engaged in her life's work.
“I'd really like to get more involved in policy through advocacy and through doing things like writing letters to the editor or social media commentary,” she said. “I already have some ideas for some editorials I want to write.”
And while she looks forward to spending more time with loved ones, traveling, and pursuing her interests in art and music, Woodward-Lopez will remain a guiding voice for advancing public health.
“Gail's leadership in public health nutrition – even after she retires – is a testament to her dedication,” Ritchie said. “She not only has contributed to sustainable changes in California and nationally, she has been a mentor to me and so many others in the field who will strive to continue her legacy.”
People interested in supporting Woodward-Lopez's legacy and the ongoing work in health and nutrition can donate to NPI's Student Fellowship, which provides students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to work on NPI research and be mentored by NPI researchers./h3>/h3>/h3>
Reduction of SNAP benefit deepens crisis of inflation, high cost of living, low wages
Starting this month, many of the estimated 3 million people in the CalFresh program – California's version of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) – will be facing hunger and making difficult decisions to meet their most basic needs. In late March, participants received the last of the pandemic-related emergency aid that significantly boosted their monthly benefits. The reduction varies by household size and income; for example, in April a single-person household could see a drop from $281 per month to $23.
“The emergency food allotments had a tremendous impact in our communities and across the nation,” said Shannon Klisch, academic coordinator for the Youth, Families and Communities Program for UC Cooperative Extension in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. “One study estimated that these allotments kept more than 4 million people out of poverty across the U.S. in the last quarter of 2021, and reduced child poverty by 14%.”
SNAP increases during the pandemic made many Californians more food-secure, with some participants reporting that their allotments finally had been enough to feed their families for the month, according to Wendi Gosliner, a project scientist at the Nutrition Policy Institute (a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources). But, with the benefit reductions, food insecurity is emerging again as a serious concern.
“It is inconceivable that a nation this wealthy should have so many people experiencing hunger,” Gosliner said. “And here in California, 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.”
To help ensure they are receiving the maximum allotment, Klisch recommends that CalFresh participants – especially those who applied during the pandemic and are relatively new to the program – double-check their information.
“If the county doesn't have your most up-to-date information, call your county worker if you've changed your address, if you've experienced decreased income, if your housing costs have gone up, or if you have new expenses – like child or dependent care expenses or medical expenses – these can help you qualify for more CalFresh funds,” she explained.
For families with school-aged children, Klisch said they can stretch their food dollars and promote healthy eating by encouraging their children to eat breakfast and lunch at school through California's universal free school meals, and all families with children under 18 can watch for the next issuance of the P-EBT (Pandemic EBT) card, worth potentially hundreds of dollars.
In addition to these options for food assistance, Klisch pointed to programs that can help people save money on other household expenses, such as California Alternate Rates for Energy Programs (CARE) and Affordable Connectivity Program. Local food banks are also gearing up across the state to handle an expected surge in clients in need of emergency food; a list of California food banks can be found at cafoodbanks.org/our-members.
“We ask a lot of low-income families and workers to navigate and piece together various programs, applications, and benefits when we don't commit to a strong safety net,” Klisch said. “On the other hand, when people have enough money for food, everyone benefits through decreased health care costs and increased economic activity.”
Gosliner also said that people should look into their eligibility for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), as well as the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and CalEITC, poverty-alleviation benefits underused by Californians.
“People should make sure they are accessing all the safety net benefits for which they are eligible,” Gosliner said.
Market Match, other nutrition incentive programs can help
Through programs like Market Match, available at about 300 farmers markets across California affiliated with the Ecology Center, CalFresh participants can have their EBT benefits “matched” by their local market (usually up to $10 or $15 per visit).
“People are looking to get creative about how to stretch their food dollars, and Market Match is one way to do that,” said Klisch, who has led UCCE efforts to help promote the program along the Central Coast since 2017.
Striving to expand access to fresh fruit and vegetables and to support local farms, UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC worked with partners to increase CalFresh redemption at farmers markets in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
In 2017, about $48,000 in CalFresh and Market Match benefits were redeemed at farmers markets in the area. In 2022, the total was more than $207,000 – a 327% increase. According to Ecology Center figures for the entire state, CalFresh and Market Match spending at farmers markets jumped 161% from 2019 to 2021, up to $13 million.
Gosliner, whose research has shown that these nutrition incentive programs are associated with increased food security, noted that “the people who use Market Match absolutely love the program and feel it is incredibly helpful.” She also added that the California Department of Social Services is developing a pilot program that would offer match incentives for purchasing fruits and vegetables at larger food retailers.
Although the biggest of its kind, Market Match is just one of the programs across California that provide “matches” for healthy food purchases under the California Nutrition Incentive Program, which in turn is primarily funded by GusNIP (the nationwide Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program).
GusNIP dollars – and SNAP overall – are governed by the federal Farm Bill, typically renewed every five years and currently being negotiated by Congress./h3>/h3>
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated food and nutrition challenges. Many families initially lost access to meals offered by school and childcare facilities, experienced unemployment or work reductions, and faced increasing prices for food and other necessities. National and state policies and programs provided food and cash assistance to mitigate impacts on food security. Researchers at the Nutrition Policy Institute, a research center of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, evaluated safety-net policies implemented during the pandemic to better support families with low incomes in the U.S.
Benefits of universal school meals
The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program meet the nutritional needs of approximately 30 million K-12 students in America each day. Typically, students from families meeting income eligibility criteria receive school meals for free or a reduced price, while others pay full price.
NPI researchers Wendi Gosliner, project scientist, and Lorrene Ritchie, director and UC Cooperative Extension specialist, are co-leading studies of school meals in California in collaboration with researchers from the NOURISH Lab for Health Inclusion Research and Practice, who study school meals in Maine and other states.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress funded school meals for all students at no charge, in order to address the dramatic increase in food insecurity among families with children after schools shut down in March 2020. This federal provision allowing for meals to be free for all students ended after the 2021-2022 school year, but some states elected to continue providing universal school meals with state funding, in recognition of the importance of these meals for student health and academic success.
California was the first state to adopt a statewide Universal Meals Program starting in the 2022-23 school year. To support the program's development, $650 million were invested to help schools improve kitchen infrastructure and provide staff training and technical assistance. Investments include Farm to School programs and other mechanisms to help update and improve school meals. Maine and several other states also have adopted universal school meals at least through the 2022-23 school year.
“States often act as incubators – things that work well in states sometimes get translated into federal policy,” Gosliner said. Identifying the success of the programs – and their challenges – can lead to improvements and help inform advocates and policymakers considering universal school meals policies at the state and national level.
Two of the team's research studies in California and Maine documented the benefits and challenges of universal school meals, as reported by school food authorities. Among 581 school food-service leaders in California who responded to the survey, nearly half (45.7%) reported reductions in student stigma as a result of providing free school meals to all students. Among 43 respondents in Maine, over half (51%) reported lessened stigma related to school meals being free for all. In both studies, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported increases in student meal participation. These and other data suggest that universal school meals are meeting their aim, to increase student participation while providing nutritionally balanced meals.
But when the child leaves campus, the responsibility to put a nutritious meal on the table falls on the caregiver.
“Universal school meals provide food and can ease families' budgets, but for too many families, wages as well as time and other resources are not adequate for access to and consumption of enough healthy foods and beverages,” Gosliner noted.
That is when other public programs are helpful, for example the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC.
Many eligible families do not claim Earned Income Tax Credit
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a national program designed to lift families out of poverty. The supplemental income can contribute up to nearly $7,000 per year for a family. Despite the EITC's known ability to improve participants' health, research shows that many EITC-eligible households in California and across the nation don't receive the benefits for which they are eligible, leaving $2 billion unclaimed in California in 2018 alone.
Gosliner led a study along with Lia Fernald from UC Berkeley and Rita Hamad from UC San Francisco to document levels of awareness, barriers to uptake, and benefits of participation in the EITC. Their recent publication reported that among 411 EITC-eligible California female caregivers, those who were younger, spoke languages other than English, and had less awareness of the EITC were less likely to receive the tax credit.
Developing a user-friendly system for providing safety-net support and, in the meantime, providing information and support to help more EITC-eligible families receive these benefits are suggested to help alleviate financial stressors. In the long term, these strategies may reduce poverty and improve the health of children.
Increasing WIC Cash Value Benefit a boon to health
In addition to universal school meals and EITC, families with low income may be eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. The program supports women and children up to 5 years old through nutrition education, nutritious foods and access to other health and social services.
One component of the WIC food packages, the Cash Value Benefit, provides participants a fixed dollar amount to supplement their family's diet with fruits and vegetables. During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture increased this benefit from $9 to $35 per month, which was later revised to $24 per month per child in October 2021.
Ritchie contributed to a growing body of evidence on the importance and multidimensional benefits of the WIC Cash Value Benefit increase.
“Nine dollars buys only a quarter of what a child is recommended to eat every day,” Ritchie said. “The increase in Cash Value Benefit during the pandemic was an ideal natural experiment to investigate its impact.”
In collaboration with Shannon Whaley and her team at the Public Health Foundation Enterprises-WIC, NPI launched a longitudinal cohort study of nearly 2,000 California WIC participants. They found that the increased Cash Value Benefit improved WIC participant satisfaction with the program and allowed families to purchase greater quantities and varieties of fruits and vegetables.
“The increased Cash Value Benefit enabled WIC families to expose young children to new fruits and vegetables. Early exposure to a variety of fruits and vegetables is critical to establishing lifelong healthy habits,” said Ritchie.
The researchers found that the benefit increase also reduced food insecurity. It is hoped that the increase in program satisfaction translates into more eligible families enrolling and continuing to receive WIC. In November 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed making the increased Cash Value Benefit a permanent part of WIC.
In 2021, all state WIC agencies were invited to participate in a WIC satisfaction survey. Of the 12 WIC state agencies that opted to participate, Connecticut, Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico added questions on the survey to understand how the increased Cash Value Benefit impacted children's dietary intake.
The study showed consumption of fruits and vegetables by children on WIC increased by one-third cup per day on average, which is sizable when considering the impact across the WIC population.
NPI research on universal school meals, the EITC and WIC constitute a small part of a more comprehensive approach to make healthy food more accessible, affordable, equitable and sustainable for all. The NPI provides resources such as policy briefs, peer-reviewed publications and technical assistance on several research areas such as safe drinking water, childcare and education. To learn more, please visit the Nutrition Policy Institute website.