Posts Tagged: nutrition
A U.S. federal government shutdown can represent a minor inconvenience, a delay in paychecks, or – for people living in some of the most difficult circumstances – an extended period of hunger and anxiety.
A study published recently in the journal Nutrients provides a unique glimpse into the shutdown experiences of participants in CalFresh – California's name for the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Currently, about 42 million people participate in SNAP across the U.S.
In focus groups conducted in 2019 with 26 low-income CalFresh participants from four diverse California counties, participants shared how the 2018-19 federal government shutdown affected their SNAP benefits, their perception of the program and their faith in government.
One of the immediate effects of the 2018-19 shutdown was that February CalFresh benefits were distributed in January. And while that meant program participants saw extra benefits that month, they then had to wait 40 to 44 days until the March issuance – much longer than the usual 28 to 31 day cycle.
“What we saw with this study is that this extended lag in benefit receipt from January to March was devastating,” said Wendi Gosliner, senior researcher and policy advisor at the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and an author of the study funded by UC ANR.
She recalled one participant who, despite having a gastrointestinal issue that requires a special diet, had to eat canned food from the food bank that made her sick – rather than go hungry while waiting for her March benefits. Others described cascading financial challenges after using rent money for food in February, or going into debt to pay for food and getting behind on other expenses.
The study also chronicles the experiences of a woman who was anguished to hear the suffering of her daughter, also a CalFresh participant: “She called me several times crying, ‘Ma, I don't – we don't have enough food. What am I going to do…? You know, I can't afford to this and this and this.' And I can't help her.”
For individuals grappling with food insecurity, the stress of feeding their families was compounded by the uncertainties of the government shutdown. And while many participants exercised their agency and resourcefulness in coping with the situation, they also felt a degree of powerlessness amid the “confusion and craziness,” as one person put it.
“No one knew how long that shutdown was going to last; no one knew if the March benefits were going to be paid,” Gosliner said. “And as we learned, there were all kinds of stories circulating out there about what was going on with the uncertainty – a lot of people didn't have the information about what was actually happening.”
Some participants, seeing the “double benefit” in January 2019, thought that it was the last-ever distribution and that SNAP was ending. Others described being unable to get in touch with the CalFresh agency to get their questions answered about the benefits. Most participants had not heard about the disrupted benefit schedule before receiving the benefits. As a result, many people in the focus groups shared that their overall faith in government had been shaken.
Improving customer service, boosting benefit levels and adjusting eligibility and benefit formulas to reflect high cost-of-living and expenses related to working were three recommendations that came from the focus group participants.
A fourth recommendation tackles the shutdown issue head-on: Don't let it happen again.
“Congress should do absolutely everything in their power to be sure that the program operates on the usual time schedule – even if the government is shut down,” Gosliner said.
In the context of the global pandemic, when financial and social inequities and physical and mental health disparities have been laid bare, ensuring access to healthful food is even more important. And with studies showing that hospitalizations increase with longer lags between SNAP distributions, Gosliner said the “absolute last thing” the overburdened health system needs is more people in emergency departments seeking acute care.
“It's the worst time to be having people who need money to feed their families face additional insecurity,” she said. “It's critically important that Congress acts to be sure that there is not any disruption in benefits.”
The authors of the study, “Participants' Experiences of the 2018–2019 Government Shutdown and Subsequent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Benefit Disruption Can Inform Future Policy,” are Wendi Gosliner, Wei-Ting Chen, Cathryn Johnson, Elsa Michelle Esparza, Natalie Price, Ken Hecht and Lorrene Ritchie.
The study can be found online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7353319.
Drinking water safety, especially for children, has become an issue of heightened concern since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in 2014.
The National Drinking Water Alliance map has recently been updated to add over 235 new points linking to news reports of tap water contamination, with nearly half of the incidents emerging since 2019.
“We created the map to help community members, advocates and decision-makers visualize the tap water contamination landscape, particularly for incidents of lead that exceed state action levels,” said Christina Hecht, UC Nutrition Policy Institute senior policy advisor and National Drinking Water Alliance coordinator.
Residents can zoom in on their state to check for contamination incidents that were reported in the news. Red pins indicate lead contamination in schools and parks. Clicking on a pin on the map produces a pop-up box containing the name of the town, date and link to the news story.
“Although most tap water is safe for drinking, the number of dots on the map show that there are times and places where tap water is not safe,” Hecht said. “The only way to know if tap water has elevated lead is by testing through an accredited lab.”
The interactive map was created by the Nutrition Policy Institute and Informatics and Geographic Information System at the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. The map only includes tap water contamination with lead and contaminants regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For example, reports of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contaminating drinking water are not included because PFAS are not regulated by the EPA.
Although a few states now maintain some type of online database of results from school or childcare tests for lead in tap water, to date, there is no national database of lead exceedances in school or childcare drinking water.
The National Drinking Water Alliance map includes information on state policies and programs to test for lead in school drinking water. Almost one-third of U.S. states have enacted legislation providing policy to test for lead in drinking water in schools and, in some cases, in child-care centers. California tests for lead in drinking water at all public K-12 schools and posts the results online. Policies for mandatory testing have recently passed in Oregon and Vermont. New legislation has been proposed in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Connecticut. Voluntary programs are now present in every state, funded by nationwide federal grants supporting testing in child-care facilities and schools.
More information on each state's actions can be found on the interactive map at www.drinkingwateralliance.org/new-map, which was updated by Nutrition Policy Institute intern Laurel Denyer, a recent UC Davis graduate.
For more information about drinking water safety, and to propose additions to the map, please contact the NDWA at DWAalliance@ucanr.edu.
After serving Californians for over 22 years as a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Riverside County, Chutima Ganthavorn retired from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources July 1. Ganthavorn credits her success in improving nutrition education for Inland Empire residents to community partnerships, reliable funding and leadership support.
Ganthavorn earned her bachelor's degree in food and nutrition at UC Berkeley. After taking on a work-study opportunity at Cal, Ganthavorn was inspired to pursue food and nutrition further, which later led her to earn a Ph.D. in food science from Washington State University.
When Ganthavorn joined UC ANR as the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Riverside County in 1999, one of the first major responsibilities she was given was to build successful programs for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, now known as CalFresh Healthy Living, UC. This proved to be quite a challenge since there were no program supervisors and limited statewide office support at the time.
“It was a job that involved having a passion for helping others, especially low-resource families that were in need of better health,” said Ganthavorn.
Early on in her career,Ganthavorn worked with Southeast Asian farmers, grandparents raising grandchildren, and Latino youth from migrant families. During her time at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources,Ganthavorn has collaborated with many UC Cooperative Extension staff and academic colleagues as well as community partners, all in an effort to help build healthy families and communities.
Patti Suppe, a Loma Vista Middle School physical education teacher and Alvord Unified School District's wellness leader who worked with UC Cooperative Extension on gardening and nutrition projects until she retired two years ago, expressed her appreciation to Ganthavorn.
“Thank you so much for all you have done for UC Cooperative Extension and wellness in general,” Suppe wrote. “I especially want to thank you for all that you did for Alvord and especially Loma Vista. There is no doubt that we would have never received the recognition from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation without your hard work and continual support.”
Later in her career, Ganthavorn also became involved in nutrition projects serving Native American and African American communities. In 2006, Ganthavorn partnered with UC Master Gardeners, a partnership that deepened over the years and subsequently led to community garden and school garden development and garden-based nutrition education.
“Ganthavorn is a selfless, thought-provoking partner on projects,” said Michele Nicole Tabor, program representative III in the statewide CalFresh Healthy Living, UC office at UC Davis. “She has been a pivotal figure in developing strong relationships with people throughout the communities she has served, such as members of the Torres Martinez Tribal community. Her amazing work ethic and calm spirit are inspiring. Her absolute dedication to positive community health outcomes in the Riverside and San Bernardino communities has made a difference in people's lives.”
By 2015, her responsibilities expanded to include overseeing EFNEP in San Bernardino County. As a result of efforts with Ganthavorn and EFNEP educators to create a healthier environment for students and parents, Juanita Blakely Jones Elementary School in San Bernardino received an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy School Program in 2018.
“A common thread I found in all my interactions over the years is that there are plenty of dedicated and passionate people – ANR staff and academics as well as community partners – wanting to build healthy families and communities,” said Ganthavorn. “The keys to success are partnership, funding and leadership support. It has been a joy working with everyone I have encountered and a memorable journey for me.”
During her retirement, Ganthavorn, who has been granted the prestigious emeritus status from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, plans to continue assisting the Torres Martinez Tribe with their Advancing California Opportunity to Renew Native health Systems (ACORNS) project. She also looks forward to spending more time with her family, sleeping in, exercising, reading more, and hopes to travel soon.
“Her quiet, unassuming character over time moves mountains and builds deep trust in all who have the honor to know and work with her. She will be missed immensely!” Tabor said.
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.
UC ANR partners with state and local organizations to improve urban communities. This story is one in a series about the impact of these partnerships.
The Farmworker Institute of Education and Leadership Development (FIELD), founded by Cesar Chavez in 1978, is dedicated to strengthening communities and the lives of farmworkers and immigrants in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.
In Kern County, they are partnering with UC Cooperative Extension's CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program to ensure families have the knowledge and skills they need to buy and prepare food that will help prevent chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and prevent obesity.
Each year, UCCE nutrition education supervisor Beatriz Rojas and UCCE nutrition education specialist Bea Ramirez present students in the program with eight free lessons on nutrition, physical activity and healthy living. Beginning in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, participants attended classes online, and the Kern County CalFresh Healthy Living, UC staff adapted their classes to an online platform.
FIELD requested nutrition classes for their 32 adult students during the summer session.
“We provided the students with lesson packets and followed up with one-on-one calls to review each lesson,” Rojas said. “The participants received vital information on how to keep themselves and their families fit and healthy, save money at the grocery store, make healthy food choices and prepare tasty meals.”
In one of the phone calls, a participant mentioned that she started to incorporate 30 to 40 minutes of stationary bike riding in her daily routine and started her family on this activity as well.
“Ever since I started the nutrition class, it has taught me how to read the nutrition facts label when I go to the store, also how to choose the right oil, meat and dairy,” the student said. “My family and I do a lot more physical activity at home and we eat healthier.”
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC program and other UC ANR statewide programs rely on donor contributions. To learn more about CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and how to support programs in your area, visit the UC Youth, Families and Communities program website.