Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences
University of California
Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences

Posts Tagged: Nutrition Policy Institute

Food insecurity and childhood obesity: Is there a connection?

A well-nourished population requires that all members of society have access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food. Unfortunately, food insecurity continues to be a staggering problem throughout the world with negative consequences in terms of health and well-being. 

In the United States, millions of households, an estimated 1 in 8 Americans, lack access to enough food. Children growing up in food insecure households face many challenges, such as behavioral problems, lower academic achievement, disrupted social interactions and poor health. The prevailing belief is that children living in a food insecure environment are at greater risk of undernutrition, not obesity. Although this may be true in some cases, food insecurity and childhood obesity also coexist. 

Children from food-insecure households were more likely to be overweight or obese and less frequently ate breakfast or dinner with family. (Photo: Gtorres8944stash)

Because childhood food insecurity may increase obesity risk later in life, it is important to better understand the relationship between food insecurity and children's obesity, and how it varies by demographic characteristics in the United States.

recent study published in the September 2019 issue of The Journal of Nutrition assessed the relationship between household food insecurity and child adiposity-related outcomes. This included variables such as body mass index, waist circumference and diet outcomes. The study, conducted by Lauren Au, a researcher at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute, and colleagues examined associations by age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Data collected in 2013-2015 from 5,138 U.S. schoolchildren ages 4-15 years old from 130 communities in the cross-sectional Healthy Communities Study were analyzed.

Household food insecurity was self-reported using a two-item screening instrument and dietary intake was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire. Information on dietary behaviors, physical activity and demographics was  collected. To assess adiposity, children's weight, height and waist circumference were measured.

Study results support an association between food-insecure households and measures of adiposity. Children from food-insecure households had high body mass index, waist circumference, greater odds of being classified as overweight or obese, consumed more sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages, and less frequently ate breakfast and dinner with family compared to children from food-secure households. When examined by age groups, significant relationships were observed only for older children, however, results did not differ according to sex or race/ethnicity.

These results suggest that household food insecurity is associated with higher child adiposity-related outcomes and several nutrition behaviors, particularly among older children. Clearly, further research is needed to better understand the complexities of food insecurity, childhood obesity, and future health outcomes.

Read the full open access article.

This research was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Posted on Tuesday, September 10, 2019 at 1:21 PM
  • Author: Kathy Beerman, Ph.D., School of Biological Sciences, Washington State University
Focus Area Tags: Family Food

Children are getting healthier, but the obesity crisis is not over

Real progress has been made in tackling the epidemic of childhood obesity since the first California Childhood Obesity Conference was held 20 years ago, but there is more work to be done.

“Collectively, we have come so far,” UC Nutrition Policy Institute Director Lorrene Ritchie told an audience of 1,025 public health, nutrition education, research, and other professionals at the event in Anaheim in July 2019. NPI was one of six conference hosts.

NPI director Lorrene Ritchie, center, talks with colleagues at the Nutrition Policy Institute exhibit at the conference.

In the last 20 years:

  • Federal school meal standards have been revised so that the food children eat at school is healthier than the lunches they bring from home.
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages are no longer available to students during the school day.
  • Foods provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) are healthier and give mothers incentive to breast feed their babies.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) education component is now linked to policy, systems and environmental changes.
  • The Child and Adult Care Food Program now provides healthier meals and snacks to children in childcare centers and homes across the country. 

The average quality of the diet of American children has improved, but the rate of childhood obesity in the United States is still too high.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.5% of U.S. children and adolescents 2 to 19 years old are obese – about 13.7 million youth in all. The rates trend higher in minority communities, with 25.8% of Latinx youth and 22% of African American youth obese. Obesity is also more prevalent among children in families with low incomes.

Obesity, which is defined in children as a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile of CDC growth charts, is associated with poorer mental health status, reduced quality of life, and increased prevalence of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.

Vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Glenda Humiston, the solution to the obesity epidemic will be multidisciplinary.

The vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Glenda Humiston, pledged the organization's commitment to community health and wellbeing at the Childhood Obesity Conference. UC ANR is the umbrella organization of the Nutrition Policy Institute, UC CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development, the UC Master Gardener Program and the California Naturalist Program, among others.

“Going forward, solutions to the obesity epidemic are multidisciplinary,” Humiston said. “NPI does world class work in conducting research to influence nutrition policy. We need to harness 4-H. Master Gardeners are increasingly focusing on edible gardens. CalNat is getting people out into nature. We are finding synergies in community wellness.”

Humiston has dedicated UC ANR resources to finding and implementing solutions to the obesity crisis.

“I'm looking forward to working with all of you – public and private organizations – to design a way to move forward,” she said.

NPI director Lorrene Ritchie, left, and NPI associate director of research Gail Woodward-Lopez, honor NPI senior director of research emeritus Patricia Crawford (right) at the Childhood Obesity Conference.

The opening keynote presentation at the conference featured Patricia Crawford, NPI's Senior Director of Research emeritus, a pioneer in addressing the growing problem of childhood obesity during her long career. Beginning in the 1970s, she recognized that childhood obesity was on the rise and launched several studies to search for the causes and potential solutions.

In one study, Crawford followed a group of 9-year-old African American girls over a period of 10 years to determine why these youth were growing up heavier than other adolescents.

“Finally, we began to get some answers,” Crawford said. “We learned obesity wasn't the children's fault. They were living in environments that made the unhealthy choice cheaper and easier to find. It's so unfair for people who have fewer resources. Health disparities has to be the No. 1 thing we are working on to address chronic disease rates in this country.”

“The solution to obesity is prevention. It's cheaper and more effective than treatment,” Crawford continued. “Healthy food is a taste that is easy to acquire if it is not preempted by junk food.”

Crawford said she honed in on the best strategies for prevention by actively listening to people struggling to make healthy choices 

“There is a chasm between research and community,” Crawford said. “We have to get people together from the research level and the policy level with folks on the ground. We need to learn from people.”

Posted on Friday, July 26, 2019 at 12:03 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

NPI study finds that prices for fruits and vegetables may be higher in low-income neighborhoods

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

Published online in March 2018 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, the study, conducted by researchers at UC's Nutrition Policy Institute, involved more than 200 large grocery stores, 600 small markets, and 600 convenience stores in 225 low-income neighborhoods (where at least half of the population was at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level) and compared observed prices to purchased price data from chain grocery stores in the same counties during the same months.

Shoppers purchasing fruits and vegetables in stores located in low-income neighborhoods in California may pay more for those fruits and vegetables than shoppers in other neighborhoods, according to a Nutrition Policy Institute study that examined prices in a large sample of stores throughout the state.

The study found that produce prices for the items examined (apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and tomatoes) were higher in stores in low-income neighborhoods than the average prices of those items sold in stores in the same counties during the same month. Fruits and vegetables for sale in convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods were significantly more expensive than those for sale in small markets or large grocery stores. Yet even in large grocery stores the study found prices in the low-income neighborhoods to be higher than average county grocery store prices during the same month.

“Americans eat too few fruits and vegetables to support optimal health, and we know that dietary disparities among socioeconomic groups are increasing,” said study author Wendi Gosliner. “This study suggests that one important issue may be fruit and vegetable prices — not just that calorie-per-calorie fruits and vegetables are more expensive than many unhealthy foods, but also that there are equity issues in terms of relative prices in neighborhoods where lower-income Californians live.”

Additionally, the study examined the quality and availability of fruits and vegetables in stores and found that while less than half of convenience stores (41 percent) sold fresh produce, even fewer (1 in 5) sold a wide variety of fruits or vegetables, and few of the items that were for sale were rated by trained observers to be high quality (25 percent for fruits and 14 percent for vegetables).

“This study suggests that convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods currently fail to provide access to high-quality, competitively priced fresh fruits and vegetables," said Pat Crawford, nutrition expert and study author. “A healthy diet can prevent disease and reduce health care costs in the state. States need to explore new ways to help ensure that families, particularly those living in low-income neighborhoods where convenience stores are the only food retailers, have access to healthy, high-quality foods that are affordable,” Crawford added.

The study also found that convenience stores participating in federal food programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and/or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children [WIC]) were more likely to sell fresh produce and to offer higher quality and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than stores not participating in either program.

The study was conducted under contract with the California Department of Public Health. Funding is from USDA SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 at 9:05 AM
Focus Area Tags: Family Food Health

Announcing California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Nutrition Policy Institute are pleased to announce March 5 - 9, 2018, as California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week. During this week, a range of partners statewide, including the Governor, the Secretary of Agriculture, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as many other agency leaders in public health, natural resources management, nutrition, and other sectors, are coming together in an unprecedented collaboration to raise awareness about the impacts of food waste in our homes, workplaces and communities.

This collaboration grew out of a meeting held in February 2017 in which the Public Health Alliance of Southern California and the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute jointly convened state agencies delivering nutrition education programming to discuss the impacts of food waste and strategize solutions the agencies could advance together. The planning group identified an opportunity to generate and issue shared messaging during National Nutrition Month, a goal that has evolved into California's inaugural Food Waste Prevention Week, a coordinated multi-sector effort to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and social impacts of food waste in California.

Food waste is a significant issue. The United States is losing up to 40% of its food from farm to fork to landfill. That translates to $218 billion lost, including costs of food to consumers and retailers, as well as costs of wasted water, energy, fertilizer, cropland, production, storage and transportation. CalRecycle estimates that Californians throw away almost 12 billion pounds of food each year – 18% of all landfill use in this state. The food in landfills decomposes and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

In addition, that food loss could have fed people, not landfills, if only it had been used, instead of tossed. In California, nearly 5 million people are food insecure, lacking consistent access to enough food. Roughly 1 in 8 Californians are experiencing hunger, and 1 in 5 of those are children. 



Reducing food waste requires action by partners throughout the food system. During Food Waste Prevention Week, stay tuned to the Nutrition Policy Institute Twitter page and the UC ANR Twitter and Facebook pages for food waste prevention resources, tips and ideas.

You can also share food waste prevention ideas by participating in the Food Waste Reduction Hero Photo Challenge. Simply take a few photos that show how food waste happens in your home, workplace or community and what actions/changes you're making to reduce food waste. Share your submissions via social media platforms using the hashtag #SaveTheFoodCA and tag @SaveTheFood on Twitter and/or Instagram, or email your submissions  to SaveTheFoodCA@gmail.com. Please include your location.

For more about Food Waste Prevention Week, read Rose Hayden-Smith's UC Food Observer article, see the Nutrition Policy Institute's Research to Action news brief, and watch UC ANR Vice President Glenda Humiston's video.  


Even incorporating a few simple food waste prevention actions has great potential to reduce food waste in California. Your efforts to be a Food Waste Reduction Hero this week, and into the future, will make an impact.   

Thank you for helping to make a difference during this inaugural California Food Waste Prevention Week!

 

Posted on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 8:09 AM

Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

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