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Posts Tagged: nutrition

Fighting hunger and building planet health go hand in hand

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.”

NASA created a three-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations around the world. Methane is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases warming the earth, after carbon dioxide.

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.”

Strip till processing tomato transplanting into cover crop residue in Hollister is an example of the regenerative agricultural practices that boost soil health. (Photo: Jeff Mitchell)

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.

Posted on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at 9:06 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food

UCCE nutrition educators teach farmworker families about healthy eating

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.

Adding green vegetables to quesadillas is a way to add nutrition to traditional staples.
Posted on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 9:23 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Karina Diaz Rios promotes healthy eating among people vulnerable to food insecurity

This is one of a series of stories featuring a sampling of UC ANR academics whose work exemplifies the public value UC ANR brings to California.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has continued to work to safeguard abundant and healthy food for all Californians, promote healthy people and communities, build skills needed in the workforce and help to develop an inclusive and equitable society. For insights into how the pandemic is affecting life in California and UC ANR's programs in these areas, UC's research magazine, California Agriculture, spoke with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Karina Díaz Rios about nutrition. Below is the edited conversation.

California Agriculture: How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting food security for people in California?

Karina Díaz Rios, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist
Karina Díaz Rios: This may sound counter intuitive because of the type and size of the agricultural activity in California, but access to nutritious food was an issue in many communities in California even before the pandemic hit. According to the latest reports from the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 10% of California households are food insecure, which means that they have inconsistent or limited access to enough food for an active, healthy life. If you compare these numbers with the national food insecurity rate, which is about 12%, you would think that California is not in particularly bad shape. However, there's another story to tell. In particular segments of the population in the state, food insecurity is really a big issue, with some communities being affected at a rate as high as 40%, in the case of low income Californians, or around 25% in some counties in the San Joaquin Valley. The public health catastrophe we're dealing with right now has exacerbated these disparities. Distressing estimates indicate California has seen the largest increase in food insecurity during the pandemic, with Los Angeles County being at the very top across the nation. This means communities already affected by food insecurity are now even more prone to suffer the consequences of not having access to a quality diet — consequences such as malnutrition and a concomitant worsening of health.

California Agriculture: So the pandemic is affecting people's ability to get enough food to eat. Is it also affecting their ability to eat healthy food?

Karina Díaz Rios: Food-insecure people tend to spend more of their food money at convenience stores, where
prices are often higher than the larger grocery stores and the variety and quality are usually lower. This means that the overall quality of the diet of food insecure households is about 5% to 10% lower than households that are food secure. That doesn't sound like much, but the average diet quality of folks in the United States is already suboptimal — around 60 out of 100. If 100 is the highest-quality diet, 60 is not much more than halfway there. So a reduction of 5% to 10% is really consequential. The issue is not that food-insecure people make bad choices. In buying certain kinds of food instead of others, people are making the right choices based on their circumstances. Shopping in convenience stores might be the logical action when time or other resources, like transportation or income, are limited — and when planning meals maybe isn't realistic because of lack of practice or other competing priorities. It's difficult to plan when your income is unstable.

California Agriculture: How does all this affect the work that you do?

Karina Díaz Rios: This is an area where there are challenges, but also opportunities. The Cooperative Extension army of nutrition educators is very well suited to help overcome some of the obstacles that the pandemic has posed for accessing resources, whether in-kind resources like food assistance or educational resources. They know their communities. They can identify the needs in their communities and help address them more easily than people who are not in such good touch with the community. Another extremely good thing about our Cooperative Extension system in California is that people are very creative. We have people who can come up with solutions in a heartbeat and implement them.

California Agriculture: Lots of children around the state won't be returning to school in the fall, at least at first. What effect does remote education, as opposed to in-school education, have on the food security issues that you cover?

Karina Díaz Rios: A large number of low-income students who qualify for food assistance and school meal programs are not going to get those meals if they don't go to school. There are efforts in several school districts to make sure that low-income children are actually receiving these meals. These efforts are particularly key right now, but it takes a great deal of planning and resources to make it happen. But also, these school meals only represent, at best, two-thirds of the daily caloric needs for children who get breakfast and lunch from school. So they can still be on a caloric deficit if they don't have enough food at home, which again, is more likely to be the case because of the pandemic.

California Agriculture: Do you foresee that the coronavirus is going to cause any long-lasting changes in the realm of nutrition? Or, after a vaccine is developed, do you imagine that things will more or less go back to the way they were?

Karina Díaz Rios: I am concerned that the people most affected by higher food insecurity due to the pandemic are going to be children. A lack of nutrients, even for a limited time, can affect children's ability to grow and thrive. So I just hope that these days are not going to have a lasting impact on these children — but it's a possibility.

Posted on Monday, September 28, 2020 at 10:19 AM

Kids still drink milk when chocolate milk is pulled from the menu

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.

Taking chocolate milk out of schools results in a significant reduction in added sugar consumption. (Photo: Bob Nichols, USDA).

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.

Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at 11:43 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Healthy vending grows in popularity on UC campuses

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.

Healthy options, calorie counts and reminders help consumers make good-sense decisions when buying food or beverages from vending machines.

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.

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 at 1:39 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

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