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Posts Tagged: Lorrene Ritchie

Healthy food and food insecurity

Farmers grow lettuce, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables in California's Imperial Valley, Central Valley, Salinas Valley and far northern counties. However, these nutritious foods are not readily available to local low income communities.

“Children often don't have access to healthy food options,” said Christopher Gomez Wong, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator in Imperial County. “I'm from the Imperial Valley and often the fruits and vegetables grown here are not sold in local markets.”

According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, almost 2.5 million young people in the United States do not have access to nutritious food.

Despite the abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables grown in California, some residents don't have access to nutritious food. (Photo: USDA)

“In California, one of every six children lives in a home where it's difficult to get the amount of nutritious food needed for their families,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute. “We call this ‘food insecurity.'”

A study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) found that food insecurity increases school absences and behavioral problems, and reduces children's concentration and academic achievement.

Ritchie, who leads a group of experts fighting obesity and food insecurity, said when family income is not sufficient, there is a tendency to buy cheaper foods, generally, junk food.

“If I'm hungry and I don't have much money, I'm going to a fast food restaurant where I can get more calories at a lower price,” Ritchie said. “Fast foods have more calories and cost less, but they typically also contain more sugar, salt and fat.”

For example, research presented at the UC ANR Statewide Conference on food insecurity included a graphic showing that for one dollar, consumers can purchase a bag of potato chips with 1,200 calories or a soda with 875 calories. In contrast, one dollar can buy just 250 calories of fresh vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.

In everyday life, there are many examples of nutritious foods being displaced by junk foods

“We are studying children's eating habits,” Gomez Wong said. “Children aren't eating in the cafeteria and are eating lots of sweets. Five dollars more often buys them chips and a soda than a salad.”

Eating lunch at school helps students make better food choices. (Photo: USDA)

UC ANR works to combat food insecurity in many ways. It implements various ongoing community programs, conducts research and promotes government nutrition programs.

Urban gardens and orchards have a positive impact in low income communities, particularly where families do not have space for their own gardens and are interested in growing their own food. One example is the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. Other cities with similar programs are Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.

UC Master Food Preserver Program teaches the public how to preserve food by canning, freezing and drying in order to take advantage lower prices for fruit and vegetables purchased in season.

Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) offers free nutrition workshops in most California counties where people can learn how to purchase nutritious foods for less money and how to prepare them.

In addition, there are successful government programs, such as the National School Lunch Program, that provides nutritious foods free or at a reduced cost for children in public schools. The food is aligned with the national food guidelines that promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat milk.

“Every study we have done shows that school food contributes in an important way to children's nutrition,” Ritchie said. “For example, many children can meet half of their daily nutrition needs from school foods available absolutely free. I encourage all families to review school food programs to assure that their children arrive at school in time for the school breakfast and take advantage of the school lunch.”

MyPlate
In the fight against food insecurity, UC ANR has made important contributions, however, the challenges are enormous given that society continues to promote junk food of low nutritional quality.

“What we are trying to figure out is how to create an environment in which healthy options are the easiest options,” Ritchie said.

She said it would be ideal if supermarkets were designed under in concert with the healthy eating guidelines set forth in MyPlate. That is to say, to have stores where half the space is devoted to fruit and vegetables, a third is grains and whole grains, and another third are proteins, dairy foods and water (although water is not currently on MyPlate.)   

Link to the Spanish version of this story.

Posted on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 8:03 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

NPI applauds Smart Snacks for schoolchildren

Melon and plums are packaged for schools. New USDA rules call for snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

With an eye on reducing childhood obesity and improving overall health for children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the final rule for snacks at schools. The rule made final on July 21 includes requiring snacks served at school to meet nutritional standards similar to those required of school meals.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute applauds the USDA for their recently final Smart Snacks in School rule, which complements the nutritional improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Offering more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in schools can benefit overall diet quality.

Creating school environments that offer more healthful foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also influence the way children eat at home and away from school.

“No single setting has the potential to influence the nutrition of more children than schools,” said Ritchie.

“Research – conducted by our Nutrition Policy Institute and others – has demonstrated that the healthy school foods and beverages consumed by children have a positive impact on their overall diet quality,” she said.

USDA also now requires any food or beverage that is marketed on school campuses during the school day to meet the Smart Snacks standards. Children are a target market for many foods and beverages that contain low nutritional quality and high calories that contribute to excess weight. To be advertised on a school campus, foods and beverages must meet the same Smart Snack standards for items sold or served by a school, according to the new Local School Wellness Policy rule.

“We are starting to see a leveling of child obesity rates in some places and changes to the school food environment are essential to furthering this progress,” said Ritchie.

Providing a consistent source of nutritious food at school will help the approximately 6.2 million California K-12 students develop healthy eating habits for life.

To read more about the federal changes to school food requirements, read the USDA news release at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2016/07/0172.xml&contentidonly=true.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 9:52 AM

USDA puts more fruits and veggies, less sugar in new child-care nutrition standards

Young children and adults in care programs will now receive meals with more whole grains, a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, and less added sugars and solid fats. These changes please Lorrene Ritchie, Ph.D., RD, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute in the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

“I applaud USDA's decisions to increase servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cereals low in sugar, and healthy beverages, including breastfeeding,” said Ritchie, who has devoted her career to the development of interdisciplinary, science-based and culturally relevant solutions to child obesity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new nutrition standards in April for food and beverages served to young children and others in child care settings that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks at day care, afterschool centers and emergency shelters. The final rule is intended to better align the nutritional quality of meals and snacks provided under the program with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Lorrene Ritchie
“These new, science-based standards carry the program a long way forward from meal patterns that have been essentially unchanged since the program's introduction in 1968,” wrote Ritchie in a letter of support to USDA.

At USDA's behest, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee of eminent nutrition researchers to develop science-based recommendations for CACFP meals and snacks that meet the challenge of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010: to align the CACFP standards with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“USDA has taken the IOM's recommendations and translated them into nutrition standards that help address obesity and overweight as well as food insecurity. The new standards are straightforward for childcare sponsors and providers and impose no new, added costs,” said Ritchie, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

This update to CACFP standards is an important step toward ensuring that young children have access to the nutrition they need and develop healthy habits that will contribute to their well-being over the long term, Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary, said in announcing the new standards.

“Research indicates that America's obesity problem starts young, with obesity rates in preschoolers more than doubling over the last three decades and one in eight preschoolers classified as obese,” Concannon said. “Since taste preference and eating habits develop early in life, CACFP could play a crucial role in the solution.”

Ritchie, who has conducted studies on the impact of policy on nutrition practices in child care settings, thinks USDA's process for developing the new nutrition standards is effective.

“The new meal patterns demonstrate that the process for regularly updating nutrition standards in the federal food programs, using evidence-based IOM recommendations, is working well,” she said. “The new CACFP standards should make a significant beneficial contribution to the health and development of the nation's young children.”

The NPI director, who has led a push to persuade the government to make water the drink of choice in the dietary guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide, also praised USDA's authorization of reimbursement for the expenses involved in providing bottled water in the rare instances when tap water is not potable.

“UC Nutrition Policy Institute has a special commitment to expanding children's consumption of drinking water,” Ritchie said.

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute's mission is to improve nutrition and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in children and their families in diverse settings. NPI provides nutrition policy leadership built from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' numerous research, and education activities, and works in synergy with research and outreach efforts being conducted throughout the University of California system.

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 9:10 AM

Two key takeaways from new federal dietary guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans substitute water for sugary drinks. (Photo: public-domain-image.com)
The U.S. government's new dietary guidelines take a bold stand on reducing sugar intake but should do more to promote drinking water, according to nutrition experts from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) has led a push to get the government to make water the drink of choice in the guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide. The guidelines don't go that far, though they do include information that recommends drinking water – in the fine print.

“The guidelines' recommendation to substitute water for sugary drinks is based on solid science. These beverages are the single biggest source of added sugars for our country's kids – and this guidance is explicit and unambiguous and will boost our work in promoting zero-calorie drinking water as the beverage of choice,” said Nutrition Policy Institute Director Lorrene Ritchie. “However, this guidance is presented in a way that gives few Americans an opportunity to see it: on a tip sheet that explains how to use the components of MyPlate ‘to create your own healthy eating solutions — MyWins'. The public health community and the new National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated through NPI, will build on the potential in this fine-print message by continuing drinking water education, promotion and advocacy.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years based on the latest advances in nutritional science, serve as a basis for federal nutrition policy and help set the tone for how Americans should eat. The 2015-2020 guidelines, published this month, recommend a “healthy eating pattern” with limited added sugar and saturated fat, less salt, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

For the first time, the guidelines recommend a clear limit on added sugar of no more than 10 percent of daily calories.

“The science regarding the health risks of a high-sugar diet is strong,” Ritchie said. “Not only is sugar associated with chronic disease risk and obesity, but it also displaces foods known to protect and promote health.”

And what's the simplest way to reduce sugar intake?

“Take a bite out of the added sugars in your diet by drinking plain water instead of sugary beverages,” Ritchie said. “This one simple lifestyle change can be an effective response to the latest nutrition science in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Read more UC expert commentary on the new dietary guidelines

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 9:45 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg

Experts combine research with policy to reduce childhood obesity

UC President Janet Napolitano speaks at the Childhood Obesity Conference as Lorrene Ritchie (left) and Patricia Crawford look on.
At the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference last week, UC President Janet Napolitano spoke about UC's Global Food Initiative (GFI), which aims to “to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable.”

It was the first time a UC president has taken part in the long-running and nationally recognized gathering, noted the director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), Lorrene Ritchie.

“I think it demonstrates her commitment to the Global Food Initiative and the work we do at UC ANR,” Ritchie said.

During her remarks, Napolitano said it was fitting for her to speak at the conference as it coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Global Food Initiative, a sweeping effort involving all UC campuses and UC ANR that was inspired by many of the same concerns addressed by conference participants.

“As we meet here in San Diego today, a billion people — most but not all of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious micronutrient deficiencies,” Napolitano said. “Another half billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world, like the United States — suffer from obesity.”

Since the biennial conference's inception, Patricia Crawford, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, and other members of NPI have been involved in its planning. Crawford announced she is “passing the baton” to Ritchie to guide the conference moving forward.

More than 1,700 nutritionists and other experts on children's health attended the San Diego gathering June 29 – July 2. In addition to the NPI, the conference was hosted by the California Department of Public Health, California Department of Education, the California Endowment and Kaiser Permanente.

NPI hosted a preconference workshop on June 29 to bridge the gap between research and policy regarding the federal nutrition assistance programs and the Dietary Guidelines, which reach more Americans than any other nutrition policy.

“The preconference session provided a rare opportunity for policymakers and administrators, nutrition researchers, advocates, and funders to sit together to identify today's key policy issues and propose research to inform future policy debates and developments,” said Kenneth Hecht, NPI director of policy. “Participants also focused on another extremely important question: How to improve communications in both directions between researchers and policymakers.”

Chelsea Clinton at the obesity conference.
At the opening plenary session, Chelsea Clinton, vice-chair of The Clinton Foundation, talked about projects her family's foundation work to improve children's health and literacy.

“Childhood obesity is a national security challenge. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that very clearly in 2013,” Clinton said. “In New York City, where I live, the New York City Fire Department and Police Department have said they are worried they won't be able recruit enough people to fill their ranks if obesity rates continue.”

To help address the problem, the Clinton Foundation along with the American Heart Association established the Alliance for a Healthier Generation 10 years ago. Because of the program, nearly 300 California schools have made changes significantly reducing overweight among children.

“Grateful to all @ObesityConffor for a great morning talking about @HealthierGenand for everything you do to help children be healthy!#COC15,” Clinton tweeted after her presentation.

During a workshop session, NPI's Ritchie and other panelists discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare settings. Crawford and other panelists presented data on childhood obesity trends and racial/ethnic disparities in California and discussed the health and financial consequences. They also addressed the cost-effectiveness of national and state excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and labels to inform consumers of the health risks of consuming sugary drinks.

The panel discussion with Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, left, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, and NPI director of policy Kenneth Hecht.
Hecht moderated a conversation on policy with former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. The two influential figures discussed the growth of the federal nutrition assistance programs over 40 years and reflected on obstacles overcome and successes achieved. Harkin was honored at the conference with a lifetime achievement award for public service.

Hecht also moderated a panel on local and national initiatives that are linking farm fresh produce to food bank recipients. NPI researcher Elizabeth Campbell, who participated in the discussion with a local farmer, a food bank employee and a public health anti-hunger advocate, said food banks should have policies to guide the nutritional quality of their inventory.

During the closing plenary, First Lady Michelle Obama sent video greetings to the Childhood Obesity Conference attendees to praise them for their work and encourage them to continue to fight to protect children's health.

PowerPoint presentations from the conference are available online. Photos and postconference information can be seen on Facebook and Twitter and with the hashtag #COC15.

Posted on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 5:12 PM

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