Posts Tagged: Lorrene Ritchie
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.)
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.