While hunger rates across the globe have dropped, one in 9 of the world’s more than 7 billion people still struggle with chronic hunger. World Food Day seeks to raise hunger awareness and encourage people to take action.
World Food Day marks the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which celebrates its 71st anniversary this year. Achieving global food security is FAO’s core mission.
Other major institutions are also tackling global food security and diet-related diseases in innovative and impactful ways. The University of California’s Global Food Initiative, launched in 2014, addresses one of the most compelling challenges facing all of us: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a growing world population. It’s a bold initiative; the UC Food Observer editorial staff is proud to be part of this critical work.
What UC is Doing
On land and sea, here and across the globe, UC scientists and students are using their skills to address the global food crisis.
From diversifying food to developing new varieties to adapting crops to a changing climate, the University of California and its Global Food Initiative are working to help improve food security this World Food Day. UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources alone has collaborators in more than 130 countries working to help solve agricultural problems.
Learn about a fascinating and diverse line-up of #globalfood projects in this #mustread article by UC colleague Alec Rosenberg.
Research to Policy
Research is vital to informing public policy. Last week, I traveled to the UC Davis campus to learn more about how research gets translated to help shape public policies that frame the food system and public health. The gathering was sponsored by UC ANR.
One of those who spoke to the group was Tina Leahy, a UC Davis law grad who now serves as Senior Staff Counsel to the California State Water Resources Control Board. Her work lies at the nexus of science, policy and law.
She quoted statistician George Box:
…there is no need to ask the question “Is the model true?”. If “truth” is to be the “whole truth” the answer must be “No”. The only question of interest is “Is the model illuminating and useful?”
Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.
To have science be useful to policy makers, Leahy stressed the importance of being able to translate clearly and succinctly what scientists are saying to those who work in the legislative branch. She noted that “people are very smart…but they are also very busy.”
Science in Public Policy and Decision-Making: A Case Study in Nutrition
Another speaker was Lorrene Ritchie, who serves as the director of UC ANR’s Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI).
NPI has emerged as a nationally recognized powerhouse in nutrition research and policy. The unit has also earned a reputation for effectively translating research into evidence-based recommendations, which help policy makers with effective decision-making.
Ritchie spoke about the ways in which qualitative research – such as focus groups and personal interviews – enriches quantitative data. She described how qualitative research has enabled her to connect in more effective ways to the data generated by quantitative research and to more effectively tell a story.
The researcher discussed the importance of convening stakeholders in a strategic way and seeking their input on what the next policy steps might be and what the next steps are for research. She identified a critical component of her work as a researcher: partnering closely with advocacy organizations such as California Food Policy Advocates, whom Ritchie described as providing “that bridge between us as researchers and decision-makers in government.”
And it’s not an “all or nothing” proposition. Ritchie said:
“Much of what we do is not black or white…it’s about being open to nuances and ambiguity…what’s important is to take baby steps and move in the right direction. Don’t be afraid of shades of gray.”
The case study Ritchie shared was about licensed child care in California and the consumption of sugary beverages. She noted that on any day – prior to policy action – 84% of preschoolers nationally were consuming sugary beverages, representing 11% of their total daily energy intake, on average. Yet, no beverage standards existed for child care providers in California and much of the nation.
Armed with data and support from advocates, researchers testified before the legislature on the study findings. The result? The passage of Assembly Bill 2084, which provides for healthy beverages (water, fat-free or low-fat milk to children 2 years and older, limited servings of juice) in licensed child care homes and centers.
A compliance survey conducted after the legislation was passed showed improvements. More water was being consumed, there was improvement in the milk type being served, and more sites served 100% juice only once a day. But only 60% of the sites knew about the law and only 23% were fully compliant.
Ritchie said that the work could have stopped there, but researchers wanted to ask different questions. The research team is now doing three more related research studies, including developing nutrition standards for child care homes.
Editor’s Note: Ritchie and colleague Suzanna Martinez, in partnership with UCSB’s Katie Maynard, recently led a major study on food insecurity on UC campuses. Funded by the Global Food Initiative, the research team emailed a survey to nearly 9,000 students (14% response rate). Learn more about the survey methodology here. To learn more about NPI’s work in reducing childhood obesity, read our Q&A with research director Pat Crawford.