Lorrene Ritchie, ANR

Credit: Childhood Obesity Conference

UC ANR's Lorrene Ritchie discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare.

More than 1,700 nutritionists and other experts on children's health gathered in San Diego June 29–July 2 to share lessons learned about efforts to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Collective Impact: Developing a Shared Vision to Achieve Greater Success was the theme of the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference held at the Town and Country Hotel and Conference Center.

The conference was hosted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), the California Department of Public Health, California Department of Education, 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 Nutrition Policy Institute's preconference session at the Childhood Obesity Conference provided a rare, if not a first, opportunity for policymakers and administrators, nutrition researchers, advocates and funders to sit together to identify today's key policy issues and developments and then to propose evidence-based research to inform those potential policy debates and developments,” said Kenneth Hecht, NPI director of policy, who spearheaded the session. “The session participants also focused on another extremely important question: How to improve communications in both directions between researchers and policymakers.”

At the opening plenary, Chelsea Clinton, vice president of the Clinton Foundation, talked about projects her family's foundation is involved in to improve children's health and literacy.

During a workshop session, Lorrene Ritchie, NPI director, and other panelists discussed the importance of policies and standards for healthy alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages for children in childcare settings. Patricia Crawford, NPI senior director of research and other panelists presented data on childhood obesity trends and racial/ethnic disparities in California and discussed the health and financial consequences. They also discussed 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.

Hecht moderated a conversation on policy between former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and USDA Undersecretary 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.

Hecht also moderated a panel discussion 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 and improve child health.

Also at the closing session, UC President Janet Napolitano spoke about UC's Global Food Initiative “to put the world on a pathway to feed itself in ways that are nutritious and sustainable.”

“It is public research universities like the University of California that can and will help lead the way as our nation grapples with this complex challenge of pediatric obesity,” Napolitano said. She then gave a few examples of UC projects that target social and environmental factors that contribute to overweight and obesity.

“Janet Napolitano is the first UC president to speak at the Childhood Obesity Conference,” said Ritchie. “I think it demonstrates her commitment to the Global Food Initiative and the work we do at UC ANR.”

Since the biennial conference's inception, Crawford and members of the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley, and more recently members of NPI, have been involved in its planning. Crawford announced she is “passing the baton” to Ritchie to guide the conference moving forward.

PowerPoint presentations from the conference are online at www.childhoodobesity2015.com/bios.cfm?pid=902. Photos and postconference information can be seen on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #COC15.