Researchers use breast milk to show correlation between dietary fats and academic success.
Steven Gaulin, UC Santa Barbara
You are what you eat, the saying goes, and now a study conducted by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Pittsburgh suggests that the oft-repeated adage applies not just to physical health but to brain power as well.
In a paper published in the early online edition of the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, the researchers compared the fatty acid profiles of breast milk from women in over two dozen countries with how well children from those same countries performed on academic tests.
Their findings show that the amount of omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in a mother’s milk — fats found primarily in certain fish, nuts and seeds — is the strongest predictor of test performance. It outweighs national income and the number of dollars spent per pupil in schools.
DHA alone accounted for about 20 percent of the differences in test scores among countries, the researchers found.
On the other hand, the amount of omega-6 fat in mother’s milk — fats that come from vegetable oils such as corn and soybean — predict lower test scores. When the amount of DHA and linoleic acid (LA) — the most common omega-6 fat — were considered together, they explained nearly half of the differences in test scores. In countries where mother’s diets contain more omega-6, the beneficial effects of DHA seem to be reduced.
“Human intelligence has a physical basis in the huge size of our brains — some seven times larger than would be expected for a mammal with our body size,” said Steven Gaulin, UCSB professor of anthropology and co-author of the paper. “Since there is never a free lunch, those big brains need lots of extra building materials — most importantly, they need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA. Omega-6 fats, however, undermine the effects of DHA and seem to be bad for brains.”
‘Health halo’ around popular drinks obscures risks to children.
A new report by UC Berkeley researchers questions the health claims of popular energy, sports, tea and fruit drinks on the market.
In a report released today (Aug. 6), the authors evaluated 21 popular drinks with health claims — from immune boosters to energy enhancers — on their labels and in their marketing materials.
“We often see labels on energy and sports drinks that tout health benefits, but the sugar levels in these products rival that of sodas,” said lead author Patricia Crawford, director of the Atkins Center for Weight and Health and UC Berkeley adjunct professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology. “They are essentially sodas without the carbonation, but they give the misleading impression that they are healthy.”
The report, “Looking Beyond the Marketing Claims of New Beverages,” was commissioned by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Click here to access the full report, fact sheets and press release.
German and his team have spent 10 years decoding the mechanisms of human breast milk. Their discoveries are surprising and significant, and could lead to supplements that boost immunity for cancer patients, the elderly and children in the developing world — and enhance health for us all.
Nobel laureate joins board aimed at increasing scientific and technological research.
Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, who discovered an unprecedented class of pathogens that he named prions, has been appointed to the board of directors for a newly created federal organization called the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research.
Nobel laureate Stanley Prusiner, M.D., professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, has been appointed to a 15-member board of directors for a newly created federal foundation, aimed to leverage public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships. The goal of the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) is to boost America’s agricultural economy. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement about the creation of FFAR and its board on July 23.
Authorized by Congress as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, the foundation will operate as a nonprofit corporation seeking and accepting private donations in order to fund research activities that focus on problems of national and international significance. Congress also provided $200 million for the foundation which must be matched by non-federal funds as the Foundation identifies and approves projects.
“Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research creates $20 in economic activity,” said Vilsack. “Investments in innovation made over the past several decades have developed new products and new procedures that have been critical to the continued growth of American agriculture. We must continue to make strategic investments in research and technology if we are to remain leaders in the global economy.”
UC system united in effort to help put world on path to sustainably, nutritiously feed itself.
UC President Janet Napolitano plants oregano with Matt Orke in the student-run community garden at UCLA. (Photo by Reed Hutchinson, UCLA)
By Alec Rosenberg
University of California President Janet Napolitano and chancellors from all 10 campuses are joining forces on an audacious and far-reaching goal: harnessing the collective power of UC to help put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself.
President Napolitano unveiled the UC Global Food Initiative today (July 1) over the course of three events, starting at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, followed by a presentation to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and finally at the UCLA community garden in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
The initiative brings together the university’s research, outreach and campus operations in an effort to develop and export solutions throughout California, the United States and the world for food security, health and sustainability, Napolitano said during the morning briefing.
“It is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university — in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world — to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues,” Napolitano said.
The Edible Schoolyard is a 1-acre garden and kitchen classroom at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, founded by Chez Panisse chef and owner Alice Waters. It has become a model for teaching children how to grow and eat a healthy, sustainable diet. It features vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, fruit trees and chickens.
UC President Janet Napolitano (right) tours the Edible Schoolyard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School with founder and restaurateur Alice Waters. (Photo by Robert Durell)
Waters gave Napolitano a tour of the garden and then at a press conference gave her a basket of eggs from the garden’s chickens, quipping that she was “putting all her eggs” in Napolitano’s basket.
“I’m extremely excited and very hopeful because I know that she believes as I do that public education is the best way to solve the problems of the world,” said Waters, a UC Berkeley alumna.
Vision and leadership
Napolitano received an equally warm reception from state agricultural leaders.
“There is no better time to launch this initiative than today,” said board President Craig McNamara. “Count on us at the State Board of Food and Agriculture. We are your partners.”
The initiative will harness UC’s leadership in the fields of agriculture, medicine, nutrition, climate science, public policy, social science, biological science, humanities, arts and law, among others.
It comes at a crucial time, Napolitano said. A billion people — most of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious nutritional deficiencies. More than half a billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world — are obese. Against this backdrop, climate change and population growth fuel additional uncertainty and urgency about how to sustainably feed the world.
“This initiative shows great vision and leadership from President Napolitano and the University of California,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Climate change and population growth will greatly strain our ability to provide healthy food to people here and around the world.
“President Napolitano’s proposal to leverage the strategic assets of the entire UC organization makes it a valuable partner in addressing the significant challenges and opportunities for our production agriculture and food system.”
Napolitano said that she and campus chancellors decided to launch the Global Food Initiative after recognizing that the university system is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in addressing the related challenges of nutrition and sustainability.
Playing to strengths
Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, was among a half dozen UC leaders and members of the university’s Food Initiative Working Group to join Napolitano at the Edible Schoolyard. Also in attendance were UC Santa Cruz professor Daniel Press, executive director of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at that campus, and Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley.
Brady said that the initiative’s strength comes from the depth of work and research across the 10-campus system. Each location brings its own area of expertise, he noted.
“We at the Berkeley Food Institute are trying to see how we can transform the food system to be more sustainable and we want to do it through good science, good policy, good thinking,” Brady said.
Press echoed Napolitano’s sentiment that UC’s involvement comes at a crucial moment.
He said that UC Santa Cruz had long been the “mothership” of organic agriculture in California and the U.S.
“We feel a lot of what people are talking about with sustainable agriculture and justice in the food system — these are things we’ve been working on for 40 years,” Press said. “Now the world is much more receptive.”
Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, talks with reporters in Sacramento. (Photo by Robert Durell)
Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, who joined Napolitano at the meeting with the state board, said that people at UC Davis are particularly excited about the initiative because it aligns so well with work already under way at the campus.
UC Davis last year launched the World Food Center to focus on transformative research at the intersection of food, agriculture, health and public policy.
“We’re already the No.1 agricultural school in the nation and the world,” Dillard said. “Having the UC system focusing on this really plays to our strengths.”
At UCLA, Napolitano was joined by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh; Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative; students who manage the garden; and Los Angeles and Riverside school district officials.
UCLA’s initiative is an integrated effort aimed at making the campus the healthiest university in the country, promoting health and wellness of students, faculty and staff, and helping other communities achieve the same objectives. The Healthy Campus Initiative was envisioned and supported by philanthropists Jane and Terry Semel. Jane Semel was present for the announcement.
Napolitano toured the garden with members of the student group DigUCLA. She also planted an oregano plant and learned about gardening basics from the students.
Slusser said that she was excited to learn that the Healthy Campus Initiative served as a starting point for what has grown into a larger and stronger UC-wide effort. “On a personal note, the initiative is bringing me back to my roots since food has been the driving force in my medical and academic career, and also my father is a fourth-generation California rancher. So thank you, President Napolitano, and thank you to all our UCLA and community partners for working so hard in making us stronger together to promote health, wellness and happiness through food.”
UC is California’s land-grant university and has played a key part in helping California become the nation’s leading agricultural state. UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has experts in every county in California, helping farmers, ranchers and others cope with tough issues like drought.
But UC’s leadership goes beyond agriculture. Students, faculty and staff have turned UC’s campuses into living laboratories for sustainable food practices. UC also is on the frontlines of addressing issues of food inequality and health, from developing flood- and drought-resistant crops to developing a highly efficient cookstove that addresses food security issues posed by displaced persons in Darfur.
Napolitano noted that the Berkeley Food Institute is studying the relationship between pest control, conservation and food safety on Central Coast farms; the World Food Center at UC Davis stands with 26 other centers dedicated to food and agriculture on that campus; students and faculty at UC Santa Cruz are transforming the field of agroecology; and the cutting-edge Healthy Campus initiative at UCLA taps all members of the campus community.
“We do much,” Napolitano said, “but, together, we can do more.”
Examples of projects that will be undertaken in the first phase of the UC Global Food Initiative include:
Expanding experiential learning, including demonstration gardens;
Creating a course catalogue of all food-related courses available on UC campuses;
Leveraging food purchasing power to encourage sustainable farming practices to serve nutritious fare in dining halls and cafeterias;
Data mining of existing information to help develop insights and action plans for agriculture and responses to climate change;
Organizing food pantries, so that food reaches hungry mouths instead of going to waste; and
Developing policies to better enable small growers to become suppliers.
Supporting student involvement
To support student engagement, Napolitano also announced the creation of the President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program. The Office of the President will provide $7,500 to each UC campus to be used for three fellowships of $2,500 each. At the campuses’ discretion, these fellowships will go to undergraduates or graduate students, to fund student-generated research, related projects or internships that focus on food issues.
Keith Gilless, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, said he was excited to see the system collaborate on such an important goal.
“I’ve been working my whole career to see how does the UC system as a whole come together so the sum is greater than its parts,” Gilless said. “The time is right to mobilize the university’s resources both to advance science and practices and to raise public consciousness about food issues broadly.”
Many students didn’t even eat a bite of new, healthier items added to school lunch menus.
Cajoling, pleading, even blackmail — just a few of the tactics parents have used when their children refuse to eat vegetables they haven’t tried before. Now it appears that the nation’s second largest school district is facing the same problem.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves more than 650,000 meals each day, has become a national leader in offering healthy foods to its students. In September 2011, LAUSD launched a new lunch menu that features a variety of more wholesome food items, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, vegetarian items and a range of healthy ethnic foods.
Two months after the new menu was introduced, researchers from UCLA and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health wanted to understand how students were responding to the new offerings. Their research, conducted at four Los Angeles schools, found that many children didn’t eat even a bite of the new, healthier items.
William McCarthy, a professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and colleagues, measured the quantities of food left unselected in cafeteria food lines and the amount of food left over on students’ lunch trays. Almost 32 percent of students in the cafeteria lines did not select fruit, and almost 40 percent did not select vegetables. Among those who did select a fruit or vegetable, 22 percent threw away the fruit and 31 percent tossed vegetable items, without eating a single bite. Boys consistently threw away more fruit and vegetables away without tasting them than did girls.
The results appear in the current online edition of the journal Preventive Medicine.
“Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day is essential for optimal health, and implementing changes to school menus, as has been done by the LAUSD, is an important first step to increasing students’ repertoire of acceptable fruits and vegetables,” said McCarthy, the study’s co-senior author. “But increasing students’ consumption of fruits and vegetables is clearly a challenging task. Given the rising rates of obesity among children in this country, getting students to expand their range of acceptable fruits and vegetables is an important goal.”
Findings may provide insight into how to protect humans from ill effects of a high-fat diet.
A comparison of the genomes of polar bears and brown bears reveals that the polar bear is a much younger species than previously believed, having diverged from brown bears less than 500,000 years ago.
The analysis also uncovered several genes that may be involved in the polar bears’ extreme adaptations to life in the high Arctic. The species lives much of its life on sea ice, where it subsists on a blubber-rich diet of primarily marine mammals.
The genes pinpointed by the study are related to fatty acid metabolism and cardiovascular function, and may explain the bear’s ability to cope with a high-fat diet while avoiding fatty plaques in their arteries and the cardiovascular diseases that afflict humans with diets rich in fat. These genes may provide insight into how to protect humans from the ill effects of a high-fat diet.
The study was a collaboration between Danish researchers, led by Eske Willerslev and including Rune Dietz, Christian Sonne and Erik W. Born, who provided polar bear blood and tissue samples; and researchers at BGI in China, including Shiping Liu, Guojie Zhang and Jun Wang, who sequenced the genomes and analyzed the data together with a team of UC Berkeley researchers, including Eline Lorenzen, Matteo Fumagalli and Rasmus Nielsen. Nielsen is a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and of statistics.
“For polar bears, profound obesity is a benign state,” said Lorenzen, one of the lead authors and a UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow. “We wanted to understand how they are able to cope with that.”
“The promise of comparative genomics is that we learn how other organisms deal with conditions that we also are exposed to,” said Nielsen, a member of UC Berkeley’s Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics. “For example, polar bears have adapted genetically to a high fat diet that many people now impose on themselves. If we learn a bit about the genes that allows them to deal with that, perhaps that will give us tools to modulate human physiology down the line.”
The findings accompany the publication of the first assembled genome of the polar bear as the cover story in today’s issue of the journal Cell.
The program could be adopted nationally at little cost to schools, researchers say.
Principal Paul Hauder (left) and student Cody Tufts of Carroll Elementary School in Elk Grove Unified School District have fun at a 2013 Sharing Healthy Choices program developed at UC Davis. (Photo by Kelley Brian, UC Davis)
The percentage of overweight or obese children in test schools dropped from 56 percent to 38 percent over the course of a single school year, thanks to a new nutrition program developed and tested in the classroom by nutrition researchers at UC Davis.
The new program fits into the new Common Core educational standards.
“The education component of this program is intended to help children develop nutrition-related problem solving skills,” said co-author Jessica Linnell, a senior doctoral candidate in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition. “We think that these skills, combined with knowledge about foods, may be critical in order for children to make healthy choices.”
Researchers say the program could be adopted nationally at little cost to schools. The program was pilot-tested for this study in schools located in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties. Study findings were reported recently during the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting.
“When we designed the study, we anticipated short-term outcomes such as kids having more knowledge of nutrition or being able to identify more vegetables,” said Rachel Scherr, assistant project scientist in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition and one of the study’s lead investigators. “We always had a long-term goal of decreasing body mass index, but we didn’t anticipate that it would happen in such a short timeframe, so we are thrilled.”
In a randomized control study, the researchers found that fourth-graders who participated in the nutrition program ate substantially more vegetables and lowered their body mass index during the school year that the nutrition program was implemented.
Senior author Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, a Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist and co-director of the UC Davis Center for Nutrition in Schools, said that the project could not have been possible without the work of a highly interdisciplinary team, including collaborators from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources; the UC Davis departments of Nutrition, Human Ecology, Population Health and Reproduction, and Plant Sciences; the UC Davis Health System, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, Foods for Health Institute and Agricultural Sustainability Institute; and the University of Utah Department of Physics and Astronomy.
You get a case of the mid-afternoon munchies, and all you want is something salty, sweet or crunchy. (Or, better yet, all three.)
With about 100 snack vending machines on campus, UCLA has no shortage of options to satisfy your craving — some more nutritional than others. But what if there were snacks that were better for you? And what if they were clearly identified as healthier alternatives? Would you choose them?
Joe Viana thinks you might.
A doctoral student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Viana recently concluded a study on whether people at UCLA would pick items like trail mix, nuts and air-popped snacks — if those healthier products were better promoted — or continue buying potato chips, cookies and candy bars. He found not only that consumers are interested in having healthier items available in vending machines, but that offering them did not hurt the vending machines’ sales.
The study, believed to be the first of its kind on an American college campus, was initiated by UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative — a program launched in 2013 to promote a culture of mental and physical health and wellness — and was conducted in collaboration with UCLA Dining Services and UCLA Vending Services.
“What we aimed to do was methodologically identify healthier products and encourage customers to choose them, all without compromising the machines’ financial performance,” Viana said.
In 2013, 35 of UCLA’s 100 snack vending machines were stocked with either one or two rows of healthier options. Each machine was marked with a Healthy Campus Initiative sticker, and stickers in front of each row of healthy snacks identified the wholesome options. The other snack machines contained some healthier snacks, but fewer than the HCI-marked machines, and all of the machines continued to carry the traditional snack options.
“The idea is not to tell people what they can and can’t eat, but rather give them the option to choose,” said Michael Goldstein, associate vice provost for the Healthy Campus Initiative.
Berkeley Wellness explains the ins and outs of calories.
Calorie-consciousness has lately been on the upswing, as people turn away from disappointing low-fat or low-carb diets, and as more and more restaurants post calorie counts, often in response to new local laws. But many people have no idea what calories are and how they work. Here are the important (and sometimes surprising) answers to seven key questions about calories from Berkeley Wellness.
A new UCLA psychology study provides evidence that being overweight makes people tired and sedentary — not the other way around.
Life scientists led by UCLA’s Aaron Blaisdell placed 32 female rats on one of two diets for six months. The first, a standard rat’s diet, consisted of relatively unprocessed foods like ground corn and fish meal. The ingredients in the second were highly processed, of lower quality and included substantially more sugar — a proxy for a junk food diet.
After just three months, the researchers observed a significant difference in the amount of weight the rats had gained, with the 16 on the junk food diet having become noticeably fatter.
“One diet led to obesity, the other didn’t,” said Blaisdell, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute.
The experiments the researchers performed, Blaisdell said, also suggest that fatigue may result from a junk food diet.
New menu additions further medical center’s focus on healthier eating.
UCLA Health System's Patricia Oliver and Chef Gabriel Gomez with antibiotic-free menu items
Patients, staff and visitors to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica can now enjoy a healthier version of the traditional burger-and-fries lunch. The hospitals’ menus now include burgers made from antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef and herb roasted potatoes, as well as antibiotic-free chicken breasts.
With the changes, the hospitals are helping lead the trend toward serving healthier, antibiotic-free meats.
This move is in line with other initiatives instituted recently by the health system to promote a healthier community, including banning fried foods, offering “meatless Mondays,” and using biodegradable utensils and plates.
The menu enhancements were spurred in part by concern about bacteria’s growing resistance to antibiotics. According to Dr. Daniel Uslan, an assistant clinical professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, an overuse of antibiotics in cows, chickens and other food-producing animals has helped make bacteria resistant to commonly used antibiotics, which in turn has led to more antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.
“With the effectiveness of key antibiotics dwindling, bacterial resistance presents a major public health challenge,” said Uslan, who also is director of the antimicrobial stewardship program at the UCLA Health System. “It’s critical that we reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture and support appropriate antibiotic use by clinicians and patients.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used for food-producing animals. There is a growing public health concern that the antibiotics are being used mostly to promote faster growth in otherwise healthy animals and to compensate for unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions.
Meanwhile, the health care community is increasingly instituting policies to help combat antibiotic resistance in patient care and to minimize exposure to unnecessary antibiotics as part of broader environmental sustainability plans, including in food service.
“We are excited about this new initiative,” said Dr. David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System. “Serving antibiotic-free beef and chicken is another way for us to do our part and support our vision of a healthier community.”
The UCLA Health System has been recognized nationally for its efforts to promote wellness and sustainability, receiving awards in 2013 from Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm for offering more vegetarian menu options, increasing its use of composting, reducing food waste, launching energy- and water-conservation programs, and other initiatives; and it participates in national campaigns including the Healthier Hospitals Initiative. The health system’s adoption of antibiotic-free beef and chicken complements University of California system-wide sustainability policies.
“We serve more than 3.4 million meals annually between our two hospitals and are always looking for ways to enhance and improve our services,” said Patricia Oliver, UCLA Health System’s director of nutrition services. Oliver also is the Los Angeles area coordinator for the Healthy Food in Health Care program, through which more than 30 local hospitals and 128 hospitals state-wide leverage their combined health expertise and purchasing power to promote healthier food systems.