UC Berkeley Public Health Nutrition

PHN Blog

BFI Introduces the Just Food Podcast Series

The Berkeley Food Institute in partnership with the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute at the Graduate School of Journalism recently introduced the Just Food Podcast, a new 6-part podcast series about “cultivating justice and health.” Their most recent episode, “CalFresh on Campus: Breaking the Stigma of Food Insecurity” highlights the issues of hunger among students, and some of the steps UC Berkeley and the California government have taken in recent years to combat this issue.

A recent report found that 39% of UC Berkeley students are food insecure and that 23% of graduate students are food insecure. This prompted Berkeley students, the administration and others around the state to start advocating for changes to California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, known as CalFresh in California. In 2014, AB 1930 passed, which allows all students who receive work-study to automatically qualify for CalFresh benefits. Other changes have made around the UC Berkeley to promote access to food, including the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, which provides nutritious foods to students in need. According to Ruben Canedo, chair of the Basic Needs Committee at Berkeley, “In the same way that tutoring is a tool for success, so is a food pantry. So are our classes. So is the food assistance program. Everything.”

Check out the full episode, and other episodes from this series here.

2017 School of Public Health Dean’s Speaker Series


This Fall, Dr. Lia Fernald and Dr. Kris Madsen participated in two UC Berkeley School of Public Health Dean’s Speaker Series events. In August, Dr. Fernald moderated a discussion with Dr. Merson, director of the Duke Global Health Institute and Dr. Amie Batson, Chief Strategy Officer and Vice President of PATH about their report to the federal government on the future role of the U.S. in global health.  The discussion focused on highlights from the report, including several key priority areas for action. Dr. Fernald provided a conceptual model to frame these action areas, and noted the report’s recommendation to enable innovation by thinking about new ways of doing business globally.

In September, Dr. Kris Madsen participated on a panel, along with Janet King, senior scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute; Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, senior scientist and Dolores Jordan Endowed Chair at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, professor of medicine at UCSF, and adjunct professor of nutritional sciences at UC Berkeley; and Gary Taubes, cofounder and senior scientific advisor of the Nutrition Science Initiative to discuss the impact that sugar is having on our health. The panel discussed the mounting evidence around the role that sugar plays in chronic disease risk, and discussed what can be done to decrease the amount of added sugar in our diets. Dr. Madsen made a case for the soda tax as a public health tool, and discussed some of the promising early evidence from models already in existence. She pointed to the fact that Mexico is expected to save over a billion dollars on healthcare costs and prevent 200,000 cases of obesity over the next 10 years. She noted that soda taxes not only reduce added sugar consumption, but that they are “the one public health intervention that actually raises money.”

You can watch the video from both events here!

Attending the 11th Annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium

In October 2017, UC Berkeley PHN students attended the annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium (SSEW), presented by the UCSF Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment (COAST) and the UCLA School of Law Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. The SSEW Initiative is a collaborative group of cross-UC Campus research scientists and California policy makers whose goal is to reduce the prevalence and adverse consequences of obesity and focus on the the role of social disadvantage, sugar, and stress.

The symposium brought together researchers, health professionals, and influential policy makers to discuss the latest research on the intersection of food insecurity, stress and obesity. Speakers included: Dr. Barbara Laraia, PhD, MPH and Erika Brown, MPH of UC Berkeley; Lorrene Ritchie, PhD, RD and Suzanna Martinez, PhD of the Nutrition Policy Institute; Kelly Brownell of Duke University; Cindy Leung, ScD, MPH of University of Michigan and UCSF; David Ludwig, MD, PhD of Harvard; Hilary Seligman, MD of UCSF; and many more! The students were able to learn and network with leading experts in the field. You can view a recording from the symposium using the following link: https://www.pscp.tv/ssewscience/1jMKgdVBmbyGL

My summer learning about food and nutrition policy

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Kristal Caballero, second year PHN student

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with the California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA), a statewide policy and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of low-income Californians by increasing their access to nutritious, affordable food.

During my internship, I learned a lot about the legislative process, and had the opportunity to participate in direct advocacy and lobbying in Sacramento. I also participated in media advocacy by assisting CFPA in the publication of their policy reports. Later in the summer, I participated in CFPA’s annual policy development process, in which I directly interviewed anti-hunger and anti-poverty partners all across the state to hear about their main priorities and issues. From there, I helped CFPA compile the results of those interviews and determine their next Legislative Agenda. Overall throughout the summer, I learned about the particular policy levers needed to influence policy change, and also about the importance of listening and partnership building in advocacy. It was an amazing summer full of learning and growth, and I definitely left with the knowledge and skills I was hoping to gain in the MPH program (as well as the confidence to use them!).




Pedro Argueta ’17 Presents at Childhood Obesity Conference

Shortly after graduating from our program, Pedro Argueta participated in the biennial Childhood Obesity Conference. He presented his own research about risk factors for obesity among autistic children and enjoyed learning about topics such as healthy retail and improving nutrition for immigrant communities. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Pedro!


Pedro Argueta MPH ’17

The biennial 2017 Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego brought together health professionals from around the country to discuss strategies to improve the health of children and adolescents through healthy eating and physical activity. This year’s theme focused on addressing health disparities- which included a session on defining racism and institutional racism by Camara Jones and Xavier Morales, who both have worked on issues surrounding these social determinants of health. The entire session was devoted to defining these terms, but I had hoped to learn more about next steps to move the agenda of addressing institutional racism in health organizations. Since the majority of attendants were white, I hope the next conference includes this component.

Posters sessions included work and research from across the country that addresses issues surrounding childhood obesity. These included removing fast food and soda ads near schools, promoting healthy eating inside supermarkets through health messages, proposing new methods for measuring physical activity in school, and, of course, the one I presented called “Risk Factors Associated with Obesity among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the US.” My poster provided a review of literature of possible risk factors for overweight or obese among children with autism compared to their typically developing counterparts. Some of those risk factors include more physical inactivity, unhealthy eating patterns, involuntary weight gain from medication side effects, and lack of sleep. Therefore, interventions that address obesity in this population should account for these factors and be tailored accordingly. The results and conclusions from my literature review sparked discussion and questions from fellow attendants. I could not answer all of their questions, but that is one of the benefits of attending conferences such as these- an opportunity to learn from one another. I got to network with professionals that I would have not been able to in the larger group setting due to the large number of attendants. It felt like having my LinkedIn profile printed in large paper for everyone to see. Presenting at such a conference is an experience I recommend anyone that has not done so.

Of the sessions, a number of them stood out for providing a fresh insight to how we address health and nutrition issues in our communities. The “Best Practices, Opportunities, and Tensions in Healthy Retail Interventions” was led by a renowned group of researchers that have been involved in policies about healthy retail. Ample energy and money continues to be spent on changing the retail environment to promote the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Because the ultimate factor that influences the purchase of fruits and vegetables is cost, healthy messages inside the store provide little motivation. Further research is needed about what is most motivating, but it does shed light into the bigger issue and hopefully this will push organizations to tackle low fruit and vegetable intake through other efforts.

The second session was titled “Immigrants’ Access to Nutrition and Other Healthcare Benefits.” Due to the recent political climate, numerous immigrants in the US are scared of being deported. As a result, the immigrant community has stopped using some health services. The best option outlined by the panel suggested that immigrants should have access to a lawyer so they are aware of their rights. I thought they could have more thoroughly addressed the case for undocumented immigrants.

The battle against childhood obesity becomes complex as new research pinpoints additional factors that may be associated with weight gain. As the theme of this conference highlighted, health disparities must be addressed in order to see results.

Educational Interventions To Promote Literacy in Kenya

Over this past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Encouraging Multilingual Early Reading As a Groundwork for Education (EMERGE), a project conducted by the World Bank and our own Dr. Lia Fernald. With funding from the Augustus Oliver Brown Fellowship, I was able to travel to Kisumu, Kenya to collect and analyze baseline data.

The study focuses on providing different interventions to randomly selected children that have yet to start grade-level schooling. These interventions aim to improve literacy and cognitive function, and their efficacy will be evaluated over the next few years. I hope to see this project develop over the next few years as I continue working on it throughout my MPH program.

The experience and my education at UC Berkeley have gone hand in hand; without the preparation in both methods and critical analysis from my public health classes, I would not have been able to successfully contribute to this research project. Similarly, the experience abroad has added a new depth of understanding and application to each of my classes, and I am so thankful for the hands-on, self-directed learning that makes UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health so unique.


Lin Stoler, First Year PHN Student

Fall 2017 PHN Potluck


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Dr. Kris Madsen hosted students and faculty at her home for a potluck to kick off the Fall semester and welcome in the new school year. This was an opportunity for new and returning students to get to know one another, meet with faculty and catch up on everyone’s summer activities. Everyone enjoyed the delicious food (even Charlie, Dr. Madsen’s PHN pooch!), and are looking forward to a great year ahead.