We are very proud of what our grantees and research network have accomplished this year, from weighing in on important nutrition policy conversations to developing resources to help parents, providers, and educators implement healthy eating recommendations for kids. Here are some of the highlights of our research from 2023.

Review of Proposed Revisions in the WIC Food Packages

In late 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced major WIC food package revisions. Among the proposed changes were suggestions to remove juice from the food packages, reduce the maximum allowance for milk, and require that all breakfast cereal contain whole grain as the first ingredient. To understand how the proposed WIC food package changes might impact participants’ consumption behaviors, and to inform public comments, HER funded Dr. Harry Zhang to conduct a literature review entitled “A Summary of Evidence Related to Key Food Groups Targeted in the Proposed WIC Revisions.” The proposed rule received over 15,000 comments, some of which cited Dr. Zhang’s work as well as additional HER-supported research on the impacts of COVID-19-related program changes, WIC app and online shopping advances, and ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.

School Meals Health Impact Assessment

Early in 2023, USDA announced new nutrition standards that would take a gradual and incremental approach to align school meals with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In response to this proposal, HER developed a new rapid Health Impact Assessment report to examine what kind of impact these updated nutrition standards could have on schools and kids. The assessment concluded that strong nutrition standards for school meals would benefit students by improving their nutrition and health, food security, and academic performance and could further benefit schools by boosting meal participation and food service revenue.

New Parent and Provider Resources

The Healthy Eating Research team has developed many resources for parents, health professionals, and educators based on the guidance from our expert panels on healthy beverages for children ages 0 to 5 and healthy eating habits for children ages 2 to 8. In 2023, after hearing feedback from health care providers and parents, we developed numerous new fact sheets and guides to help caregivers and professionals implement the expert recommendations, including beverage toolkits for providers and healthy eating classroom resources. We also made many of our healthy eating resources available in Spanish, and resources for healthy drinks available in Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Finally, in collaboration with Better Kid Care, we developed an online module, Effective Practices to Promote Healthy Eating in ECE, that highlights effective practices based on HER’s healthy eating recommendations for children ages 2 to 8. The free module provides early childhood educators with practical strategies and tips to promote healthy eating habits in early childhood education settings and is CDA accepted and CEU eligible.

First Findings Published from Socioeconomic Recovery Grantees

Over the past two years, HER has supported two cohorts of grantees examining how policies and programs related to poverty reduction impact child health and well-being. In 2023 the first few publications from these grantees were published. From a study on the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (Pandemic EBT) from Georgetown University and The Brookings Institution, a new report discusses the benefits and challenges of delivering child nutrition assistance using lessons learned from Pandemic EBT. Another example is a study from Princeton University that aims to understand the effect of evictions on families with children. The first paper from this study was recently published and finds that the most common age to experience eviction in America is during childhood. It also finds that previous studies have underestimated racial disparities in eviction risk. We look forward to learning more from these and other studies focused on family poverty reduction.

Webinars for Researchers

Supporting researchers is one of HER’s core goals, and one of the ways we do this is by bringing learning opportunities to our grantees and research network. In September, HER hosted the webinar “Being Who We Say We Are – Negotiating Power and Building Relationships in Food Systems Research” as a follow up from a popular session at our 2023 Annual Grantee Meeting. Camryn Smith and Aliyah Abdur-Rahman, from Communities in Partnership, and Jennifer Zuckerman (Zuckerman Consulting LLC) discussed the challenges and successes experienced in re-envisioning relationships between institutions and communities and local issues impacting Durham’s food systems. In October, HER hosted a communications training, “Writing Effective Op-Eds: A Training for Researchers”, featuring presentations from a researcher experienced in publishing op-eds, Jim Krieger, MD, MPH, and a media professional, Melissa Davis, Deputy Opinion Editor at The Seattle Times. The training covered information about the role and influence of op-eds as a strategic communication strategy, how the writing style and components of op-eds differ from academic pieces, and what editors look for in an op-ed.