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The health impacts of sugary drinks

Refined sugar (Photo: Ann Filmer)
Americans consume nearly three times the recommended amount of sugar every day, and about half the U.S. population consumes sugary drinks on any given day.

Excess sugar consumption contributes to obesity, tooth decay, early menses in girls, and chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease. To add to the damage, doctors are now attributing too much dietary sugar to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

It's enough to make you sit up and listen to the warnings about too much soda, sugary drinks, and sugar-laden processed foods.

What is a sugary drink? It's any beverage, more or less, with added sugar or other sweeteners, including high-fructose corn syrup. The long list of beverages includes soda, lemonade, fruit punch, powdered fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened coffee and tea drinks, and many flavored milk products.

People are becoming aware of the concerns of too many sugary drinks, and steps are being taken to reduce their consumption. Some K-12 school districts across the nation are limiting sales of soda, and the City of Davis will soon require that restaurants offer milk or water as a first beverage choice with kids' meals.

UC Cooperative Extension, the county-based outreach arm of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, is partnering with health agencies and conducting public service programs for youth and families about sugary drinks. UC ANR Cooperative Extension in San Joaquin County recently presented a "Rethink Your Drink" parent workshop in conjunction with the county's Office of Education, and Solano County Cooperative Extension is working with the California Department of public health to engage youth in "Rethink Your Drink" programs.

Sarah Risorto, UC IPM Program, refills her water bottle at a UC Davis water station. (Photo: Ann Filmer)

Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist, co-authored a policy brief about California's rural immigrants who have poor-quality tap water, or perceive tap water to be bad. Kaiser, who is also a nutrition faculty member at UC Davis, noted that studies have found a link between water quality and consumption of sugary drinks, which is a concern in low-income communities that don't have resources for clean water.

As of this month (July 2015), UC San Francisco is no longer selling sugary beverages on its campus, and UCSF has launched a Healthy Beverage Initiative. UC Berkeley held a Sugar Challenge this year, and UC Davis is conducting a Sugar Beverage Study on women.

Scientists at UC San Francisco, UC Davis, UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, and other universities are studying the health effects of sugar and implementing health outreach programs. And UC's Global Food Initiative is building on the momentum of excessive sugary-drink consumption.

A healthy alternative to sugary drinks? Water, of course. Many universities and public places are replacing traditional drinking fountains with water stations so that students and others can fill their own bottles and have water “on the go.” And UC President Janet Napolitano is working with the Nutrition Policy Institute on a bold and sensible request to place water on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guidelines.

The next time you're thirsty, drink wisely to your good health.

Additional information:

Author: Ann Filmer

Posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 at 8:23 AM

Bird flu in the Midwest causing egg prices to rise

Eggs are getting more expensive because of bird flu in the Midwest.
An outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest is forcing farmers to euthanize many sick chickens, causing egg prices to rise dramatically, reported Jonathan Bloom on ABC News 7 in San Francisco. Bloom spoke with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension poultry specialist Maurice Pitesky via Skype. He said the disease, highly contagious in chickens and turkeys, is being spread by migrating geese.

"And they're not, for the most part, affected by the disease, but they can be carriers of it," Pitesky said. "It means we're euthanizing those flocks that are affected."

The story said 40 million laying hens, one-eighth of the country's laying population, had to be euthanized, dramatically reducing the egg supply. Turkeys are still more susceptible to the condition.

“Turkey prices are going up also, and we're still not sure how that will affect turkey prices around Thanksgiving," Pitesky said.

California chickens haven't been hit by bird flu, but they are producing fewer eggs because new laws went into effect this year requiring more room for hens to move around, reducing some farms' capacity.

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Glenda Humiston named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources

Glenda Humiston
Longtime Sonoma County resident Glenda Humiston has been named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, reported Angela Hart in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Humiston was appointed by UC President Janet Napolitano and confirmed by the UC Board of Regents. Her first day in her new post is Aug. 3.

"I'm excited beyond belief," Humiston told the Press Democrat. "This is such an opportunity to make a difference on many levels."

Humiston succeeds Barbara Allen-Diaz, who retired June 29.

The new vice president grew up raising cattle in Colorado and credits her participation in 4-H as a child with developing her interest in farmland preservation and environmental sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia, was deputy undersecretary for the USDA during the Clinton administration, and her most recent position has been California state director of USDA Rural Development.

“I've spent my whole life trying to bridge agriculture and environmental issues,” Humiston said. “What people don't realize is it's a natural bridge. When people get past the fighting, they often realize we have 80 percent in common.”

Stephanie Larson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director of the Sonoma County office, called the appointment of the Sonoma County resident "exciting."

“If you think about Sonoma County, we have a half-million acres that can function as some form of working landscape — like forest lands, croplands and water," Larson said. "Everything has an opportunity and these are going to be key to address drought and climate change.”

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 3:39 PM

California almonds have small carbon footprint compared to other protein foods

These almonds are still in the hull on the tree. Using the orchard biomass, hulls and shells for renewable power generation, soil amendment and dairy feed reduces the carbon footprint.
California produces more than 80 percent of the world's commercial almonds. Popularity of the nuts has spurred almond acreage in the state to expand from 510,000 acres in 2000 to roughly 890,000 acres in 2015, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires statewide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the growing interest among consumers and food companies in the carbon footprint of food products, prompted some University of California scientists to examine how almond production affects the environment.

Research by UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists found that almonds have a relatively small carbon footprint, which could be further reduced with advanced management practices.

Two related articles published in the current issue of Journal of Industrial Ecology examine the environmental impact of this agricultural industry. Co-author Alissa Kendall, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and her colleagues noted that certain practices substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, including the strategic use of co-products, and the choice of water source and irrigation technology.

"Our research shows that 1 kilogram of California almonds typically produces less than 1 kilogram of CO2-equivalent emissions, which is a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient- and energy-dense foods," said Kendall.

“These results include the use of almond co-products — orchard biomass, hulls and shells — for renewable power generation and dairy feed,” said Kendall. “Under ideal circumstances, which are feasible but not in place today, California almonds could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative, largely through the improved utilization of orchard biomass."

David Doll, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County, agrees.

“As California farmers improve their nitrogen and water use efficiencies, they will reduce the carbon footprint,” Doll said. “This will happen as we continue to transition into a nitrogen budgeting system, which will reduce over-applications of nitrogen. Furthermore, on the other end, research conducted by Cooperative Extension has shown that the entire biomass of an orchard can be incorporated back into the soil, which increases the amount of total carbon sequestered.”

“Only a full life cycle-based model like the one we developed for this research will allow us to accurately assess whether incorporating the biomass into the soil or using it for power generation instead results in a lower net carbon footprint,” said Sonja Brodt, academic coordinator in the UC ANR Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, noting that there will be some trade-off.

The first article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results," is authored by Kendall, Elias Marvinney, a graduate student in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Brodt and Weiyuan Zhu, a UC Davis graduate student in horticulture and agronomy.

Marvinney is lead author of the second article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part II: Uncertainty Analysis through Sensitivity Analysis and Scenario Testing," in collaboration with Kendall and Brodt.

This research was supported by grants from the Almond Board of California and the CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Brodt and Marvinney will host a webinar to discuss their life cycle assessment analyzing the environmental impacts associated with walnuts, prunes, peaches, almonds and pistachios. The researchers are quantifying energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in orchard crop production both within and beyond the farm. To join the webinar, visit https://uc-d.adobeconnect.com/orchard-lca at noon on Wednesday, July 29.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 10:02 AM

Media reaches out to UC ANR for drought news

UC ANR experts provide perspective on drought in landscapes, orchards and wildfires.
As the California drought wears on, media have reached out this week to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources advisors about consequences in agricultural cropland, urban landscapes and fire-prone wildland.

Agricultural cropland

NPR's Valley Public Radio ran a story about salt buildup in almond orchards. Without rainfall to move salts below almond trees' rootzone, harmful levels of salinity are building up in the soil. “We've been seeing this increasing problem over the past couple years, due to the lack of winter rain, of sodium burn or salt burn on leaves," said UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor David Doll. “Rain will do it (leach salts) naturally for us, but if we don't get rain we've been encouraging farmers to actually fill the profile with irrigation water, whatever they can by December. And then hopefully whatever rain we do get will help aid with the flushing of the root system of the tree.”

KCOY,KEYT andKKFX TV in Santa Maria ran a story on new technologies being used by a local strawberry farmer to irrigate efficiently. The farmer installed microsprinklers and moisture sensors on his strawberry field to monitor water and fertilizer inputs. Mark Gaskell, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor, developed the technology. "By identifying and carefully documenting how much water or nutrients are lost or how much variation there is, a grower can modify their management so that they can be more efficient when applying water," Gaskell said.

Urban landscapes

KQED Science posted an eight-minute interview with UCANR Cooperative Extension urban forestry advisor Igor Laćan. He explained how to irrigate young and mature trees so they won't die during the drought. Why protect trees, even as lawns are turning brown? Laćan says they boost property values, provide shade, filter the air and makes cities more “livable.”

Fire-prone wildland

Scientific American ran a story about the wildfire that swept across I-15 in Southern California last week, setting dozens of vehicles on fire. Firefighters were puzzled by the rapid spread of the fire. “There are two factors that help fires spread - winds and topography,” explained Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “The thing about wind is, it can change so quickly and the fire will change with it — it can happen in 15 seconds,” Stephens said. A fire can also race up a slope very rapidly, he added.

Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 3:40 PM

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