Author Archives: Jamie Bussel

To Help Recover From COVID-19, We Need Universal Free School Meals

Jul 9, 2020, 9:45 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

As school officials face tough decisions about the 2020–2021 school year, the last thing they should be worrying about is determining who qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Empty school lunch room.

For tens of millions of children in the United States, school isn’t just a place to learn, but a place where they can depend on receiving healthy meals. In March 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 31 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and more than 17 million participated in the School Breakfast Program (SBP); the vast majority of children receiving these school meals are from families with low incomes.

So when COVID-19 swept across the nation this spring and forced at least 124,000 schools in the United States serving 55 million students to close, a public health crisis quickly became an education crisis and a nutrition crisis.

School districts responded quickly, creatively, and heroically, implementing “Grab and Go” models allowing parents to pick up meals in school parking lots or other community hubs; loading up school buses with meals and dropping them off at stops along neighborhood routes; and delivering meals directly to students’ homes. USDA did its part by issuing a series of waivers granting more flexibility in how meals could be prepared, packaged, and served. Particularly for students living in poverty and areas where healthy foods are typically scarce, the heroism of school officials and volunteers was a lifeline.

Today, there are more questions than answers about the 2020–2021 school year, which may be unlike we’ve ever experienced. But the last thing school officials should be worrying about upon reopening is how to process meal applications and figuring out who qualifies for free or reduced-price categories; their mission of educating and feeding students as safely as possible should be their primary concern.

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New Year, New Nutrition Facts Label

Jan 9, 2020, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

The Nutrition Facts label just got its first big makeover in 20 years. Learn why the updates will be a game-changer for parents and families.

For many of us, January 1 brings New Year’s resolutions—and those resolutions often have something to do with a renewed commitment to better health. As we all know, of course, these resolutions can sometimes lose steam after a few months...or even weeks...or sometimes just days. Fortunately, for those of us who have made commitments to eat healthier in 2020, we’re all getting a hand to ensure those resolutions can stick for the long-term.

We’re all familiar with the Nutrition Facts label. This is the label that appears on billions of food and beverage products, giving us the lowdown on how healthy (or not so healthy) items are based on metrics like calories, fat, sugar, salt, carbohydrates, protein, and various vitamins and minerals. The label has been mandatory under a federal law enacted in 1990.

On January 1, an updated Nutrition Facts label took effect covering all food and beverage products from manufacturers with more than $10 million in sales (most manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual sales get an additional year to comply). This milestone is a long time coming—the previous label had been in effect for 20 years and it’s been six years since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first proposed updates. RWJF submitted comments in support of the proposed changes, which will empower consumers and families to make healthier purchasing decisions.

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Helping Dads Support Their Kids’ Health and Development

Jun 13, 2019, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Research shows that children and moms benefit when dads are actively engaged in their kids’ health and development. A new study examines barriers that make it difficult for some fathers to be involved and how to overcome them.

Dad holding his smiling daughter.

This Sunday, families around the country will celebrate Father’s Day and pay tribute to the special caregivers in their lives. It’s a time when I find myself feeling especially grateful for all the positive ways my own father has influenced my life and the crucial role my husband plays in raising our daughters.

I also think about the many dads I have been lucky enough to meet throughout my life. These are the special dads who are determined to make sure that all kids--both their own and others--have every opportunity to grow up healthy and happy.

One such father who stands out for me is Steve Spencer. I learned of Steve a couple of years ago when he represented his home state of Oregon at Zero to Three’s Strolling Thunder event. The event brings together parents from across the country to meet their Members of Congress and share what babies and families need to thrive. As a single dad raising two boys, Steve is a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for the kind of supportive services parents rely on to give their kids the healthiest start.

Steve put it best when he outlined the day-to-day realities of parenting, "It's really hard to put focus in trying to figure out a way to keep the apartment and get food in these kids' bellies and so on and so forth on top of taking care of him [his four-month-old son] and not sleeping."

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How Can We Help Kids and Families Eat Healthier?

Jun 6, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel, Tina Kauh

A $2.6 million funding opportunity for researchers studying how to improve children’s development through healthy foods and beverages.

A mother and daughter sit together while enjoying watermelon.

When our kids were around 5 months old, we knew it was time to begin nourishing them with more than breastmilk or formula. But the thought of where or how to begin was overwhelming to us first-time moms. We also understand that establishing healthy eating patterns in early childhood sets a foundation for sound dietary habits later in life. This is why we are sharing a funding opportunity for researchers who can help us better understand what and how our kids should be eating.

We have firsthand knowledge of how crucial the right nutrition information is. Despite seeking tips from pediatricians, friends and countless books and websites, we had no idea what to feed our babies. In addition, while options at the supermarket were endless, there wasn’t enough clear, objective information to help us make an informed decision about what to choose and why. (Ironically, the dog food aisle offered a wealth of thorough guidance on how to keep a dog’s coat shiny and her bones strong.)

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Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going to Give Children a Healthy Start

Apr 5, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

We want all kids to enter kindergarten at a healthy weight. And we believe it’s possible within the decade.

Kindergartners dancing in their classrooms

Pregnancy through early childhood forms a critical window of opportunity for ensuring children get a healthy start to life.

In March, our program Healthy Eating Research published the most comprehensive examination to date of factors that can increase a child’s risk for obesity early in life. It shows that women who weigh more before they get pregnant, gain excess weight during pregnancy, or use tobacco while pregnant, are more likely to have children who become overweight or obese.

There are a variety of factors beyond prenatal health that also influence a child’s weight. Children form their taste preferences early in life, which is why it’s so important to ensure that they have access to a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains―right when they begin eating solid foods. Play and physical activity are also essential for optimal development. And there’s no reason for young children to drink sugary drinks—milk and water are best. All of these habits, if learned in early childhood, can last a lifetime.

The good news is the country as a whole is making progress in helping more kids start life at a healthy weight: Obesity rates among kids ages 2 to 5 have gone down in recent years.

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Healthy Communities: The Building Blocks of a Culture of Health

Aug 25, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Girl with helmet riding bike near school.

What do Corvallis, Ore.; Baldwin Park, Calif.; and Buffalo, N.Y. have in common? It certainly isn’t their weather.

Hint—the commonality is something much more relevant to RWJF’s newly refined mission. These three cities are building a Culture of Health for all their citizens. They are tapping into the skills and resources of a diverse group of partners to ensure everyone has access to healthy choices. It’s their collective efforts, along with dozens of other communities supported by the Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) program, that make me so optimistic about our organizational goal.

My strong belief that environments—physical, social and educational—play a prominent role in our individual health and well-being is what initially drew me to RWJF. So, in 2008, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to be the national program officer for HKHC, which addressed the root causes of childhood obesity by transforming the physical activity and food environments in which children and their families live, learn and play.

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