Gail Woodward-Lopez, seen right here on the 2022 American Public Well being Affiliation Annual Assembly in Boston, helped form conversations round weight problems and SNAP-Ed analysis. (Photograph by Sridharshi Hewawitharana)

DAVIS, Calif. — Younger individuals throughout California and the U.S. get pleasure from more healthy, extra nutritious meals choices in school, due to the contributions of Gail Woodward-Lopez, who retired on July 1 because the affiliate director of analysis on the Vitamin Coverage Institute, part of College of California Agriculture and Pure Assets.

Woodward-Lopez formally joined UC ANR in 2015, when she and different researchers on the Atkins Heart for Weight and Well being at UC Berkeley merged with NPI. However her affiliation with UC ANR goes again a lot additional, as her work at CWH was at all times directed by UC Cooperative Extension teachers – together with the analysis that paved the way in which for California’s “junk meals ban” in faculties.

Two payments, signed in 2005, set diet requirements in California for “aggressive meals”– the gadgets offered in merchandising machines and from meals service a la carte (versus federally backed college meals). That laws – which impressed related coverage modifications throughout the nation – was knowledgeable by the work of Woodward-Lopez and her colleagues, who had appeared on the monetary affect of creating these requirements.

“Our research was so pivotal that I actually had individuals calling me from the ground of the Senate or the Meeting once they had been debating that laws,” recalled Woodward-Lopez.

Altering perceptions of inhabitants weight acquire

Initially desiring to pursue a profession in neurobiology, Woodward-Lopez discovered that lab work didn’t swimsuit her temperament. Searching for to work extra instantly on social points, she launched into a public well being path, with an emphasis on dietary features that integrated her curiosity in organic sciences.

Woodward-Lopez’s early work targeted on a problem that was simply starting to be a focus for researchers: the fast rise within the Physique Mass Index (BMI) among the many U.S. inhabitants. In tracing the causes of this epidemic, she and her colleagues shifted educational and public consideration towards the host of environmental elements that contribute to weight acquire – as an alternative of focusing completely on a person’s option to eat wholesome and be bodily lively.

“Twenty years in the past, Gail led groundbreaking work to establish the determinants of weight problems when little one weight problems was rising as a public well being concern,” mentioned Vitamin Coverage Institute Director Lorrene Ritchie. “Whereas we and different researchers throughout the nation had been engaged on producing extra proof to tell motion, she had the imaginative and prescient that we might use quite a lot of current information – from traits to trials – to level to the primary causes.”

Lots of the researchers’ conclusions, which had been printed within the 2006 guide “Weight problems: Dietary and Developmental Influences,” stand to this present day.

Serving to to set the id and agenda of the Heart for Weight and Well being when it was based in 2000, Woodward-Lopez moved coverage and follow past academic approaches and public consciousness campaigns. As she famous: “Nobody thinks sugar-sweetened drinks are good for you.”

“Schooling alone just isn’t going to work if individuals do not need entry to the wholesome meals and alternatives for bodily exercise, in the event that they’re not secure of their neighborhoods, or if they’ll’t afford the wholesome choices,” she defined.

Given her seminal function within the discipline, Kaiser Permanente sought out Woodward-Lopez as a “thought companion” on the group’s community-based weight problems prevention applications and college well being work.

“Gail introduced deep rigor and experience, in fact, but in addition a super-practical, community-focused perspective to our work,” mentioned Loel Solomon, professor of well being methods science on the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson College of Drugs. “Her integrity and values round well being fairness had been evident in all the pieces we did collectively, and our communities are a lot the higher for it.”

Elevating and enhancing CalFresh Wholesome Dwelling

On the Vitamin Coverage Institute, the main target of Woodward-Lopez’s work has been refining the analysis and supply of SNAP-Ed, the academic part of the Supplemental Vitamin Help Program (generally known as “meals stamps”). Identified in California as CalFresh Wholesome Dwelling, SNAP-Ed represents the most important single supply of ongoing funding for diet and bodily exercise promotion within the state – outdoors of the WIC program which serves ladies, infants and younger youngsters.

“CalFresh Wholesome Dwelling can actually affect thousands and thousands of individuals,” Woodward-Lopez mentioned. “For county well being departments, that is one in all their primary sources of funding and supplies the spine for all the pieces else they do in diet and bodily exercise.”

However given the number of interventions carried out by well being departments in response to native wants, figuring out the efficacy of these efforts is a frightening job. Woodward-Lopez and her NPI colleagues have been instrumental in devising artistic approaches that assist pinpoint the best public well being measures.

For instance, NPI researchers discovered that combining college coverage modifications with elevated alternatives for bodily exercise through the college day was the most effective technique to encourage scholar health. They found that reductions in diet applications through the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected communities of colour. They usually additionally proceed to emphasise that interventions should be tailor-made to the precise cultural and political situations inside a neighborhood.

“I believe in all the work we do, we attempt to give you these sensible purposes – what does this imply for communities? How can we do that otherwise? How are our findings actionable?” Woodward-Lopez mentioned.

Her contributions towards the analysis of California Division of Public Well being SNAP-Ed have impressed and impressed Lauren Whetstone, chief of CDPH’s Analysis, Analysis and Strategic Alignment Part, Vitamin Schooling and Weight problems Prevention Department.

“Gail and her crew have elevated the standard of our analysis work and the analysis assist that we offer to native well being division grantees,” mentioned Whetstone, who has labored with Woodward-Lopez for almost a decade. “Gail contributed considerably to statewide SNAP-Ed analysis as effectively, once more working collaboratively to make sure top quality analysis. Our work is all of the stronger resulting from Gail’s dedication to wonderful SNAP-Ed analysis.”

To the good thing about the sector and neighborhood well being, Woodward-Lopez mentioned she plans to stay engaged in her life’s work.

“I’d actually prefer to get extra concerned in coverage by means of advocacy and thru doing issues like writing letters to the editor or social media commentary,” she mentioned. “I have already got some concepts for some editorials I need to write.”

And whereas she seems ahead to spending extra time with family members, touring, and pursuing her pursuits in artwork and music, Woodward-Lopez will stay a guiding voice for advancing public well being.

“Gail’s management in public well being diet – even after she retires – is a testomony to her dedication,” Ritchie mentioned. “She not solely has contributed to sustainable modifications in California and nationally, she has been a mentor to me and so many others within the discipline who will attempt to proceed her legacy.”

Individuals concerned about supporting Woodward-Lopez’s legacy and the continued work in well being and diet can donate to NPI’s Scholar Fellowship, which supplies college students from underrepresented teams the chance to work on NPI analysis and be mentored by NPI researchers.

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