Food Security: The start of my advocacy journey

By: Jacqui Cotton

Growing up, I remember feeling particularly sensitive about hunger. I was unsettled and saddened to think about other people going hungry at night, potentially right within my community. I was fortunate to grow up in a comfortable suburb in Monmouth County, New Jersey where most of my friends and neighbors enjoyed middle or upper-middle class lifestyles and where poverty and hunger were relatively invisible to the unknowing eye. Still, I was always sickened by the thought of other people’s hungry stomachs. I felt a duty to donate to each community food drive, and I would volunteer with school clubs that supported the local food bank.

As I progressed through my education, I found the field of public health which combined my dual interests in health and social issues. I started thinking more about the penetrating social issues that were at the core of human experiences such as health and hunger—how could I do more to tackle these social ills that would have more impact than simply donating a can of corn?

When I arrived at Mailman, I was still unsure about my direction in public health. During the Core we touched upon a milieu of public health issues and needs, each tugging at my heart-strings and making my question my personal mission and career path. I found myself living in a new environment, where hunger and homelessness is tragically rampant on our streets and subways, and where the inequities of our society are glaringly obvious. While our coursework did not touch upon hunger, food access, and its impact on health as much as I would have welcomed, I found myself motivated by the environment around me and by my FPOP colleagues with similar interests in the far reaching effects of food on population health. I had solidified my passion and field of interest—the intersection between health and food (in)security.

During the spring semester, determined to learn more about anti-hunger advocacy and the way health issues are navigated through our leaders and policymakers, I worked at the Food Bank for New York City as the Government Relations intern. The Food Bank for New York City is the largest Feeding America organization in the country, working with 1,000 charities and schools across the five boroughs. One in five New Yorkers depends on the Food Bank for food and other resources such as benefits access, tax assistance, nutrition education, and financial empowerment. In addition to serving 1.4 million New Yorkers each year, the organization does extensive advocacy work in the anti-hunger and anti-poverty sector—this is where I wanted to get my feet wet.

Through my day-to-day work and interactions with other members of the Research and External Affairs team, I learned about the intersection of legislation, advocacy, and the anti-hunger agenda. I researched relevant policies on nutrition and food assistance programs, such Child Nutrition Reauthorization and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps). I prepared relevant and timely policy-related documents such as legislative testimony, policy briefs, research backgrounds, and letters to elected officials. I had several opportunities to attend events such as press conferences, city council hearings, and lobbying days, where I saw firsthand how pressure can be applied strategically to advance agendas through policy and legislation. I attended Albany Advocacy Day at the state capital, and advocated alongside community members and other stakeholders in small meetings with state senators and assembly members. These experiences also helped me become more familiar with emergency food program funding and operations at the city, state, and federal level.

After a successful and interesting semester, I was excited to be offered an extension and a position change for the summer. I began serving as the “Hunger Cliff Fellow,” working between several departments including Research & External Relations and Communication & Marketing. My major project has been working on the re-launch of an online advocacy and information platform to be shared with other anti-hunger partners and policymakers across the country. The goal of the site is to raise awareness and stimulate conversation around SNAP in order to strengthen and protect the program from future cuts. As I dove deeper into research and advocacy around SNAP, I learned about the intricacies and challenges of navigating politically fraught topics like food stamps, or hunger and poverty relief and reform more generally.

During my summer work, I also became more involved in another citywide coalition led by the Community Food Advocates—the Lunch 4 Learning campaign, which focuses on universalizing free school meals in NYC schools. It was exciting and rewarding to work with other leaders from different policy circles including the anti-hunger community, school food, and children’s health and education. I learned a lot about their grassroots advocacy work, campaign strategies, and communications and outreach, particularly at the city level, by attending these meetings.

While I don’t consider myself an advocacy expert by any means, I have learned a great deal while working at the Food Bank and among fellow anti-hunger advocates. I’ve had to think critically about how to best package certain health and social messages to push forward our policy priorities. I was able to work with a lot of big data that had been collected by the Food Bank and partners such as the USDA and Food Research and Action Center, as well as experiment with storytelling in order to create more compelling messages for our advocacy campaigns. I was introduced to many national and local social policies and learned a lot through independent research and discussions with my senior team members. I saw the intersection of food policies and food programs and also witnessed many of the Food Bank’s innovation programs to combat hunger and poverty at a more systemic level (e.g. financial empowerment and tax services). This work involves a lot of systems thinking, not just related to the food distribution cycle, but also to the deeper social issues and policies from which hunger stems.

The part that drives me the most within this field is the fact that hunger is a solvable problem. It is large and daunting, yes—but ultimately it is a condition that can be eliminated through sweeping social reform and innovation. My passion is not merely hunger relief through emergency food programs—I dream of a sustainable, long-term solution for a well-nourished society that doesn’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from, but this cannot be achieved without persistent advocacy. I view food security as preventative healthcare, and with poverty being a leading social determinant of health, I think anti-hunger work is inextricably tied to public health. As I continue to advance the Hunger Cliff project, I look forward to learning more about health advocacy this semester to enhance and inform my work at the intersection of health and hunger.


OCTOBER Foodie Inspired Events Happening in NYC!

10/1/15-10/18/15 – Food Truck Rally

10/5/15 – Let Us Eat Local

10/6/15 – Book Talk — “Soda Politics” by Dr. Marion Nestle

10/12/15 – Book & Film: “After Winter, Spring” – New York Special Screening

10/16/15- FOODi: Food, Business & Technology

10/17/15 – Eating Through Time Festival

10/19/15 -10/20/15 – James Beard Foundation Conference: Rethinking the Future of Food

10/24/15 – Rodale’s Organic Life Farm2Fork Festival: Slow Down Dinner

10/26/15 – The Manhattan Slur – Dig Inn

Every Saturday of October – Hester Street Fair

General Body Meeting

General Body Meeting_Oct 2015

Join FPOP for the first general body meeting of fall 2015! We will be sharing all the great events we have planned this fall, introducing the e-board to the incoming class and sharing a great lunch! If you are interested in joining the e-board or signing up for a working group this will be a great time to learn more about these positions and ask any questions! Hope to see you there on October 1st!

An Epidemic of Bad Research and Reporting

An Epidemic of Bad Research and Reporting

By: Sarah Kunkle

Original Publication found here:

Earlier this summer, the popular science and technology blog io9 ran a story that caught the eyes of many: “I Fooled Millions into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss.” Over the course of the article, John Bohannan, a science journalist, describes his elaborate hoax and laments the state of both nutrition research and science reporting. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

Although the study was real, it was intentionally plagued by methodological and analytical flaws, including an extremely small sample size and large number of measurements that gave the study a greater than 60 percent chance of finding at least one statistically significant result. To address these issues, some journals are considering getting rid of p-values (a measure indicating how likely it is that study results are due to chance) and many do not accept studies with fewer than 30 subjects. Nevertheless, many low quality studies still end up published in peer-reviewed journals.

Nutrition research is particularly vulnerable to biased results because of its dependence on self-reporting. A recent Mayo Clinic Proceedings article argued that memory-based dietary assessment methods were “fundamentally and fatally flawed” and should not be used to inform dietary guidelines. Organizations like the Nutrition Science Initiative are trying to combat these issues by funding more rigorous (and expensive) studies. While the evidence is inconclusive for some nutrition research questions, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee seems to be a step in the right direction with its emphasis on minimally processed wholesome foods rather than specific nutrients.

In addition to poor quality research, bad reporting further complicates the issue. As Bohannon notes, reporters covering topics such as nutrition or broader scientific research should not merely echo what they read in press releases: “you have to know how to read a scientific paper – and actually bother to do it.” Readers should be especially weary of articles that do not mention sample size and effect size.

Bohannan is not alone in his views. Lancet editor Richard Horton recently published a commentary on bad scientific practices, claiming, “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” Increased public awareness and transparency are likely to ameliorate the problem. In the meantime, both reporters and readers should be cautious as they digest health headlines – if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

How to avoid getting duped by overblown health claims (via Quartz)

1. Are humans involved? If the claims are based on a study done in mice, the results are not necessarily applicable to humans.
2. What is the sample size? Be skeptical of results that involve less than 100 people and fairly skeptical of those that involve less than 1,000 people.
3. What type of study? Study design matters. Systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and randomized controlled trials are generally the most reliable for testing hypotheses.
4. Is it correlation or causation? Relevant to the point above on study design, most health studies draw mere correlations rather than direct causes.
5. What are the study’s limitations? A good health story will not only explain the results, but also discuss the study’s limitations and why you shouldn’t trust the claim fully.

July Event!

Happy summer FPOP fans!

For the last few years, the Mailman School has hosted the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) young global leaders. This group is comprised of a cohort of future leaders under 40 years old from around the world who serve in the program for 6 years. The goal of the program is to give them the knowledge base and connections to look for and implement innovative solutions for problems solving. By being part of this program, the school introduces these young leaders to public health while usually honing in on one particular public health issue each year.

This year, the public health component will focus on obesity and physical activity. Over the course of the 2-week program, a few of our faculty – including Claire Wang, Andrew Rundle and Heather Greenlee – will lead sessions on these topics, looking at the environmental, social and other risk factors to this issue. The fellows, in turn, will develop proposals for how to address this epidemic. On Friday, July 17th, they will present their proposals to a panel for larger discussion. Included on the panel will be Dean Fried, Steven Newmark, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sara Vernon Sterman, VP, Strategic Investments, the Reinvestment Fund, and Radha Agrawal, Founder and CEO, Super Sprowtz – a story-driven nutrition program, which uses entertainment and puppetry to educate kids about healthy eating habits.

WEF would very much like to invite members from our community, especially students, to listen to this discussion. The details for the event are below.

DATE // LOCATION // Friday, July 17 // Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive

10:45-12:15 // Pitches and presentations

RSVP here!
Maria O’Brien: Senior Director of Special Projects with the Dean’s Office // Email:

Local Roots NYC

Local Roots NYC: Buy Local Community Supported Agriculture!
Local Roots is committed to local food culture rooted in community, accessibility and innovation. By joining the CSA, Local Roots brings the farm to you! You can sign up for 12 weeks of organic, local produce of your choice and pick it up weekly at a site near you. It’s a great way to eat fresh, stay healthy, and support your local farmers.
Local Roots proudly serves: Harlem, South Street Seaport, Boerum Hill, Bushwick, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, East Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Kips Bay, Ridgewood, South Slope, and Williamsburg. They also do home delivery!
For more information check out or email Jacqui Cotton from FPOP at if you have any questions!
Join Local Roots for some pre-summer fun! The CSA is celebrating its 4th Anniversary with The Good Festival this Friday, April 24th at Tiny Montgomery at Threes Brewing in Brooklyn. Entry is only $5 for a night of live music, cooking demonstrations, and workshops with local food initiatives. Funds will be used to  create more educational material about sustainable cooking and to bring more classes to NYC schools regarding healthy eating choices and supporting a local food system.
Check out the event on Facebook:

Why Do We Get Fat? An Ongoing Debate

A post written by our very own Treasurer – Sarah Kunkle on tomorrow’s special lecture by Mr. Gary Taubes. Interested in hearing more about this controversial issue? Join us tomorrow April 21st at 4:00 pm at the P&S Faculty Club. RSVP to

Columbia Public Health: Student Voices

By Students for Food Policy and Obesity Prevention

On Tuesday, April 21st at 4:00 pm, FPOP, OSA, GSA, SPIM, and the Department of Epidemiology will host science writer Gary Taubes for a special Public Health Fights Obesity Month lecture: Why We Get Fat: Adiposity 101 and an Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity. Mr. Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, is a co-founder of the non-profit Nutrition Science Initiative, a recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, and a three-time winner of the National Association of Science Writers Science in Society Journalism Award.


Mr. Taubes is also a controversial figure in the world of nutrition and dietary science, despite his best–selling status. Since his 2002 New York Times article, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie,”…

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