College of ACES
College News

Future of children in the U.S. trending #hungry

Published September 15, 2014
child food security

URBANA, Ill. –Alleviating food insecurity in the United States is one of the leading challenges facing our country today.  The magnitude is great, especially among children—nearly 16 million U.S. children, or over one in five, live in households that were food insecure.  In other words, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, these children live in households that do not have access to adequate food due to lack of money or other financial resources. University of Illinois’s Craig Gundersen and University of Kentucky’s James Ziliak recently released a review of research on the subject that includes recommendations for the next steps needed to reduce the number of food-insecure children in the United States.

“One of the reasons that food insecurity remains high is that we don’t fully understand what causes it, particularly among children,” said Gundersen, Soybean Industry Endowed Professor in Agricultural Strategy and professor in the Department Agricultural and Consumer Economics. “For example, we know that greater income lowers the risk of being food insecure, but even at incomes two and three times the poverty level, there are children in food-insecure households. Clearly there are numerous other factors besides income that determine whether a household is food insecure.”

Gundersen and Ziliak summarized some of the main factors that they observed in research that contribute to childhood food insecurity. Some of the prominent themes related to: mental and physical health of the mother; family structure, such as if the child lives in a home with both biological parents and/or with extended family members; child-care arrangements; and certain at-risk populations, including immigrants and children with a parent who is in prison.

The report ends with a discussion of some of the federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “A high proportion of eligible children do not receive free or reduced price meals through the National School Lunch Program,” Gundersen said. “This is often ascribed to the stigma that some children face for receiving the meals or their dissatisfaction with the meals, which is especially true for high-school children.”

In addition, Gundersen noted that in many communities feeding programs for children are not available during the summer when school is not in session. This may be one of the reasons that food insecurity among children tends to spike during the summer.

“One way to improve the rate at which people apply for these federal programs is to improve access to the programs,” Gundersen said. “If the office hours are only during the day, parents are forced to choose between missing work and the corresponding wages or failing to enroll in SNAP.” He suggested that perhaps counties could be rewarded for increasing participation rates among eligible households.

The report also suggests that the benefit levels of SNAP be reexamined because, for example, food costs are not uniform across the country.

“We have learned a great deal from existing research, but we need to learn more about what is causing food insecurity in the first place,” Gundersen said. “For instance, we know that households with at least one person with a disability are substantially more likely to be food insecure than other households, but why?”

In addition to quantitative data, Gundersen said that research could benefit from more personal interviews with a richer set of questions and multiple approaches to interpreting the responses.  “A more personal approach would yield information about the coping mechanisms that families use when their food resources are exhausted, the triggers to food insecurity, the hurdles people may face when they apply for food assistance, and how disabilities make it harder to procure and prepare food.”  Along with this qualitative data, Gundersen recommends having longer-term longitudinal surveys which interview individuals over multiple years.

The report entitled “Childhood food insecurity in the U.S.: Trends, causes, and policy options” was co-authored by U of I’s Gundersen, who is also the executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory at Illinois, and James P. Ziliak from the University of Kentucky. It is published in the fall 2014 issue of The Future of Children journal. Funding for this work was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food, and Nutrition Service.

Freshman girls know how to eat healthy but lack confidence in their ability to do it

Published September 15, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – Female college freshmen understand the benefits of eating healthy foods and know which foods they should include in their diets. But they lack confidence in their ability to act on that knowledge, especially when it comes to getting enough calcium, says a new University of Illinois study.

“The women in our study weren’t very confident about their ability to eat a healthful diet, especially if they had to do something physical like chop vegetables or go shopping. The motivation just wasn’t strong if they were at a party or in places where there were other fun choices,” said Karen Chapman-Novakofski, a U of I professor of nutrition.

That was especially true for calcium-rich foods, and the expert is concerned about that because a woman’s diet in college can affect her later development of osteoporosis.

“Women optimize bone mass when they’re about 18 years old so we’re talking about an important time for them to be consuming calcium,” she said.

The women did feel confident about choosing low-fat foods even when it was difficult.

Co-author Leia Kedem, a dietitian and nutrition educator with U of I Extension, was not surprised by this finding.

“It’s understandable because there are many more choices when it comes to low-fat foods, and women have developed strategies for dealing with high- versus low-fat choices. They can have chicken instead of ground beef or have a salad instead of a Reuben. There are fewer ways of including calcium-dense, even fortified, foods in your diet, so it’s even more important to have a strategy for including dairy foods,” Kedem said.

The study explored the effects of self-efficacy, or a woman’s confidence in her ability to engage in a certain beneficial behavior in a challenging situation, and outcome expectation in 268 female college freshmen enrolled in the U of I’s Peer Education Exercising and Eating Right (PEER) program.

Participants completed questionnaires that included questions about the student’s predicted behavior when she was confronted with difficult choices. Choices included: when you are really busy with school, when you are not hungry, when you are really hungry, and when foods are a lot of work to peel/cut/prepare.

A previous article by the authors, published in the American Journal of Health Behavior, showed that the negative effects of “trigger situations” and “social pressure” were the same for normal-weight and overweight women.

In that study, female college freshmen completed a questionnaire that included such items as: I think a lot about being thinner; I am worried about gaining weight; and I like the taste of fast foods.

The data showed that normal-weight women were just as likely as overweight women to eat when they were depressed, bored, or stressed. Overweight women were more concerned about their weight, but confidence in being able to eat in a healthful way was the same between the two groups, she said.

Chapman-Novakofski emphasized the need for helping women develop strategies to use in difficult situations.

“We know that personal, behavioral, and environmental factors all influence each other to affect behavior. If a student has strategized ways to stick to a healthy diet in challenging situations, she will be more likely to be committed to her goals and to achieve them,” Chapman-Novakofski said.

Chapman-Novakofski, Leia  E. Kedem of U of I Extension, and Ellen M. Evans of the University of Georgia are co-authors of “Psychometric Evaluation of Dietary Self-Efficacy and Outcome Expectation Scales in Female College Freshmen,” which is available pre-publication online in Behavior Modification. Funding was provided by USDA.


Revisions to corn and soybean acreage estimates may be ahead

Published September 15, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - The USDA’s Crop Production report, to be released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) on Oct. 10, may contain revised estimates of planted and harvested acreage of corn and soybeans. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, revisions would be based on information revealed in the October Agricultural and Objective Yield surveys, as well as other administrative data, which would consist primarily of certified acreage estimates received by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The FSA requires that producers participating in several federal commodity programs submit an annual report regarding all cropland use on their farms. Acreage is reported in three categories: planted, prevented planted, and failed.

FSA released the first report of planted acreage of corn and soybeans in 2014 based on producer reports on Aug. 15. That report will be updated in a release on Sept. 16 based on more complete reporting by producers. “That report may provide some indication of possible revisions in planted and harvested acreage estimates in the Oct. 10 or subsequent Crop Production reports,” said Darrel Good. “While the September report by FSA is not the final report of the year, the estimates of planted acreage in the September report were very close to the final estimates in each of the previous three years.”

For corn, the September planted acreage estimate ranged from 98.9 to 99.8 percent and averaged 99.5 percent of the final estimate. For soybeans, the September estimate ranged from 99.2 to 99.8 percent and averaged 99.6 percent of the final estimate. “There is no compelling reason to expect that those relationships will deviate much from average this year,” Good explained. “The October estimate (to be released on Oct. 15 this year) averaged 99.9 percent of the final estimate for both corn and soybeans over the previous three years.

“Importantly, there has been a consistent relationship between the final FSA estimate of planted acreage of corn and soybeans reported by producers and the final NASS estimate of planted acreage,” Good said. “The NASS estimate of planted acreage always exceeds the FSA estimate because not all producers participate in the commodity programs that require reporting of acreage.”

For the seven years from 2007 through 2013, the difference between the two estimates for corn ranged from 2.381 million (2007) to 3.085 million acres (2012) and averaged 2.779 million acres. Good said that the FSA planted acreage estimates ranged from 96.7 percent (2011) to 97.5 percent (2007) of the NASS estimates. The seven-year average was 97 percent. 

“Anticipating revisions in the NASS estimate of planted acreage based on the September FSA planted acreage estimate will be a two-step process,” he explained. “First, the FSA estimate should be divided by 0.995 since the September estimate in the previous three years has average 99.5 percent of the final FSA estimate. Second, that result should be divided by 0.97 since the FSA final estimate has averaged 97 percent of the NASS final estimate. Alternatively, the September FSA estimate can be divided by 0.965 (0.995 x 0.97 = 0.965). Using those past average relationships, no change in the current NASS estimate of 91.641 million acres of planted acreage of corn would be expected if the September FSA estimate is near 88.434 million acres. The August estimate, based on incomplete reporting by producers, was 83.322 million acres.”

For the seven years from 2007 through 2013, the difference between the final FSA and NASS estimates of planted acreage of soybeans ranged from 917,000 (2008) to 1.319 million acres (2012) and averaged 1.249 million acres. FSA planted acreage estimates ranged from 97.1 percent (2007) to 98.8 percent (2008) of the NASS estimates. The seven-year average was 98.3 percent. Good explained that the expected magnitude of the final NASS estimate of soybean planted acreage this year can then be derived by dividing the September FSA planted acreage estimate by 0.979 (0.996 x 0.983 = 0.979). Using average relationships for the previous three years, no change in the current NASS estimate of 84.839 million acres of planted acreage of soybeans would be expected if the September FSA estimate is near 83.057 million acres. The August estimate, based on incomplete reporting by producers, was 79.249 million acres.

“While the September FSA report of planted acreage may provide some indication of the final NASS estimate, it will not provide any guidance on harvested acreage. Estimates of harvested acreage will be based on the differences between planted and harvested acreage estimates in the NASS September Crop Production report—7.802 million for corn and 781,000 for soybeans,” Good said. “The forecasts of planted and harvest acreage of corn and soybeans derived from the FSA September report of planted acreage will be important in refining expectations for changes in production forecasts. There is a general expectation that the NASS October average yield forecasts will be larger than the September forecasts. Changes in acreage expectations then will influence the expected net change in production forecasts.”

NRES' Bethany Cutts co-leading Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity

Published September 12, 2014
Dr. Bethany Cutts

While there is no such thing as a good place to have a natural disaster, nor has there ever been an appropriate site to release toxic pollutants, scientists have long recognized that some areas can handle such catastrophes better than others. As early as the 1970s, they used socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census to develop a tool called the Social Vulnerability Index, known as SoVI, to gauge the likely resilience of different communities.

Bethany Cutts, Assistant Professor with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, is co-leading the Workshop in Urban Environmental Equity.

A team of professors and graduate students at the University of Illinois is testing and tweaking the SoVI model by studying at a more granular level the communities around two polluted Midwest waterways. See the complete story in Inside Illinois.


Agricultural and Biological Engineering ranked best in the nation

Published September 11, 2014
Grift with students at AESB
Professor Tony Grift supervises students as they test air cannon

Urbana, Ill. - The undergraduate program in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) at the University of Illinois is once again ranked best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. The 2015 U.S. News Best Colleges placed Illinois in a tie with Purdue University for the top spot. Texas A&M, Iowa State, and Florida rounded out the top five.

U.S. News ranks undergraduate programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology based solely on the judgments of deans and senior faculty from participating colleges. U.S. News also asks for nominations of the best programs in specialty areas, such as biological and agricultural engineering; those receiving the most mentions are ranked in the publication.

K.C. Ting, department head of ABE since 2004, said, “Developing and delivering great educational programs are among our core missions. We are very encouraged that our agricultural and biological engineering undergraduate program is recognized as a top program.” ABE at Illinois has been ranked consistently in one of the top three spots for almost a decade, including a previous four-year stint as number one.

The department is part of two of the top colleges on the Urbana-Champaign campus; the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Engineering. Ting said the strength of each college “is a tremendous asset to our department.”

Ting added that outstanding faculty, staff, and students also contribute to the overall quality of the department. “Our teaching is student centered, many of our courses are project based, and students have diverse opportunities for international study abroad. We offer a complete educational package, which makes our department very appealing to incoming students.

“We are in good company,” Ting concluded, “and we feel honored to receive this recognition.”

News Source:

K. C. Ting, 217-333-3570

News Writer:

Leanne Lucas, 217-244-9085

Illinois 4-H Foundation presents 2014 state 4-H awards

Published September 11, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - The Illinois 4-H Foundation recognized the exceptional contributions of four outstanding individuals at the ACES College Connection program held Sept. 6 at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center in Champaign.

Three 4-H alumni received the Illinois 4-H Alumni Award:

  • Craig Bidner was a 10-year member of the Danvers Industrial Youth and the Rugged Rambler 4-H Clubs in McLean County. Today he is the owner and CEO of Nikco Sports in Chesterfield, Mo. In 2009, Craig and his wife Joy began the Gateway Gang 4-H Club in St. Louis as a way for their two children and other youth to benefit from the 4-H experience. They continue to be the club leaders today. Bidner said, “Participating in 4-H was a learning opportunity and a foundation that our family built on to succeed in life.”
  • Daniel Kelley was a 10-year member of the Linden Lead ‘Em 4-H Club in McLean County. Today Kelley is a grain farmer near Normal and recently served as the president of the GROWMARK, Inc., board of directors from 1995 to 2013. Kelley said he clearly remembers the inspiration and insight of his 4-H leader, Clarence Ropp. Upon Ropps’ retirement, Kelley volunteered to serve as an assistant leader to help Ray Ropp with the club. Twenty-three years later, Kelley stepped down. Kelley stated that he is proud to have been a part of the 86-year-old Linden Lead ‘Em 4-H Club’s legacy.
  • Philip Nelson was a 10-year member of the Miller Township 4-H Club in LaSalle County. Nelson is a fourth-generation owner and operator of the grain and livestock farm where he grew up. Nelson’s early 4-H experiences provided him with valuable leadership skills and laid the foundation for his life of service to the agriculture industry. He served as vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) from 1999 to 2003 and as president from 2003 to 2013. Nelson has used his leadership roles within the IFB to serve as a tireless advocate for 4-H.

The 2014 Friend of 4-H Award was presented to Richard Knipe, a retired University of Illinois Extension beef animal systems specialist. Knipe spent eight years as coordinator of the Illinois 4-H Livestock Judging Program and coach of the state 4-H judging team. During that time, Knipe built a volunteer coaching system that drives the development of some 2,000 youth across the state of Illinois annually. When ethical behavior in 4-H livestock shows became an issue in the late 1990s, Knipe joined forces with fellow educators to develop a series of 4-H and FFA quality assurance and ethics clinics. Knipe is the co-founder of Riverside Research’s MarketMaker.

The Illinois 4-H Foundation builds relationships to generate financial resources for the Illinois 4-H program. For more information, visit Illinois 4-H is part of the University of Illinois Extension program that is offered in concert with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, the Federal Extension Service, and the United States Department of Agriculture. For more information about 4-H in Illinois, visit