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Study: Serving water with school lunches could prevent child, adult obesity

Published November 9, 2017

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Encouraging children to drink plain water with their school lunches could prevent more than half a million youths in the U.S. from becoming overweight or obese, and trim the medical costs and indirect societal costs associated with these problems by more than $13 billion, a new study suggests.

The findings were based on the nationwide expansion of a pilot program that was conducted in 1,200 elementary and middle school schools in New York City between 2009 and 2013. When water dispensers were placed in school cafeterias, students’ consumption of water at lunchtime tripled and was associated with small but significant declines in their risks of being overweight one year later, researchers found.

According to a cost-benefit analysis conducted by University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An, expanding the program to all public and private schools nationwide would cost a total of about $18 for the entirety of each student’s K-12 years  – but could yield an average net benefit to society of $174 across each person’s lifetime, or a total of $13 billion.

An’s model assumed permanent reductions in the incidence of adults who are  overweight or obese, as well as decreased medical and indirect costs such as absenteeism and reduced productivity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overweight in children is defined as a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile for peers of the same age, whereas obesity is a BMI at or above the 95th percentile. In adults, being overweight is associated with increased annual medical costs of $350, which increases to $1,500 annually if a person is obese.

While children in the New York City schools who drank more plain water consumed significantly less whole milk at lunchtime, An said this was unlikely to pose any nutritional hazards.

In a prior study with adults, reported last year in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, An found little evidence that drinking greater amounts of water negatively impacted participants’ nutrition.

“The nutrition profile doesn’t change much when people increase their plain-water intake, but we do see a significant drop in their saturated fat and sugar intake,” he said. “While there might potentially be some problems if children consume less whole milk, I would say those are probably minor in comparison with the costs associated with the skyrocketing rates of childhood overweight and obesity in the U.S.”

An said the plain-water intervention’s projected long-term savings compared favorably with other population-level obesity-prevention policies such as imposing excise taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and enforcing nutrition standards for foods and drinks sold in schools outside of meals.

Prior researchers predicted that a sugar-sweetened beverage tax could prevent nearly 600,000 cases of child obesity, saving $14.2 billion across children’s lifetimes, while enforcing nutrition standards for nonmeal food/beverages sold in schools would prevent 340,000 cases of child obesity, saving $800 million in lifetime costs. 

The economic impact of the water intervention was estimated to be greater among boys ($199) than girls ($149) because greater reductions were expected in the rates of overweight males than females (0.9 percent vs. 0.6 percent, respectively).

However, An and his co-authors suggested that the probabilities of both sexes benefitting from the intervention were high.

The school-based water intervention also holds potential as a low- or moderate-cost population-level obesity-prevention intervention in developing countries, An and his co-authors wrote.

Hong Xue and Youfa Wang, both of Ball State University, and Liang Wang, of East Tennessee State University, co-wrote the study, which was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

The paper was published recently in the journal Pediatric Obesity.

A mother’s support helps children learn to regulate negative emotions, but what happens when mom gets distressed?

Published November 9, 2017
Professor Nancy McElwain(l) and doctoral student Niyantri Ravindran, Department of Human Development and Family Studies

URBANA, Ill. - Handling a poorly timed tantrum from a toddler—such as in the middle of the grocery store—is never an easy task. It could serve as a teachable moment for a mom to help her child learn to manage his own emotions. After all, research shows that how parents react in these types of situations can play an important role in a child’s emotional development.

But how does that child’s negative behavior—that tantrum in the frozen food aisle—affect a mother’s own stress level, and therefore, her ability to parent?

When children become upset, showing negative emotions or behaviors, some parents become distressed themselves, while others are able to talk their child through the difficult situation. Studies have shown that a mothers’ reaction—positive or negative—to her child’s negative emotions and behavior can predict whether her child develops the ability to effectively regulate his emotions and behavior.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois explored potential predictors of mothers’ supportive or non-supportive behavior during emotional challenges. The long-term goal is to help parents find strategies to manage their own emotions when their children display aversive behavior.

“By maternal support, we mean behaviors like validating the child’s experience, as well as comforting the child and providing reasons for parental requests. Depending on the context, support might also mean distracting the child away from the situation that is causing him or her to feel frustrated or distressed,” explains Niyantri Ravindran, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I.

“Many studies have already shown that maternal support is really helpful for children. In contrast, research also suggests that ignoring the child’s behavior, threatening or punishing the child, or telling the child that he is overreacting may prevent children from learning to effectively manage their emotions,” she adds.

Because maternal support is so important, Ravindran, along with Nancy McElwain, a professor of human development and family studies at U of I, examined maternal dispositional distress reactivity—how distressed moms get when their children display negative emotions—to see if it predicted how much support moms show their children in those situations.

For the study, 127 toddlers and their mothers participated in a 5-minute snack delay task. The children could see a snack contained in a clear lunchbox, but were told they must wait while the mother filled out some paperwork before they could have the snack.

The task was frustrating for both mothers and toddlers; the mothers needed to focus on the paperwork and keep the child from opening the lunchbox, while the child had to sit and wait for the snack.

The researchers observed and coded the mothers’ supportive behavior as well as the toddlers’ negative emotions and disruptive behavior in 15-second increments.

“Children’s disruptive behavior was often minor—they tried to grab the mom’s pen or get her attention. Other times, they tried to open the box. There was a range of behaviors that we observed—all were very typical for toddlers, but some behaviors were more stressful than others for the moms,” Ravindran says.

In terms of the mothers’ behaviors, the researchers noted that moms responded in a variety of ways to their children’s disruptive behavior, including distracting them away from the snack, validating their feelings, or providing reasons why they could not have the snack yet (supportive behaviors). At other times, moms ignored their child, physically moved the child or took the snack box away from the child, or interrupted the child (non-supportive behaviors).

Mothers also filled out questionnaires about how they usually respond to potentially stressful situations with their children. For example, mothers rated their tendency to become upset themselves when their child falls down, gets hurt, and becomes upset.

But, overall, the researchers saw something interesting happening.

“We found that mothers’ self-reported distress was related to lower levels of observed supportive behavior during the 5-minute snack delay task, but only following instances when their children showed higher levels of aversive behavior than they typically showed during the task,” Ravindran explains.

“So for mothers who reported higher distress levels, when their child acted disruptive in one 15-second interval, the mothers showed less support in the next 15-second interval. There is a time lag between the child’s behavior and the mom’s response,” she adds.

McElwain adds that this time lag is important. “If the association was in the same interval, questions would remain about the direction of the association: Is the child showing disruptive behavior because the mom is less supportive, or is the mom less supportive because the child is being disruptive? But because we found there was an association from child’s behavior in one interval to mom’s behavior in the next interval—time-lagged association—we are able to make the inference that the child’s behavior leads to the mom’s behavior.  For moms who have high dispositional distress, you find that link.”

What Ravindran would tell parents, based on the study, is to be mindful of whether they are experiencing distress when their child is exhibiting negative emotions or disruptive behavior. “I would encourage parents to develop strategies to manage their emotions in those moments. Becoming more aware could also affect your parenting,” she says. 

McElwain points out that the study is not meant to identify “good or bad” parents. “We are saying that parenting is challenging, and these moments when young children are distressed and are acting out, are especially challenging. Being aware of that and being able to identify how you are feeling while also validating the child’s emotions is important for both you and your child,” she says.

As challenging as toddlers’ tantrums and meltdowns can be for parents, the researchers point out they are excellent opportunities for parents to teach their children about emotions.

“The toddler years provide many opportunities for parents to talk to their children about emotions,” McElwain says. “Although talking with a toddler about his or her emotions in the midst of a tantrum is often not possible, parents might talk with the child afterwards in a simple and brief way about what happened.

“The goal shouldn’t be to shame or punish, but to provide the child with clear labels that describe his or her emotions and the causes for those emotions. By putting labels to feelings, children will be better able to ‘use their words’ when frustrating situations arise,” she adds. 

The paper, “Mother’s dispositional distress reactivity as a predictor of maternal support following momentary fluctuations in children’s aversive behavior,” is published in Developmental Psychology. Co-authors include, Niyantri Ravindran, Nancy McElwain, Daniel Berry, and Laurie Kramer. Ravindran, McElwain, and Kramer are all of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois.


Agricorps Webinar

7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Ever thought of taking your agricultural experience to West Africa? Check out AgriCorps! AgriCorps is a nonprofit hiring globally minded, driven agricultural graduates to work as agricultural teachers, 4-H/FFA advisors, and extension agents in Ghana and Liberia. By joining the AgriCorps Fellowship program you have a chance to contribute to feeding the growing population by finding local ag solutions to local ag problems in West Africa. To learn more AgriCorps Director of Recruitment, Kelsey Jo Knight, is hosting a free webinar on November 15th at 7PM CST.

To register go to:


UPDATE: Court ruling requires some livestock and poultry farmers to report emissions by November 15

Published November 8, 2017

Livestock and poultry farmers have to notify public agencies if their facilities are likely emitting over 100 lb. per day of either ammonia or hydrogen sulfide. The deadline is currently November 15, 2017.

This upcoming deadline is a result of an appeals court ruling that requires EPA to enforce an existing reporting rule on CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The decision does not impact a related rule called EPCRA (Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act), which is triggered by similar emissions values but currently applies only to farms designated as large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) under EPA’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

“Livestock and poultry farmers should know this issue is evolving daily,” said Richard Gates, an Extension livestock engineer. “EPA has asked the Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling but as of today, no further action has been taken. Thus, it is prudent to prepare for the requirement to report, if necessary, under CERCLA. We will be providing further assistance on how to complete the required reports in the coming days.”

EPA has provided guidance on their website.

To assist farmers, Extension livestock engineers have created a simple table of animal numbers that would be required to trigger a mandatory report of a continuous release of ammonia. They have determined that for most cases, ammonia emissions, rather than hydrogen sulfide emissions, will be the greater value.

Using the animal numbers in the table, a farmer can determine whether further action is taken. For example, a grow-finish swine farm that uses deep pits for manure storage and has less than 2,703 head, or a turkey grower with less than 12,970 tom turkeys raised from 36 to 140 days old, would not need to take any further action.

“We urge farmers to review their operations and select the best fit from the threshold reporting table,” said Neslihan Akdeniz, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois. If a farmer determines that their animal numbers exceed the reporting threshold, further action is required. 

Gates and Akdeniz caution that there have been conflicting reports from different EPA Regional Centers. Region 5, in which Illinois is located, has stated that the threshold numbers apply to the entire facility.

“The November 15 reporting deadline is firm as of today, and producers are urged to be proactive,” said Akdeniz. “Fortunately the reporting requirements are simple, requiring only a phone call and a follow up report within 30 days. If a farm participated in the EPA’s AFO Air Compliance Agreement in 2008, then they are exempt from this new reporting requirement for now.”

University of Illinois Extension will be providing another announcement with specific tools to assist farmers that are required to report.


News Source:

Richard Gates, 217-244-2791

News Writer:

Deborah Seiler

Related Links:

Additional information for producers

India@70 Symposium: Economic Development & Poverty Eradication

All Day Event
Conference Room 210, Levis Faculty Center

Symposium Program

India@70: Economic Development and Poverty Eradication

Opening Remarks

11:00 a.m.-11:05 a.m.

Hadi Salehi Esfahani, Director of Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

Keynote Speech: Basic Issues of Indian Economic Development: A Political-Economy Approach

11:05 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

Professor Pranab Bardhan, Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.


12:15 p.m.-1:15 p.m.

Panel 1: Anti-Poverty Organizations and Programs in India

1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

Mr Rikin Gandhi, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Digital Green.

Professor Madhu Viswanathan, Professor/Diane and Steven N. Miller Centennial Chair in Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


2:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m.

Panel 2: Water Management and Environmental Sustainability

2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m.

Professor Prasanta Kalita, Professor of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, and the Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Professor Trevor Birkenholtz, Associate Professor of Geography and Geographic Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Cattle feeding returns improving

Published November 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Cattle feeding profitability has been on a roller coaster ride the last couple of years, according Purdue University Extension economist James Mintert. Estimated cattle feeding returns calculated each month by Iowa State Extension provide insight into the situation Corn Belt feeders face.

“According to the Iowa State data, which assumes that cattle are placed on feed each month with inputs purchased and fed cattle sold in the cash market without any risk management, cattle feeders suffered horrific losses in both 2015 and 2016,” Mintert says. “Losses continued throughout 2016 and still averaged a loss of $117 per head for a typical yearling feeding program, and a loss of $216 per head for a typical calf feeding program, during 2016’s October to December quarter.”

The situation changed dramatically in 2017.

“Relying again on the Iowa State estimates, during the first nine months of 2017, feeding returns for yearlings averaged +$198 per head and +$191 for calves,” Mintert adds. “The turnaround was even more dramatic when the monthly returns are examined, as monthly yearling returns actually reached +$415 and calf feeding returns climbed over $500 per head during May 2017.”

The return for feeding calves during May was a new record in the Iowa State data going back to 1981 and the yearling feeding return was the highest value since 2003. The increase in feeding returns during 2003 occurred primarily as a result of a surge in fed cattle prices during the brief time window when Canada was locked out of the export markets because of BSE in Canada and before the United States had its first BSE case.

“The increase in feeding returns in spring 2017 was the result of cattle feeders’ breakevens declining from $117 per cwt. at the beginning of the year to the upper $90s per cwt., for calf programs, and the low $100s per cwt., for yearling programs, by spring, combined with a strengthening fed cattle market,” Mintert says. “Sale prices for fed cattle climbed roughly $20 per cwt. from the beginning of 2017 to mid-spring, pushing the revenue per head up by approximately $250 per head.”

According to Mintert, although cattle feeding was profitable during most of 2017, Corn Belt feeding returns did turn negative in September 2017, relying on Iowa State’s calculations. Yearling returns in September were -$41 per head and calf feeding returns were -$26 per head.

The shift from profitability to negative returns begs the question, what lies ahead for cattle feeders?

“Answering that question requires a better understanding of what was behind the large losses in 2015 and 2016,” Mintert says.

He explains that the losses that occurred in 2015 and 2016 were mostly attributable to two factors: 1) cattle feeders bid up feeder cattle prices to record levels, which in turn, pushed the fed-cattle prices needed to breakeven up dramatically and 2) contrary to expectations, prices for fed cattle dropped sharply. The combination of high costs and weak fed-cattle prices proved devastating, leading to record losses for cattle feeders.

What’s happened so far in 2017?

Mintert says total costs per head have climbed since the peak in profitability last spring, but the increase to date has been modest. Total costs per head for a yearling program rose from $1,388 per head for cattle marketed during May to $1,420 per head for cattle marketed in September. The big shift occurred in the value of fed cattle marketed. The total sales value per head dropped from a peak of $1,815 to just $1,388 in September as the fed-cattle sales price decline from a monthly average near $140 last May to less than $107 in September.

“To date, it appears that cattle feeders have not repeated the mistakes of 2015 and 2016 with both calf and yearling values trading at more manageable price levels, helping to hold down feeders’ breakeven prices,” Mintert says. “The real key to profitability will be the direction that fed-cattle prices follow the rest of the fall and into early winter.”

Mintert says cash prices for slaughter cattle bottomed in early September, trading near $105 per cwt. in the Southern Plains. Prices have strengthened since then, climbing above $124 last week after trading near $118 a week earlier.

“The turnaround in fed cattle prices has pushed cattle feeding returns back into positive territory,” Mintert says. “Given the moderation in feeder cattle prices this year, unlike 2015 and 2016, prospects for cattle feeders to operate profitably the rest of the fall and early winter look good.”



Improving the Illinois dairy industry, one farm at a time

Published November 6, 2017

URBANA, Ill. – Like most farmers, Illinois dairy producers want to maximize efficiency and productivity to improve their bottom line. But many don’t have the time or objective perspective to audit their own operations for potential improvements. That’s why the University of Illinois Dairy Focus Team was formed.

“Knowing a farm’s potential causes of inefficiency and efficiency is key to improving its performance,” says Ines Rivelli-Bixquert, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Animal Sciences at U of I, and leader of the Dairy Focus Team. She recently published findings from the project in The Professional Animal Scientist.

Rivelli-Bixquert worked with assistant professor Felipe (Phil) Cardoso and a team of graduate and undergraduate students in the department to develop a protocol to evaluate dairy operations in Illinois. In the summer of 2014, the team visited 20 farms across the state.

Upon arrival, the group would fan out, evaluating and sampling every aspect of the dairy, while Cardoso sat down with the farmer to complete a lengthy questionnaire and get copies of the farmer’s data.

Specifically, the team evaluated nutrition, by taking samples of corn silage, total mixed rations, and manure; reproduction, by examining farmers’ data on yearly pregnancy rate, first conception rate, and services per conception; and young stock, by measuring aspects of calf housing.

Back at the lab, the researchers analyzed farm samples and data from farmers to obtain an overall view of the dairy industry in Illinois. Specifically, data from farms in northern and southern Illinois were compared to pinpoint geographic patterns.

“There were definitely management differences between south and north,” Rivelli-Bixquert says. “Some of these differences were leading southern farms to be more proficient when ensiling corn, meaning that they could have reduced losses and lower costs. On the other hand, northern farms had more proficient feeding management strategies for calves and better reproductive efficiency than southern farms.”

Cardoso explains the differences might simply come down to climate variations in the two regions. “The other difference is that in the north, the proximity to Wisconsin, a huge dairy state, makes the transference of information easier,” he says. “As Extension personnel, we should be talking more about reproduction in the south, and perhaps encouraging those producers to visit farms in the north to learn how to obtain good reproductive results.”

Perhaps more importantly, results from individual farms were shared with each producer, along with specific recommendations for potential improvements. 

Rivelli-Bixquert says some of the farmers weren’t aware of problems before the team showed up. “Sometimes they thought they needed help with nutrition, but they really needed to focus on some aspect of reproduction. The process helped them to understand their farms,” she says.

Cardoso and the team also used the data to develop a research-based newsletter and online tools for farmers, available at He says using farm-collected data and using it to improve efficiency for other farmers is the modern version of extension.

Rivelli-Bixquert adds, “I believe that if we do science, it is because there is someone out there who needs it, but it is not always easy to translate it to the general public. And extension is the best tool we have to bring scientific knowledge to the farmers.”  

The article, “Nutrition, reproduction, and young stock performance on dairy farms throughout Illinois: A Dairy Focus Team approach,” is published in The Professional Animal Scientist. Authors include Rivelli-Bixquert, Sarah Morrison, Katherine Haerr, Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, and Cardoso. The work was supported by the Illinois Milk Producers’ Association and USDA NIFA (NC-2042).

A longer article on this project is available in the Fall 2017 issue of ACES@Illinois, at