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Illinois State Board of Education Awards $4.5 million to U of I Extension for school food-service training

Published December 9, 2015
school lunch line

URBANA, Ill. – It can be a struggle to get kids to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal at home.  Imagine the challenge of encouraging 1.9 million children in schools each day to eat healthier foods.  University of Illinois Extension has been awarded $4.5 million over three years to help by providing training and education to school food-service professionals statewide.

Funding for the program comes from the Illinois State Board of Education, which oversees the USDA’s National School Lunch Program at over 4,000 sites in Illinois. As part of its commitment to improve the quality and appeal of these programs and reduce food waste, the board contracted with U of I Extension to develop and conduct in-person and web-based training that supports child nutrition standards and promotes a more appealing cafeteria environment.

“Something as simple as renaming cafeteria items or presenting them in more appealing ways has been shown to encourage children to make healthier food choices,” said Jennifer McCaffrey, assistant dean for family and consumer sciences with U of I Extension. “These options should be front and center in the school cafeteria line. We’ll be working with school food-service professionals to develop strategies so students will ultimately put healthier foods on their lunch tray—and eat them.”

McCaffrey says the $4.5 million project will launch in January 2016 with a monthly webinar series.  A new web-training portal will follow in March.  Schools interested in training can contact Extension for on-site customized sessions and technical assistance.

Extension educators will draw on the “smarter lunchroom” approach based in part on research conducted at University of Illinois by professor Brian Wansink.  Wansink is currently at Cornell University.

“This agreement builds on our strengths and success working with food and nutrition programs across the state,” said George Czapar, associate dean and director for the U of I Office of Extension and Outreach. “Healthy meals in the lunchroom help children focus on learning in the classroom.”

According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education, in the 2015 school year, 1,906,590 children were offered meals by the school lunch programs.  Just over half (981,487) of those children were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.  Children who participate in the National School Lunch Program tend to eat more nutritious food at lunchtime than children who do not participate, according to USDA research.

“University of Illinois Extension is known for its nutrition education programs and innovative approaches to learning,” said Mark Haller, director of nutrition and wellness for the State Board of Education.  “We’re thrilled to offer cutting-edge training to school food-service professionals statewide.”

Which college students are likely candidates for risky sex?

Published December 9, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – A University of Illinois study suggests a significant link between instability in the lives of college-age young adults and the likelihood that they will engage in risky sex.

“Young adults experience a lot of instability caused by frequent transitions in their lives. They have probably moved out of their parents’ home (and some move back in). They experience changes in residences, roommates, friends, romantic partners, college majors, and employment. They may drop out of college, re-enroll, or transfer to another university. And some experience more transitional instability than others,” said Jill Bowers, a U of I researcher in human development and family studies.

The study showed that the more instability college students experienced in their lives, the more likely they were to take sexual risks, she added.

According to Bowers, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have increased freedom from parents, are experimenting as a result of their new freedom, and are exploring their romantic identities.

In times of stress, emerging adults may exhaust the physical and emotional resources that buffer them from risky behaviors, lose their ability to think rationally, and engage in risky sexual behavior, she noted.

In the study, risky sex included (1) sex with uncommitted partners; (2) unplanned or casual sex with friends or strangers—without communicating about it first; and (3) impulsive sexual behavior.

The researchers surveyed 398 emerging adults at two U.S. universities, one in the Midwest and one in the Southwest. There were 290 female and 100 male participants (eight didn’t indicate their sex), all under the legal drinking age of 21.

The survey asked questions that elicited the frequency of risky sexual behaviors and assessed participants’ psychological well-being and motivations for drinking. Psychological distress, such as depression and loneliness, and dysfunctional drinking motivations, including drinking to gain peer acceptance or to ease emotional pain, amplified the association between instability and sexual risk taking. Family communication patterns were also examined, but they did not play a significant role in young adults’ propensity to engage in sexual risk taking.

Bowers said that many colleges mandate completion of an online alcohol prevention program before students arrive on campus as freshmen, but she thinks their message misses the mark.

“I’d like to see these programs aim more toward teaching young adults how to manage stress and loneliness, achieve work–life balance, cope with relationship changes, and increase their self-esteem, instead of leaning so heavily on the message ‘Don’t drink,’” she said.

Because all participants in the study were under 21 years old, there were possible legal consequences for under-age drinkers, she said.

“Yet the study showed that it wasn’t the fact that the young adults drank but their dysfunctional reasons for drinking that enhanced the relationship between the instability they were experiencing and their sexual risk taking,” she said.

Co-authors of “The Role of Transitional Instability, Psychological Distress, and Dysfunctional Drinking in Emerging Adults’ Involvement in Risky Sex” are Jill R. Bowers of the University of Illinois, Chris Segrin of the University of Arizona, and Nicholas Joyce of the University of Maryland. The article is available online in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. The study was partially funded by the Wickwire Family Foundation.



New study maps evidence of conservation impacts on human well-being

Published December 9, 2015
geographic map
Graphic provided by McKinnon, Cheng, Garside, Masuda, and Miller.


  • Questions about conservation policy may have already been answered through research that no one has read.
  • Health concerns and cultural values are among the least-explored aspects of nature conservation.
  • There is a need for a tool to help access valuable information that links nature conservation and well-being.

URBANA, Ill. – Thousands of reports are produced every year assessing the effects of different conservation policies and programs, but much of this valuable information is never read. Researchers from the University of Illinois and five other institutions collaborated to highlight the merits of a new technique—creation of evidence maps— to ensure research findings are more visible and accessible. The article appears in Nature.

“Evidence maps are emerging as a powerful new tool to visually distill a huge amount of information on what works and what doesn’t in a particular field,  says Daniel Miller, assistant professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at U of I.  “We believe the evidence map we’ve created on the effects of nature conservation on human well-beings is the first application of this tool to conservation and sustainable development issues.”

The team of experts from the Science for Nature and People (SNAP) partnership, Conservation International, UCLA, the University of Exeter Medical School, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of Illinois worked together to develop the evidence map. It compiles information on policy impacts within existing studies, synthesizes key trends, and highlights areas in need of further work.

The researchers found that human health concerns and cultural values are among the least-studied impacts of conservation on people. They located and categorized more than 1,000 primary research studies that document relationships between nature conservation policies and programs and human well-being including economic and material outcomes, health, education, culture and social relations. They used this information to create an interactive tool that easily aggregates these data, confirms well-studied linkages, and highlights prominent gaps.

The team found that although over 25 percent of studies examined the link between protected areas and economic well-being, fewer than 2 percent evaluated impacts on human health.

“Evidence maps like the one we’ve created can provide vital input to help guide research and policy by showing both well-studied areas where knowledge synthesis is warranted and gaps where primary research is needed,” Miller says. His research at Illinois focuses on understanding the links between different natural resource governance strategies like national parks and socio-economic and ecological outcomes, particularly in forest environments across the developing world. “Demonstrating this tool is especially timely as the international community grapples with how best to achieve the recently launched sustainable development goals.”

Organizations like the World Bank, where Miller used to work before joining the faculty at Illinois, are already seeing the value of the information synthesized in this study. The Bank is planning to use the evidence on forest biomes and poverty links to better inform its investment decisions. 

Making this evidence map available to other researchers and decision makers opens the door to a better understanding of the effects of conservation impacts on other areas of sustainability such as renewable energy and food security. The SNAP working group that produced this map has received funding to continue this effort in a second phase that will explore these and other potential issues.

The full article entitled “Map the Evidence” is published in Nature. It was written by Madeleine C. McKinnon, Samantha H. Cheng, Ruth Garside, Yuta J. Masuda, and Daniel C. Miller.


Forcing winter branches

Published December 8, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Forcing branches allows us to enjoy a burst of color and brighten up our homes in the middle of winter with materials from our own garden, said Kim Ellson, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“We all keenly await the arrival of spring in those cold and dark winter months, and although we cannot change the seasons, we can enjoy a taste of spring in our homes. Forcing branches is very simple, requires little input, and is very rewarding,” she said.

There is something most exciting and rewarding about watching branches come to life, gradually unfold and display their hidden beauty, Ellson said. Every branch has its own unique beauty and appeal.

Early-blooming deciduous trees and shrubs are used for forcing as the buds on these plants have already developed prior to the onset of winter. When trying to distinguish between buds, note flower buds are larger and plumper than leaf buds. Fruit trees have their flower buds on spurs, which resemble short knobby branches.  

“It does not have to be solely flowers that are forced; leaves, buds, and catkins are equally attractive,” Ellson pointed out. “Some species might have more than one desirable trait.”

Red maple offers a vibrant display of leaves and flowers. Hazelnut delights with little catkins. Honeysuckle and lilac offer fragrant flowers. Birch has graceful weeping branches and pussywillow has soft fuzzy buds.

“There is a wide range of plants that are suitable; however, some will break dormancy more readily than others,” Ellson said. “If you are new to forcing, I would recommend starting with some reliable favorites like forsythia, Cornelian dogwood, red maple, or pussywillow. All these experience bud break in a short period of one to three weeks.”

As a general rule, the later in the season, the more developed the buds, and the shorter the forcing period as buds are nearing their natural bloom time, Ellson explained. Plant species also affect this time period, with some species taking four to five weeks to break, including crabapple, quince, cherry, and buckeye.

“Always be informed of each plant species’ dormancy requirement to avoid disappointment,” Ellson advised. “This will dictate which plants can be collected in January and which need until February or March to ensure successful forcing.”

Always seek out healthy material with the most developed buds. “Be aware, you are now pruning your shrub, so be mindful not to damage the structure or health of that plant. You do not want an unpleasant surprise once your plants leaf out again,” she said.

The ideal day to collect branches is when temperatures are above freezing. Bring cut branches indoors and submerge these in warm water. If collecting in freezing temperatures, submerge branches in cold water for a day to avoid shock prior to the warm water.

Warm water has less oxygen in it than cold water, and it is crucial to ensure no air pockets enter the stems. Air pockets within stems will disrupt the uptake of water and therefore the success of the blooms. 

Make a fresh, clean, slanted cut on the stems, an inch above the original cut, while the stems are still underwater. Split the base of the stem to further aid water uptake and mist branches regularly thereafter to avoid buds drying.

“You can make your arrangement and have it indoors immediately to enjoy from day one, or you can keep the materials in a cool area until the buds break,” Ellson explained. “Always ensure that branches have ample water and are kept out of direct sunlight. Indoor arrangements can be placed somewhere cool at night to extend their life span.”

Changing the water regularly will avoid any buildup of bacteria. Ensure that stems stay wet during water changes to avoid air uptake. Preservatives serve to further prolong the longevity of the branches, and these can be purchased or homemade.

“So sit back, relax in the comfort of your warm home, and await the beautiful display of color, reassuring us that spring is indeed on its way,” she added.

News Source:

Kim Ellson, 847-818-2901

News Writer:

University of Illinois Extension

Ethanol production and corn consumption prospects for 2016

Published December 7, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicate that U.S. production of fuel ethanol totaled 14.313 billion gallons during the 2014 calendar year. That quantity is 1.02 billion gallons more than produced in 2013 and about 384 million gallons more than the previous record production in 2011.

University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good provided the analysis of ethanol production and corn consumption prospects for 2016 that follows.

For the first nine months of 2015, EIA monthly estimates indicate that domestic ethanol production was 3.6 percent larger than during the same period in 2014.  Weekly EIA estimates indicate that ethanol production in October and November this year exceeded that of a year ago by 3.1 percent. Production in December is expected to be slightly smaller than the record monthly production of 1.295 billion gallons in December 2014.

For the year, ethanol production will likely be at least 3 percent larger than in 2014, reaching about 14.745 billion gallons. Production at that level will require about 5.25 billion bushels of feedstock, mostly corn, for conventional ethanol production in 2015.

Estimates of domestic ethanol consumption are based on EIA estimates of the volume of fuel ethanol production, imports, exports, and changes in domestic stock levels.  Consumption was a record 13.444 billion gallons in 2014. Of that total, about 13.353 billion gallons was conventional ethanol made almost entirely from corn. Consumption during the first nine months of 2015 was 4 percent larger than during the same period last year. Consumption for the year is on pace to reach 13.982 billion gallons, with about 13.897 billion gallons being conventional ethanol.  

Domestic ethanol consumption during the year ahead will be influenced by two related factors. The first follows from the biofuels volume requirements in the EPA final rulemaking for 2014-2016 RFS standards released on Nov. 30. Those standards require 18.11 billion gallons of biofuels consumption in 2016, 1.18 billion more than required in 2015 and 710 million gallons more than in the preliminary rulemaking released in May.

The requirement for advanced biofuels was set at 3.61 billion gallons, 730 million more than the 2015 requirement and 380 million more than was required in the preliminary rulemaking. The difference between the total and the advanced requirement is the implied requirement for conventional biofuel (ethanol).  The conventional requirement is referred to as an implied requirement because it can also be satisfied with discretionary blending of advanced biofuels. That implied requirement is at 14.5 billion gallons for 2016, up from 14.05 billion gallons in 2015 and 14.0 billion gallons in the preliminary rulemaking for 2016.

The second and related factor that will influence domestic ethanol consumption is the expected level of domestic gasoline consumption because the blending requirements are actually enforced as a fraction of gasoline consumption. Based on EIA projections, consumption is expected to increase from 139.38 billion gallons in 2015 to 139.96 billion gallons in 2016. That expected increase of 580 million gallons follows an expected increase of 2.9 billion gallons in 2015. The conventional ethanol mandate of 14.5 billion gallons reflects an expected small increase in the E-10 blend wall and a “push” to include larger quantities of higher ethanol blends (E-15 and E-85) in the domestic fuel supply.

If the 2016 gasoline consumption forecast is correct, the E-10 blend wall will be 13.996 billion gallons. Because some gasoline is consumed without ethanol and some with higher ethanol blends, the effective E-10 blend wall is thought to be 13.856 billion gallons (9.9 percent of gasoline consumption). A portion of the 13.856 billion gallons will be provided in the form of advanced ethanol, including cellulosic, but mostly imported Brazilian ethanol.

The EPA projects consumption of advanced ethanol in 2015 at only 85 million gallons. We estimate that about 70 million gallons of that total will be Brazilian ethanol. That consumption is projected to increase to 249 million gallons in 2016 based on much larger imports of Brazilian ethanol in response to changing fuel standards in California. That would leave the conventional ethanol E-10 blend wall at 13.607 billion gallons.

In addition to E-10, however, some ethanol will be consumed in higher blends, mostly E-85. The EPA has projected E-85 consumption in 2016 at 400 million gallons.  That would be equivalent to 296 million gallons of ethanol, assuming an average blend of 74 percent ethanol. Total consumption of conventional ethanol would be projected at 13.903 billion gallons, essentially the same as consumed in 2015. The difference between the RFS requirement of 14.5 billion gallons and the projected consumption of 13.903 billion gallons (597 million gallons) would have to be met with some combination of retirement of RINs stocks, additional quantities of E-85, or blending of additional quantities of advanced biofuels.

If ethanol exports in 2016 are near the level of 2015 and there is no change in the level of ethanol stocks in 2016, the projected level of domestic consumption of conventional ethanol in 2016 points to about the same requirement for conventional ethanol feedstock (mostly corn) in 2016 as in 2015. This outcome is very different from the initial reaction that an increase in the implied conventional ethanol requirement from the preliminary to final rulemaking for 2016 of 500 million gallons would result in a measurable increase in feedstock consumption.

The projected level of domestic conventional ethanol consumption in 2016 developed here could be conservative for two reasons. First, the projection of domestic gasoline consumption appears conservative. A more plausible scenario with continued low gasoline prices might be for gasoline consumption to be about two billion gallons larger than the current EIA projection. Second, the projection of ethanol imports may be too aggressive, depending on how California fuel policy unfolds. On the other hand, the EPA projection of E-85 consumption in 2016 may be a bit too high.

Domestic conventional ethanol consumption in 2016 could be about 200 million gallons larger than projected, requiring an additional 70 million bushels of feedstock.  Still, feedstock consumption would be only slightly larger than in 2015.  A larger increase in feedstock consumption will require some combination of a larger increase in domestic gasoline consumption, larger consumption of higher ethanol blends, and an increase in ethanol exports.