Presentations of PAHEF-Funded Projects Given at Conference in Chile

To address the staggering upward trend of childhood obesity in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) played a prominent role at the Latin American Nutrition Society (SLAN, its Spanish acronynm) XV Nutrition Congress in Santiago, Chile November 15 – 19. 

2009-SLAN-for-webDr. Benjamin Caballero, chair of the PAHEF board of trustees, and three individuals who had their health projects funded by PAHEF, sit on a panel at the SLAN XV Nutrition Congress in Santiago, Chile.

Dr. Benjamin Caballero, Chair of PAHEF’s Board of Trustees, provided the opening remarks and discussed the need for creation and maintenance of prevention programs to assure children in the region maintain a healthy weight. He stressed the need for programs to take into account socio-cultural and regional differences of the target audiences. His approach highlights that intervention programs to combat childhood obesity should not be a one-size-fits-all model. 

Dr. Ricardo Uauy, winner of the 2005 Abraham Horwitz Award for Excellence in Leadership in Inter-American Health, co-presented a discussion on nutritional policies and actions to prevent cancer. He is currently a professor of public health nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 

During a special PAHEF-focused session, a trio of investigators presented findings and successes from PAHEF-funded projects they carried out in the Western Hemisphere:

Lyrics for Life Tackles a Heavy Issue in Jamaica

Mr. Robert Wright, INMED’s Caribbean Director, shared how the PAHEF-funded Lyrics for Life project is reaching a population in Jamaica’s most violent neighborhood with healthy lifestyle messages.  
Obesity is rampant on the island. In its National Strategic Plan, Jamaica’s Ministry of Health reports that approximately 60% of Jamaican females and 30% of males are either overweight or obese.

Lyrics for Life targeted students, their teachers, and families. Their research found that children in later grades were more likely to be overweight or obese than younger students. With the PAHEF grant, INMED Partnerships for Children implemented this program in partnership with local schools, government ministries, and other private sector partners including the Gibson Guitar Company and Foundation and the Bob Marley Foundation. 

The project engaged 1,000 children to write lyrics about making smart choices to maintain a healthy weight. Winning songs were selected and later performed during the Bob Marley Week celebration. At the conference, Mr. Wright shared the project’s success in raising awareness of maintaining a healthy weight amongst students. 

Preventing Obesity in Preschoolers

Dr. Camila Corvalán of the University of Chile knows that it is never too early to teach children about healthy lifestyles to prevent obesity. At the SLAN Conference, she presented an update on her PAHEF-funded project, “Can we adapt a Chilean preschool welfare program to ensure healthy growth and long-term health of its beneficiaries? A feasibility study.” 

Most children in Chile attend the all-day government-run pre-schools, which creates a great opportunity to monitor and impact a large part of the children’s diet. Her study used a variety of methods to gather data about how to create an effective intervention. 

Methods included training dieticians and evaluating the impact that decreasing the caloric content of meals by 15% had on the children’s BMI.  Focus groups with mothers were also conducted which revealed that many do not think overweight children are unhealthy. 

Getting a Lesson in Nutrition and Physical Activity

Dr. Manuel Ramírez from the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) discussed his PAHEF-funded project “Intervention Model for the Prevention of Childhood Malnutrition through Promotion of Healthy Diet and Physical Activity in Elementary School Children.”

The project collected data on physical activity and food preference as well as the outcomes of an exercise test from students at three schools in two peri-urban municipalities in Guatemala. With this information, the project developed and validated activity manuals that teachers could use to teach low-income children aged 7 to 12 years.  The manuals feature information about nutrition and physical activity to help students make smart decisions about exercise and food consumption.

It is hoped that the children will carry these lessons through their lives so they will grow up to be healthy adults.

PAHEF was proud to have participated in the conference, especially at a time when childhood obesity has reached alarming levels and action is needed now more than ever.

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