Childhood Malnutrition and Sex Ed in Nicaragua

Posted on: June 27, 2016 Topics: maternal and child health, nutrition, practicum, sexuality

SPH students measure a child in Quezalguaque as part of their nutrition research.

Rebecca Albanese (left) and Chelsea Jensen measure a child in Quezalguaque as part of their nutrition research.

In the small Nicaraguan municipality of Quezalguaque, torrential rains knock out electricity and water and shorten school days, and the nearby fault line makes earthquakes and tremors common occurrences.

For five School of Public Health practicum students studying child nutrition and developing sex education curricula for 7th through 10th graders, that meant thinking on their feet.

“Always be ready with a backup plan to your backup plan,” says Natasha Viveiros.

Viveiros, Rebecca Albanese, Chelsea Jensen, Beleny Reese, and Samantha Clark spent six weeks this summer in Quezalguaque through the Brookline-Quezalguaque Sister City Project (BQSCP).

The team was asked by Quezalguaque’s health center to study the rising rate of malnutrition among children under 6 years old in the community and surrounding area.

With four medical students from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) in the nearby city of León, the team went door-to-door interviewing the families of malnourished children and a control group.

Clockwise from top left: SPH students Natasha Viveiros, Samantha Clark, Chelsea Jensen, Beleny Reese, and Rebecca Albanese, and UNAN medical students Dominique Esquivel, Anielka Espinoza, Yerrí Ruiz, and Alexa Duarte.

The team (clockwise from top left): SPH students Natasha Viveiros, Samantha Clark, Chelsea Jensen, Beleny Reese, and Rebecca Albanese, and UNAN medical students Dominique Esquivel, Anielka Espinoza, Yerrí Ruiz, and Alexa Duarte.

The municipality is mostly rural, with population heavily dependent on agriculture. “Sugarcane and peanuts have become the major crops,” says Jensen. “When there is not work in these crops, life becomes difficult.”

“Parents have told us that if it is not cane season, then they do not have steady access to food,” Clark says.

However, Quezalguaque varies significantly from one local division, called a comarca, to another.

“In some communities, there are many fruit trees and areas to grow food,” says Albanese. “In others, there are pigs and chickens all around, and in others, there are many pulperías, local small convenience stores.” While dependence on seasonal work was the biggest, overarching issue, Albanese says, “each community seems to have different reasons for underweight children.”

The team also took on the high rates of teenage pregnancy in Quezalguaque, developing a sex education curriculum—after being delayed by minor earthquake—and implemented the two-part course with the UNAN medical students in eight classes at three schools.

“Understanding one’s body and being able to plan pregnancies is a key component in alleviating poverty,” says Jensen.

The SPH and UNAN students designed and implemented a sex education curriculum for 7th through 10th grade at three schools in Quezalguaque.

The SPH and UNAN students designed and implemented a sex education curriculum for 7th through 10th grade at three schools in Quezalguaque.

Now back in the US, the team is analyzing the data from the nutrition survey and assessing the effectiveness of the sexual education curriculum. They will provide recommendations to the health center and the local government based on their findings.

Viveiros says the project exemplified why she studies public health.

“This practicum provided the opportunity to collaborate with my fellow global health students and plan the childhood malnutrition community assessment I had desired,” she says. 

Michelle Samuels

The Brookline-Quezalguaque Sister City Program (BQSCP) team is taking over the SPH Instagram account from June 27 through July 1. Follow along at Instagram.com/BUSPH/.

3 comments

  1. The work done by these students underscores the importance of teamwork and cooperation in creating vital change. How exciting that the team doing the investigation and training was comprised of young people from both SPH and UNAN, thus uniting not only folks from two countries with differing perspectives and resources for this project, but also for providing a model for cross-disciplinary work. I hope we will be apprised of their results and that the follow-through and results will be as exemplary as their effort and input. Bravo!

  2. Committed and impressive collaborative work. Would be interesting to hear feedback on how students responded in the classroom setting to the sex education curriculum as a first point of feedback.

  3. An excellent summary of two very useful projects, certainly for the Public Health students and hopefully for the community and families. These initial findings on the malnutrition issue will warrant follow-up studies and community-specific interventions.

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