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Fulbright winner will study nutrition in Mexico

In Cuernavaca, obesity and malnourishment share a home

Jennifer Pelletier (CAS'06) Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

In recent years, health researchers in rural Mexico have become aware of a curious phenomenon: an overweight mother sharing a home with an underweight child. Jennifer Pelletier (CAS’06) has just won a Fulbright scholarship to study the problem, which is called a dual-burden household. Starting this fall, she will work with the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca, conducting a qualitative study that she hopes
will help health officials address the problem.

Pelletier is one of more than 1,200 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad for the 2006–2007 academic year through the Fulbright Student Program; the scholarship is given jointly by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and is intended to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the rest of the world.

Pelletier discussed her Fulbright year with BU Today.

BU Today: What exactly will you be doing in Mexico?  

Pelletier: I will be working with the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca on a research project on obesity and malnutrition in Mexico. A relatively recent phenomenon, known as dual-burden households, is being seen in Mexico, in which an overweight or obese mother is found in the same household as an underweight or malnourished child. I will be using data that the institute has collected on this population, combined with qualitative interviews with women and families, to investigate the causes of this phenomenon.

What are your aims for the project?

My hope is that the results of this study can help policy makers design effective nutrition intervention programs for these communities. I also hope to disseminate the findings to the communities so that they can take active roles in finding solutions.

How did you choose your topic?

I majored in international relations and economics, and I am very interested in development issues. Because my father works in nutrition, I have been exposed to nutrition-related issues my entire life, and I wanted to do a project involving human development. Other forms of social and economic development are hindered by a lack of human development, and nutrition/public health issues are essential for development of a community or a country as a whole.

What makes your topic timely?

This dual-burden phenomenon is relatively recent in Mexico. The phenomenon tends to be seen in countries undergoing the “nutrition transition,” where more foods are becoming available and the diet is moving from a staples diet (rice and beans) to a more balanced diet, with fruits and vegetables. This transition process is interesting because while Mexico has not eliminated such nutrition problems as malnutrition in children, new nutrition problems are arising, such as obesity, that put a strain on limited resources.