UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. – Inadequate nutrition increases a child’s risk of death and can hinder development. When children are between 6 and 23 months old, solid foods are usually included in their diet. During this time, children are particularly prone to disruptions to healthy growth and development if they eat poor diet.
Penn State Department of Nutritional Sciences researchers are exploring the best ways to support adequate nutrition during this critical phase of life. Teresa Schwendler, PhD student in nutritional sciences, recently received a Fulbright Research Award to study this topic in Guinea.
From January next year, Schwendler will be living in Guinea to investigate the relationship between the nutritional practices of carers and the quality of the nutrition of young children. In Guinea, 30% of children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth. Since poor nutrition is a major cause of stunted growth, researchers will focus on understanding how to improve the nutrition of children under 2 years of age.
According to previous research, more than half of the households in the Guinea region in which Schwendler will work have regular access to an adequate food supply. This means that for the majority of households, lack of stable food access is not the driving factor behind feeding problems in young children.
“Research has described what toddlers eat in Guinea, but little attention has been paid to toddler nutrition,” said Schwendler. “Our goal is to understand how caregivers in Guinea feed their young children and what effects this has on nutritional quality.”
Researchers will examine a wide variety of social, cultural, environmental, and technological factors that can influence children’s nutritional practices. Understanding not only how caregivers feed, but also why caregivers adopt certain eating habits, will help researchers work with Guinean stakeholders to develop appropriate and effective solutions.
“By understanding culture, the environment, social factors and other factors influencing the eating behavior of carers, we can better understand how the eating behavior and nutrition of children can best be improved,” said Schwendler.
Stephen Kodish, Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health and Ann Atherton Hertzler Early Career Professor of Nutrition, is Schwendler’s advisor in her PhD and research.
“The Fulbright is testament to the hard work, persistence and motivation Teresa has shown towards her Ph.D. since arriving at Penn State. studied, ”said Kodish. “Your work has the potential to provide important insights into strategies to improve the nutrition of vulnerable households in Guinea, a country ranked 178th on the latest United Nations Human Development Index.”