Penn State grad student awarded Fulbright to improve child nutrition in Guinea

August 18, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Insufficient nutrition increases a child’s risk for mortality and can impede development. When children are between 6 and 23 months of age, solid foods are typically introduced to their diets. During this period, children are particularly vulnerable for disruptions in healthy growth and development if they consume a poor diet.

Teresa Schwendler

Teresa Schwendler

IMAGE: provided

Researchers in Penn State’s Nutritional Sciences Department are studying the best ways to support appropriate feeding during this critical period of life. Teresa Schwendler, graduate student in nutritional sciences, recently received a Fulbright Research Award to study this issue in Guinea.

Beginning next January, Schwendler will live in Guinea to examine the relationship between caregiver feeding practices and the quality of young children’s diets. In Guinea, 30% of children under the age of 5 experience stunted growth. Because poor diet is a major cause of stunting, the researchers will focus on understanding how to improve the diets of children under the age of 2.

According to prior research, more than half of households in the area of Guinea where 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 for dietary problems among young children.

“Research has described what young children are eating in Guinea, but less attention has been placed on how young children are fed,” said Schwendler. “We aim to understand how caregivers in Guinea are feeding their young children and what effect it has on dietary quality.”

The researchers will examine a variety of social, cultural, environmental and technological factors that may influence child feeding practices. Understanding not only how caregivers feed, but why caregivers adopt certain feeding behaviors will help researchers collaborate with Guinean stakeholders to develop appropriate and effective solutions.

“By understanding the culture, environment, social factors and other drivers of caregivers' feeding behaviors, we will be better able to understand how best to improve caregiver feeding behaviors and child diet,” said Schwendler.

Stephen Kodish, assistant professor of biobehavioral health and Ann Atherton Hertzler Early Career Professor in Nutrition, serves as Schwendler’s adviser in her doctoral studies and research.

“The Fulbright is a testament to the hard work, persistence and motivation that Teresa has demonstrated since arriving at Penn State for her Ph.D. studies,” said Kodish. “Her work has the potential to lend important insights into strategies for improving the nutrition of vulnerable households in Guinea, a country ranked 178th by the latest U.N. Human Development Index.”

Graduate students who are interested in learning more about the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and its research grants should contact Caitlin Ting, Fulbright Program adviser, at cyt5016@psu.edu.

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Last Updated August 20, 2021