Sandra López Arana is Assistant Professor at the Department of Nutrition at the University of Chile and recently joined the Editorial Board of Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition as Section Editor. In addition, she is a Bernard Lown Scholar in Cardiovascular Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, member of the Transdisciplinary Group of Obesity in Populations (GTOP) at the University of Chile, and associate investigator from the Chilean Center for Cancer Prevention and Control (CECAN). Sandra has carried out several research studies in the field of health and nutrition in low and middle-income countries. Most of her publications have focused on socioeconomic inequalities in overweight and obesity, mother and child health and nutrition, and the unintended consequences of social and nutrition policies such as conditional cash transfer programs in Colombia or the Nutrition Labelling Law 20.606 in Chile. Since 2019 she leads the Limache cohort, an ongoing study that assesses the developmental origins of health and disease in relation to non-communicable disease onset in a country like Chile that has experienced an extremely rapid nutrition transition.
How does your research relate to the SDGs?
Nutrition is a key factor for achieving all the SDGs, so my work is related to several SDGs, specifically with SDG 2: Zero hunger, which seeks to end hunger, achieve food security, transform food systems, and eliminate malnutrition in all its forms. It is also related to SDG 3: Health and Well-being, which seeks to ensure a healthy life and promote well-being from a life course perspective. Finally, SDG 10: Reduced inequalities; Improving nutrition can help gender equality and decrease inequalities in income, food, health and education access avoiding the perpetuation of poverty and poor health among the most disadvantaged.
Why did you decide to go into your field of research?
My research path started before I got my undergraduate degree as Nutritionist and Dietitian. I served as field coordinator of the “Bogota School Children Cohort” study in Bogotá, Colombia. In this job I acquired the skills needed to coordinate the recruitment of 3200 school children, oversee the collection of information and carry out data management and quality assurance within a short period of time. Of course, this work would have not been possible without the continuous supervision of my mentors and principal investigators of this project. They highlighted my dedication to work and enthusiasm for learning more about public health, and I then received their support to carry out postgraduate studies outside of my home country. This combination of my scientific curiosity, along with the guidance of my mentors allowed me to confirm that academia and research were the right path for me.
How has knowledge of global nutrition developed over the course of your career?
As I mentioned above, nutrition is a key factor for achieving all the SDGs. The development of global nutrition has been accelerated over the past two or three decades. Previously, nutrition focused on single nutrient deficiencies, and it did not consider encompassing nutrition within a food system. Likewise, there is increasing awareness to promote more sustainable dietary patterns that may be beneficial for human beings and the earth.
What nutritional challenges do those from low- and middle-income countries in particular face?
Low- and middle-income countries are facing malnutrition in all its forms. Previous evidence has documented a higher prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight and micronutrient deficiencies in these countries. Nowadays, low- and middle-income countries are also experiencing growing rates of overweight and obesity at the same time. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic, social conflicts, and economic shocks and disasters linked to climate change have exacerbated these trends. For example, the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world reports an increase of 122 million people facing hunger compared to 2019. On the other hand, the World Obesity Atlas shows that no country has reported a decline in obesity prevalence since 2010 and it is estimated that over 4 billion people may have excess weight by 2035. If this adverse situation continues, there is a low likelihood to achieve the SDGs. Therefore, a major commitment from everyone is needed to implement strategies to address the major drivers that are associated with malnutrition in all its forms.
What are your hopes for progress in the future?
I hope that we (governments, academia, private sector, and civil society) can work together to accelerate the implementation of strategies to end hunger and to reduce malnutrition in all its forms. Some strategies should be to promote healthy and sustainable diets, to empower individuals, families, and communities to make informed choices regarding their diet, and to ensure a more equitable food system that guarantees access to nutritious and affordable foods. Finally, for this World Food Day we should be more conscious that water is an essential resource, so adopting more sustainable food production systems and equitable water distribution is needed.
Happy World Food Day!