Skip to content

ONLINE ONLY: Exchanging Expertise

A Rural Education Action Project participant plans to study the after-effects of famine.

By Joel McCormick

"It's a two-way street," says Rey Martorell, a widely sought nutrition expert and former faculty member at Stanford's Food Research Institute. An Emory University professor and key resource for the Rural Education Action Project, Martorell was on last summer's field trip mulling a larger role in the next phase of REAP's nutrition and education trials in China.

Collaborations are about trade-offs, he explains, confiding that he already knows what he wants out of REAP's skills inventory for a study of his own: research director Hongbin Li's services as a principal investigator and director Scott Rozelle's as an economic consultant, and maybe other things.

Martorell did the due diligence on a vitamin-enriched meal pack REAP was considering using in an intervention. (The packs tell a story: After REAP published the first of its monthly columns in China's nationally distributed Education Daily, a health products company offered free meals by the truckload if REAP would give them feedback on the product.) Martorell checked out the ingredients, pronounced them good but added a caveat about being sure to follow preparation instructions to the letter. Done deal.

One of his abiding concerns is long-term outcomes of poor nutrition in pregnant mothers and young children. He is planning a large-scale study to see how survivors of China's 1959 to 1961 famine, brought on by the disastrous Great Leap Forward, are faring 50 years on. Martorell did something like this in Guatemala, where he revisited people he'd first encountered 30 years earlier. That study focused on how everyone did after an intervention designed to improve nutrition for mothers and newborns; in China, researchers will work with people who were deprived of nutrition in their critical prenatal and early years—in other words, after things got worse, not better.

The aim is to look at three groups—those born before, during and after the famine—and assess different variables linked with nutrition in early life. These include educational achievement, cognitive ability and income; obesity, lipid and glucose levels, and evidence of cardiovascular disease and hypertension; and depression and other mental health symptoms.

Martorell likes REAP for its strong network. "You look at these names and you see people from universities all over China," he says. "Scott is quick, he hears something and he'll say, 'Sure, join us and let's do it.' A lot of economists work Lone Ranger style—not him."

Rozelle reports that Martorell is now a principal investigator for REAP's Paying for Progress incentive trial. But you could assume as much in July. Martorell's parting words: "This is the funnest field trip I've ever been on."

Comments (0)

  • Be the first one to add a comment. You must log in to comment.


Your Rating
Average Rating



Be the first one to tag this!