Cardiometabolic risk refers to an individual’s chances of having stroke, heart disease or diabetes. Some factors, like age and gender, increase a person’s cardiometabolic risk and can’t be affected by behavior change. Many factors, though, may be affected by lifestyle, and those are what Dr. Chris Melby has studied for a significant portion of his career.

Melby, a ColoradoSPH at CSU faculty member in the Public Health Nutrition concentration, has studied cardiometabolic risk in Ecuador for more than four years. In 2015 he was a Fulbright Scholar there, focusing on that country’s nutrition transition and cardiometabolic risk, which he also has studied in the United States.

His ongoing research in Ecuador has led to partnerships in research and faculty and student exchanges between the ColoradoSPH at CSU and several universities in Ecuador. This weekend, he will present an abstract of research he and his Ecuadorean colleagues, as well as ColoradoSPH at CSU student Jenni Averett, conducted, titled “Is the magnitude of agricultural biodiversity in rural family farm plots related to dietary diversity and household food insecurity in the Ecuadorian Andes?” He will present it at the annual American Society for Nutrition conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Fadya Orozco gives a guest lecture in Dr. Lorann Stallones’ global health class

“These are really beneficial relationships that we’ve established with colleagues in Ecuador,” Melby explained. Last spring, Dr. Fadya Orozco, director of the master’s program in public health at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), visited CSU and gave guest lectures in Melby’s and Dr. Lorann Stallones’ classes. In March, Stallones, director of the ColoradoSPH at CSU, visited Ecuador to further explore possibilities for USFQ and ColoradoSPH at CSU student exchanges.

Last summer, Averett completed her MPH practicum experience and capstone project in Ecuador as the first student in this exchange program, and Melby said a USFQ student should be coming to CSU this summer. Melby himself will be visiting Ecuador in July.

Studying dietary diversity

Averett, who studied dietary diversity in the Ecuadorean Andes by comparing rural- and urban-dwelling women for her capstone project, said Ecuador is a country in transition. “It’s facing a double burden of malnutrition: over- and under-nutrition,” she explained, adding that 63 percent of the adult population is overweight or obese.

Jenni Averett presents her capstone project

Her research, conducted in partnership with USFQ students and with Melby’s mentorship, included cross-sectional surveys with more than 400 women in two urban and two rural parishes, asking the women to perform 24-hour dietary recalls. She found that rural women consumed less diverse diets, “placing them at higher risk of micronutrient deficiencies,” Averett said.

Melby’s research this summer will continue to focus on agricultural biodiversity and its relationship to nutritional status and nutritional diversity of diet. He will be focusing on women in the high-altitude Imbabura region, especially looking at female heads of household living on small family farms.

“We’re looking at the number of different crops they grow, what they do with the crops – do they sell, trade or use them – trying to find out where they get their food, what percentage comes from the garden,” Melby explained.

He will be working with colleagues in nutrition and agriculture from the Universidad Tecnica del Norte in Imbabura, where students have been trained to conduct these surveys. The implications for this research, he said, are “how can programs be implemented at local levels to enhance agricultural diversity, to enhance diet, to actually have an impact on the diversity of diet so we see a decrease in micronutrient deficiencies.”

He said he hopes that these growing relationships with universities, researchers and students in Ecuador will include increased study and research opportunities for students in the ColoradoSPH at CSU.