Improving the Nutritional Health of Children in Lima, PeruGroup photo of El Comedor recipients, Dr. Matthew Dacso, MD, MSc and Dr. Robert Rodriguez, PhD, MPH and Dr. Thersea Ochoa’s medical and research team. 

Department of Global HealthIn the News

Improving the Nutritional Health of Children in Lima, Peru 

In 2021, The World Food Programme reported that fifty-one percent of the Peruvian population was grappling with moderate to severe food insecurity. Furthermore, the prevalence of malnutrition, including anemia, among children and adolescents in Peru has been on the rise. Chronic malnutrition is one of the primary public health issues affecting children under five years old, which limits their overall growth and development. Persistent food insecurity has thus made it challenging to eradicate poverty and improve the health of children in Peru.

Dr. Theresa Ocha, MD

Enter Dra. Theresa Ochoa, Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru. In 2009, when she was conducting a community-based study looking at the potential use of nutritional supplements to combat pediatric malnutrition and improve diarrheal disease outcomes, she met Dra. Edith Caballero, the Director of the Ermitano Alto health center. As the study enrolled from the clinic, she and Dra. Caballero identified an opportunity to improve pediatric nutritional health and provide on-site educational workshops.

This opportunity lead to the development of El Comedor (or “The Dining Room in English), a community-based project operating within the Ermitaño Alto Health Center in Lima, Peru which is supported by the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, University of Texas Medical Branch, and the Institute for Collaboration in Health. The project's primary goal is to enhance the nutritional wellbeing of young children, particularly those under the age of three, residing in the town of Ermitaño Alto in the Independencia District of Lima.

Drawing of children, food and a message  that reads: Together we will win the battle against anemia

For six months, El Comedor serves two nutritious meals every weekday to children aged between six and thirty-six months. These meals are specifically designed to meet the nutritional requirements of children who are currently malnourished or at risk of malnutrition. The program also features a dietician and nutritionists on-site who educate mothers on how to prepare healthy and affordable meals for their children, utilizing locally available ingredients.

They conduct various educational sessions for the mothers, emphasizing the importance of proper nutrition for the optimal physical and mental development of their children. El Comedor's efforts to enhance the nutritional status of children in Ermitaño Alto is a crucial initiative that aims to provide these children with a brighter and healthier future.

Bulletin Board of El Comedor Project

Dr. Robert Rodriguez speaking with mothers of children receiving services from the El Comedor Project.

On January 23rd, 2024, Drs. Matthew Dacso and Robert Rodriguez visited the Ermitano Alto Health Center on behalf of the UTMB Global Health Program. Their arrival was met with a warm welcome from the hospital staff and beneficiaries of the Comedor project. This visit offered a valuable opportunity to gain firsthand insight into the impactful work being done in the community. During their visit, they had the chance to engage with mothers participating in the program's educational sessions. These conversations provided an intimate glimpse into the daily struggles and challenges faced by these mothers in ensuring the health and wellbeing of their children.

Many of the mothers spoke of the difficult choices they were forced to make due to limited resources, often sacrificing their own needs to ensure that their children had enough to eat. Their stories served as a poignant reminder of the importance of compassion and empathy in addressing the complex issues of poverty and food insecurity. In addition to addressing nutritional needs, the El Comedor project offers more than just sustenance; it provides a safe and supportive environment for its recipients. For many of these mothers and their children, El Comedor serves as a refuge from the harsh realities of poverty and food insecurity. It offers a glimmer of hope and stability, a place where they can come together as a community, share their burdens, and find strength in solidarity.

Conversation between Dr. Matthew Dacso and a mother of the El Comedor Project