This week, we had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Sharon Norton, Director of Development at the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition. Link Media is collaborating with the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition this year to raise awareness about global hunger and malnutrition through Revolution Hunger. Revolution Hunger is a unique campaign that harnesses the power of teens across the United States to take on the problems of hunger and malnutrition around the world.
Hi Sharon. Thanks for joining us to talk about your work. First and foremost, what is the mission of the Mathile Institute for the Advancement of Human Nutrition, and what type of work does it do?
Our mission is creating lasting solutions that enable nutritional well-being in children. Our work is focused on children under the age of five and particularly those under the age of two. The provision of proper nutrition to this difficult to reach and often overlooked age group can help prevent stunting, improve cognitive outcomes, and ensure more positive health consequences for life.
In terms of hunger and malnutrition, what are the major challenges happening globally?
Overall, the majority of our work is aimed at resolving hidden hunger. Hidden hunger is a chronic lack of vitamins and minerals that can lead to physical and cognitive afflictions. In Central America for example, there is a dire need for nutritional intervention to alleviate hidden hunger as evidenced by the average prevalence of 23.5% stunting regionally. Stunting is essentially where children do not grow to their potential in height and Guatemala and Honduras top the list with 54.5% and 30.1%, respectively, in stunted children under the age of 5. Moreover, anemia, iodine and/or vitamin deficiencies affect over 16 million young children and 5 million pregnant women in this region. This is a significant issue as those affected by micronutrient deficiency worldwide exceeds two billion. Dietary deficiencies are borne disproportionately by children, mothers, and those living in rural communities. Resolution of these deficiencies will result in improved health outcomes for children and mothers.
How did you find your way to the position you now hold? How do you feel personally connected to this cause?
I think it has been the combination of an open mind, a spirit of discovery and skills that had the potential for broad application. When I entered college, I was 100% sure I wanted to be a veterinarian, then I started taking nutrition classes and learned that I loved nutrition, ration formulation and working with large animals. That took me into an entirely different career, but my degree in nutrition has allowed me to work in a number of different nutrition related sectors. Today, at the Mathile Institute I am using my nutritional training to help resolve malnutrition in children. But I also get to apply other skills I picked up while working in the packaged goods sector such as technical communications and consumer understanding methodologies. My personal connection to my work stems from my belief in the "Golden Rule" -- treating others as we would wish to be treated. I believe in treating people with dignity and respect and, for children, I believe that includes their right to a healthy diet.
You have the amazing opportunity to learn about a lot of positive work happening in the field around this cause. What is one of the most inspiring stories you have come across recently?
I was incredibly inspired by an experience I had not long ago in El Salvador. We met with FUSAL, a private non-profit organization in El Salvador that channels the experience and social responsibility of a committed Salvadoran business family. This family has solidarity with the most vulnerable people in society and are dedicated to human development, which is why health and education are at the core of their non-profit organization's work. I had the opportunity to visit one of FUSAL's project sites in a rural community. The community workers were teaching the mothers about nutrition and health, demonstrating how to prepare more nutritious meals and ways to provide their babies stimulation to enhance cognitive development. I was so inspired by the sense of community, kindness and the care among these women and among those that were serving them. It was an example of the kind of humanity and action that we need to solve the problem of hunger in this world.
Another story that continually moves me the life and work of Dr. Norman Borlaug. This one, soft-spoken man, with humble, Midwestern roots, was able to change the world through his Green Revolution, an agricultural initiative, which increased crop yields so countries could feed their people. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending hunger. Norman Borlaug has been credited with saving over a billion people from starvation. Knowing that one person can make that type of impact is personally inspiring.
What does "under-nutrition" mean to you? Where is this happening?
Many people may hear the word undernutrition and think this means not having enough food or calories. While that is one form of undernutrition, hidden hunger that I described earlier is another and very prevalent form. But even in the developed world, we see undernutrition due to the inability to access nutritious food. While some of this is linked to poverty, many with the financial means and ability to access a healthy diet make poor food choices. They often do not consume enough of the foods they need to derive important nutrients needed for health. The bottom line is, undernutrition is a global epidemic and the first step in ending it is awareness of the issue and the causes.
Your organization has just launched a new initiative called "Revolution Hunger," what ignited your interest in an initiative that mobilizes teens?
I am really excited about this initiative and it was actually inspired by Norman Borlaug. He dedicated his life to fighting hunger around the world. His skill, passion and deep respect for communities in the developing world ignited a global movement that would feed billions worldwide. The spirit of Revolution Hunger was born out of his example and is a campaign that arms teens with information about hunger's causes and solutions and challenges them with calls to action to fight the issue. Everyone has a role and everyone can be a hunger fighter through Revolution Hunger.
What do you hope to see as a result of the work of your organization?
We hope that through our collaborative effort we will alleviate malnutrition and put an end, once and for all to the 25,000 daily deaths that result from hunger-related issues. We believe that capacity-building with initiatives like Revolution Hunger are part of the answer. We also are confident that our approach to establishing new nutritional innovations coupled with community awareness and education programs, relevant behavior change initiatives, and ongoing engagement of community leaders will produce scalable and sustainable solutions.
How can others get involved in what you do?
For teens go to revolutionhunger.org and learn what it takes to become a hunger fighter. Watch the video, take a personality quiz and begin the journey to face, fight and live the battle to fight hunger. Participate in activities to fight hunger in your local community and beyond. For adults, I would also suggest visiting revolutionhunger.org to not only learn more about hunger but also what you can do to become a teen advocate. If you are a teacher, we also have begun to develop case studies that can give students the opportunity to explore and tackle real issues in the classroom. I hope everyone will join the fight and join the revolution!