Leah Isquith-Dicker



Nominated From: University of Washington

Research Site: Peru

Research Area: Metabolism, Endocrinology, Nutrition

Primary Mentor: Jose Vinoles

Research Project

Food Security and Social Networks in an Urban Informal Settlement in Lima, Peru

Human innovation and cooperative social structure have enabled us to feed 7 billion people. However, hunger persists; an estimated 795 million people globally are food insecure. Food insecurity is the lack of physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods. It is associated with poor nutrition and growth, low educational attainment, and other negative outcomes that perpetuate poverty.

Although alleviating poverty and food insecurity are major aims of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the complexities of food insecurity and, in particular, the question of why some households suffer more than others, are only partially understood. The importance of social capital, or the trust, norms, and social networks in a community that can facilitate collective action are burgeoning topics of inquiry. Anthropology and public health are uniquely positioned to describe the causes and consequences of food insecurity and to call attention to this fundamental issue of human rights.

Specific Aims:
This project will examine associations between social networks, food insecurity, and physical and mental health among families living in an informal settlement in Lima, Peru. Research findings will further our understanding of the determinants of food insecurity and poor health in vulnerable populations. Findings will provide evidence-based recommendations for policies and programs.

Using data from focus group discussions, in-depth individual interviews, and quantitative surveys this research will:

  1. Characterize women’s lived experience with food insecurity
  2. Describe women’s social networks, including the characteristics of from whom women receive and to whom women give social support
  3. Assess the ways in which social network compositions and functions are associated with food insecurity and health


Research Significance

Although substantial progress has been made in Peru, 7.5% of the population is malnourished. Food insecurity, coupled with the intergenerational impacts of malnutrition, has left 20 percent of children under age 5 stunted. In addition, 10 percent of children under age 5 are overweight or obese. Among Peruvian adults ages 30-59, nearly one-third are overweight or obese. These dualities demonstrate the paradoxical effect that food insecurity has in rapidly changing nutritional environments. This project will advance theory and public health approaches through the application of novel research methodologies. It will also advocate for community-based frameworks to improve health in urban informal settlements in Peru and beyond.





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