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Abbott Fund Institute of Nutrition Science Program in Action

Guangxi Province China, December 6, 2012
By: Tracy Huang, Project HOPE China
Tracy recording child’s weight.

As a dietitian and a Project HOPE staff member, I have been engaged in a nutrition research project funded by one of Project HOPE’s programs, the Abbott Fund Institute of Nutrition Science. The goal of this research is to know about the real nutrition status of children in rural China and search for a good solution to their nutrition challenges.

I along with several other staff members have been to several primary schools in Guangxi and Yunnan Province to measure the students’ height and weight, take their blood samples, record their food intake and measure the nutrition knowledge of the students, their parents and teachers with a questionnaire. The first round of the research was finished by the end of 2011. The results show the children and their parents and teachers have much less nutrition knowledge than those in Shanghai. Many of the children are malnourished due to their unhealthy diet habits and the economics of the region.

The Chinese Government now has a policy to provide a lunch subsidy to each student in the poor areas of China. Yet some of the school districts do not know how to spend the subsidy to provide the best nutrition for the students. One of our goals in the program is to help the teachers make full use of the subsidy and provide the students a nutritious meal.

Children in rural China taking a nutrition knowledge survey.

To better know the children's food intake and nutrition status, and educate them on nutrition knowledge, I lived in a school in a mountain village in Guangxi Province for one week with the two partners from the Nutrition Department of Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine.

Although this is my second time at this school, I still could not quite adapt to the life there. There’s no hot water for showering, very simple dormitories, simple toilets and the same basic food every day. During the winter time, the children still drink cold tap water and clean their bodies with the freezing water. Their clothes do not get washed for one month at a time. With a lack of warm clothing, some children still wear sandals and short-sleeve T-shirts in the winter months. Some of them even don’t know the taste of chocolate and milk.

Almost all of the parents of the children at the school are migrant workers living in other places. At the age of about 10, the children have to take care of their grandparents and their younger brothers or sisters.

Born in Shanghai, I have watched much TV news about the poverty areas in China, showing how hard their lives are, but when I truly saw the simple living environment with my own eyes, and lived there for one week, eating what the children eat every day, I had a strong feeling that those children needed our love.

Teacher in rural China serving breakfast to students.

Before Project HOPE conducted the research and nutrition education program at the school, the children only ate two meals a day without breakfast. At that time, the children complained that they felt very hungry after two lessons in the morning and could hardly concentrate for the next two lessons before lunch. After our education, now the children have some congee with a little meat and an egg for breakfast.

Their lunch and dinner are still very simple, as not many varieties of food grow in the mountain areas and transportation is terrible. It took us 10 hours by bus to reach the local county from Nanning, the capital city of Guangxi Province. From the county to the mountain village is another four hours drive due to the muddy and twisting muddy road. You can imagine how difficult it is to transport some goods into the village. Pork and chicken is easier and cheaper to get for the local residents. The children rarely have the chance to eat fish and fruit.  

This time, we again measured the children's weight and height, and hope the results show that their nutrition status has improved after our intervention. We also evaluated their daily nutrition intake. Although the meals are still simple, because of the good food matching, it still meets the children's basic nutritional demand, which inspires us to continue the intervention and hopefully our nutritional intervention can be promoted to other rural areas of China.  

Children giving flowers to Project HOPE staff.

During that week, I was warmly welcomed by the children. They were very happy to see some people from other places, as they don’t know what the outside world looks like. Most of the children have never been away from their villages. The shortage of teachers at this particular school only allowed for Chinese and Mathematics lessons. While I was there, I was able to provide English lessons as well. Every day, the students waited outside my room door and begged me to teach them something new. I could not turn down their enthusiasm and gave them art lessons, music lessons and English lessons. My partners gave them yoga lessons. I can’t describe how excited and how happy those children were. While these are normal everyday lessons for children in Shanghai the kids in this village were so eager and so happy to learn them. I was deeply touched when I received many wild flowers picked by the children from the mountain and some students’ drawings. These are priceless gifts to me.

Children are a nation’s hope. China is developing rapidly today,  still we cannot forget that in the remote rural areas, there are many children living a hard life, not accessible to nutritious food. They need our love and help.