Dietary Practices In the Face of Globalization: Preserving Culture Among Indigenous Communities of Pueblo Kichwa Ecuador to Promote Health


Children’s nutritional health in Latin America is absolutely critical for cognitive, educational, and economic development. Nutritional health failure is directly linked to stunted growth, reduced educational and cognitive potential, and is perpetuated into adulthood. This was quite evident during an educational mission trip in 2008 to several rural towns in Guatemala, where lack of access to nutritious foods led to multiple health problems. In Ecuador, an approximated 24% of children under age five are malnourished. An estimated 60-70% of these children live in poor households and are indigenous children. Over the past 20 years, globalization in Ecuador has impacted dietary habits of indigenous communities, causing a problematic transition from breastfeeding to formula, from an agricultural-based diet to processed and sugary foods, leading to severe tooth decay, mouth pain, and subsequent malnutrition. In conjunction with Alli Kiru (Beautiful Teeth), an oral health and nutrition project in Pueblo Kichwa Ecuador led by Dr. Karen Sokal-Gutierrez in the UCB School of Public Health, this project sought to understand dietary practices and oral health based on dental checkups with children and interviews with mothers in Pueblo Kichwa about current and past dietary practices. Over 300 mothers underwent structured interviews in regards to dietary and oral health practices, and over 500 children received oral health education, checkups, and fluoride varnish. Dental caries continues to plague communities in Pueblo Kichwa along with the consumption of junk foods. Anecdotes from mothers interviewed reveal the dissatisfaction with the sale of junk foods by local stores, and the belief that these stores contribute to children’s poor oral health. Results from the project will help in the development of an educational tool kit for Pueblo Kichwa to reduce the incidence of dental caries and subsequent malnutrition. 

Nicholas Orozco
Publication date: 
September 6, 2012
Publication type: 
Student Research