Graduate Spotlight: Priyanka Chakraborty
Expected Graduation: Summer 2011
Degree Objective: Ph.D. in Foods and Nutrition
Other Degrees: M.S. in Foods and Nutrition
Priyanka Chakraborty’s resolve to improve nutrition and healthcare for women and children comes from first-hand experience.
In Kolkata, India, Chakraborty worked at the Child In Need Institute, a non-profit organization focused on fighting poverty, promoting education and combating malnutrition.
“At the Child In Need Institute, I was exposed to the vast applicability of public health nutrition and developed an interest to pursue research on vulnerable sections of the population, such as women and children,” she said.
Now a foods and nutrition doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia, Chakraborty researches how certain social conditions and lifestyles contribute to widespread malnutrition of children in India.
Her dissertation research primarily uses data from India’s National Health and Family Survey. The extensive survey provides information on family practices, health and social services, and various health measurements – such as child nutrition and reproductive health.
The crux of Chakraborty’s research relies on constructing the raw data in a manner to identify the crucial factors undermining public health in India. According to Chakraborty, many children in India are either overweight or undernourished. These discrepancies have led to a crisis that affects the entire population. In developing countries, this “dual burden of malnutrition” affects people across all social and economic levels.
“Currently, the major public health crisis in India is undernutrition among women and children aged less than five years,” she said. “However, with increasing industrialization and changing economic conditions, the country’s population also faces an overweight crisis.”
For example, children who live in urban areas or have unemployed mothers face a higher risk of being overweight. On the other hand, children who have grandparents living in their home are generally healthier.
“Overall, we have observed a higher prevalence of low birth weight and undernutrition in children from rural areas and a higher prevalence of overweight among urban children,” she said.
Additionally, Chakraborty’s research reveals overlooked reasons leading to poor outcomes of children’s birth weight and size.
Her results show that women’s autonomy significantly influences the outcome of pregnancy. In other words, Indian women with less independence have an increased risk of giving birth to smaller, undersized children.
“This definitely suggests the need to increase and improve women’s status in society, especially in developing countries,” said Chakraborty.
According to Chakraborty, women with low autonomy are often underweight themselves and have an increased risk of mental health problems. Both of these factors can contribute to low birthrate for their children.
Chakraborty hopes her research results will be implemented through public health initiatives and policies in developing nations.
“Findings from these results provide insight to the existing disparities and can be used to develop tailored intervention programs to address these issues,” she said.
After finishing her dissertation, Chakraborty plans to expand upon her research methods to investigate health disparities in more settings. One of her first objectives is to research public health nutrition among minority populations in the United States.
Further down the road, Chakraborty sees herself collaborating with international agencies like the World Health Organization or the United Nations Children’s Fund to improve nutritional standards in Africa or Asia.
“I also dream of setting up a non-profit organization in rural India that would cater toward capacity building of local community women in regard to health and nutrition, thereby enabling them to progress toward reducing maternal and child undernutrition in these areas.”
Story by Ben Benson