Ecuador may not be known for its nutrition education, but three student researchers believe there is something Canada can learn
Now in its fifth year of publication, Earth Common Journal is an academic journal overseen by an editorial board of undergraduate Bachelor of Communication Studies students. In Earth Common Journal 2015: Convergence, three students published their research into nutrition education in Ecuador and how that compares to North America’s near-obsession with health and fitness.
When the trio of students formed a group in their Advanced Research Methods course, they wanted to explore the convergence of education and nutrition—and they were going to do it as part of the Bachelor of Communication Studies program’s research trip in Ecuador.
“There’s a huge influx of advertising and healthy choices and cross fit—North America is obsessed with nutrition and healthy lifestyles,” says Kathryn Adachi, “but we wanted to see the difference in South America.”
“It was a natural comparative for us because we had that education ourselves and we could self-identify how we learnt about nutrition, and we could take what was already common knowledge for us and use that to propel us into this research,” adds Brittany Pitruniak.
While in Ecuador, Katt, Brittany and Morgan Messelink explored grocery stores, interviewed consumers and sought out nutrition labels. One of the surprising things they discovered was that their interviewees unanimously said that food is healthy if it comes from home.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re eating a salad outside of home and fried chicken at home—people believed the preparation of that chicken would be healthier for you,” says Katt.
Green means go
Having done some research before landing in Ecuador, the three students were interested in viewing the country’s new nutrition labelling system, which was meant to be implemented two months prior to their visit. The system colour-codes the food with red (bad/unhealthy), yellow (okay) and green (good/healthy) labels. But when the students arrived, there were no “traffic light” labels to be found.
While labels colour-coded by fat, sugar and sodium content, it was rare to include the nutritional value. Calorie count appeared to be the only consistent item between the labels of different products—everything else was either out of order or missing completely; and some included Spanish and English translations, English translated to Spanish, or different information between the two languages on the same product.
When they asked respondents if they understood the labels, the answers were rarely positive.
Simplicity is key
“Nutrition isn’t as black and white as you think,” says Brittany. “It’s cultural.”
In Canada every opportunity is available to residents to live healthy lifestyles. Nutrition education starts early. Brittany explains that while not every Canadian is healthy, we all have the foundation, the tools and the teachings from an early age—and we often take it for granted.
But one thing that Ecuador is doing well that Canada should take a lesson from is in keeping things simple. Exercise is exercise and nutrition is nutrition.
“Sometimes, especially in North America, we’re taught to overthink it a lot,” says Katt.
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