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Panel to address media’s role in feeding global nutrition movement

Author and journalist Nicholas Kristof will speak about public health Thursday at the Tsai Performance Center. PHOTO BY WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/WIKIMEDIA
Author and journalist Nicholas Kristof will speak about public health Thursday at the Tsai Performance Center. PHOTO BY WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/WIKIMEDIA

As children grow up, a lot can affect the people that they grow up to be. Most of that, though, depends on the sort of nutrition they receive as they do so.

On Thursday, Boston University will host a panel called “The First 1,000 Days: Changing Lives Through Early Intervention.” Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times and author of “A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity,” will be joined by Roger Thurow, former foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Rhitu Chatterjee, contributing correspondent for Public Radio International, and Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health.

The sold-out panel, sponsored by the BU Program on Crisis Response and Reporting, will focus on early childhood development and creative intervention strategies for children who encounter growth-inhibitors such as malnutrition, said Carey Howard, academic program coordinator for the global health department at SPH.

“This event will focus primarily on the idea of the first 1,000 days of life being really critical in childhood development, so getting proper nutrition and how that impacts their health outcomes as a child and later into life,” Howard said.

In “A Path Appears,” Kristof, the panel’s keynote speaker, highlights ways to help children during the crucial developmental stages.

“He wrote an excerpt about primary care physicians prescribing children’s books,” Howard said. “The idea that children reading is still important and having access to books … would influence their ability to communicate and connect in the world, particularly in a developing country where that luxury isn’t afforded to everyone.”

Anne Donohue, a professor of journalism in the College of Communication and also a faculty member of the Program on Crisis Response and Reporting, said she first heard Kristof speak at her daughter’s high school in Belmont. Inspired by the message from the book that each person can impact their community, Donohue said she found it fitting that Kristof should speak on the strategies he wrote about in “A Path Appears.”

“[The Program on Crisis Response and Reporting] draws attention to global issues that are under-covered … The fact that a boat cast aside in the Mediterranean with 900 souls on board gets so little coverage is just disgusting to me …We just don’t cover the world.”

That neglect extends very seriously to public health, Thurow said. He currently serves as a senior fellow for global agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, keeping an eye on the ways that food impacts public health worldwide.

“I think a lot of these issues, there is a cruel irony that the hungriest people in the world are farmers,” Thurow said. “Agriculture, agriculture development and nutrition are neglected by the government — the governments of the developing world [and] developing countries. So I figured I needed to keep raising attention about those issues.”

Galea, whose research specializes on the social production of health in urban communities, said that his work reveals an issue the general public might rarely consider.

“I’ve done a lot of work about the consequences of trauma and about how violence, conflict and trauma result in both traumatic stress disorder and depression. I’ve also done work around how social conditions can influence drug use and create substance abuse … certainly many issues are relevant … but it can be difficult to account for things like depression.”

Galea’s solution is to use early intervention strategies.

“It sets people on trajectories for better health in the long term, and early intervention results in the biggest assessment of anything we can do,” he said. “If we make for good early childhood condition, we have the potential to create healthier individuals throughout their lives.”

Conversation, he believes, is key for more people to not only become aware of these issues, but also to intervene.

“There are issues that we do not pay attention to … [communicating] through mass media is exactly what citizens should be doing,” Galea said.

Global health is interdisciplinary, Howard said. Because of its interdisciplinary nature, public health relies on the media to address frequently ignored global health more effectively. The interdisciplinary approach to global health extends beyond the panel, Howard said.

“There may be important research happening in the public health field but without being able to broadly communicate those things to the public, a lot of issues can go under-noticed,” he explained, “whether it is a crisis that is happening, or if something is working well without people really knowing about it.”

This collaborative approach has helped BU make its mark in global health, Howard said, with professors working in countries all over the world. The work of those professors, along with the work of those telling their stories, will be the driving force in helping to feed the world of the future.

“That’s a way to make a difference. I would hope that from the media side, people would be interested in doing these stories,” Thurow said. “That momentum is building behind these issues, but there is a long way to go. It is one of the great challenges we face when it comes to nourishing the world in the future.”

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