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USF professors awarded $1.2 million grant to reduce sodium consumption in Latin America

TAMPA, Fla. - The co-directors of the University of South Florida World Health Organization Collaboration Center (WHO CC) were awarded a $1.2 million grant to create social marketing strategies to reduce sodium consumption in Latin America.

Anthropology Professor Linda Whiteford and Distinguished Health Professor Carol Bryant have been awarded this research grant through the International Development Research Center to facilitate training and education about health interventions in Latin America. Their work will focus on implementing social marketing tactics in five countries to change behaviors about sodium consumption.

According to Whiteford, sodium consumption is an associative factor in heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and hypertension. This project will allow Whiteford and Bryant to work with a large population of individuals in Latin America, who intake more sodium per day than the recommended limit due to cultural consumption habits.

"The reason people are paying attention to sodium is because it is associated with a series of health outcomes that can kill you, and if they don't kill you, they can cost the government a lot of money in terms of care and in terms of rehabilitation," Whiteford said.

The grant will allow the WHO CC to provide social marketing training and technical assistance to teams from the Pan American Health Organization and five Latin American countries - Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Peru. The project will take place during a three-year period to create and implement social marketing strategies based on the needs of citizens in each country.

"This is good ethnography, it's good public health and it's good social marketing," Whiteford said. "It is eliciting from people what the constraints are on their lives, what the factors are that affect what they do and what they think might help them make changes." Whiteford and Bryant's project will begin in March. The ministries of health from each of the five Latin American countries will supply four to six members to form research teams. The project will focus on education, training and research as Whiteford and Bryant will teach the teams how to do market research in their home countries.

"They [the research teams] do the marketing plan, and they do the work," Whiteford said. "They put it in place in their country, because they are the only ones who know their country the way they do. Then we [WHO CC] do an evaluation to see what works and what doesn't."

The teams in each country will be assessing the sodium content of a variety of foods and then comparing these levels with national and regional sodium reduction targets. Research will be conducted to determine consumer attitudes and behavior toward sodium intake. Members of the project will apply social marketing principles to determine the health and economic benefits of sodium reduction.

Whiteford and Bryant's roles are to receive data from the teams and then analyze it to develop the appropriate social marketing plan. They also will work with fellow USF WHO CC team members, Mahmooda Pasha and Jim Lindenberger. Pasha will focus on data analysis for the project, while Lindenberger will work on logistics and budgeting. "We work as a team and we'll all be doing the social marketing," Whiteford said. "And then two of us are anthropologists, Carol Bryant and I, so we'll be doing the anthropology."

This project is multidisciplinary and will bring together faculty and students from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Public Health. It will allow USF project members to work with professionals from global health and development agencies, ministries of health and non-governmental organizations.

"We're playing with the big kids," Whiteford said. "We're sitting at the table with international funding agencies, with national ministries of health - we've been invited to that table. So it's recognition of USF's success and growing prestige. I think it's great that it gives CAS visibility and public health visibility."

The results of this project will help inform the design of future public-private partnerships for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. They also will help broaden sodium reduction efforts and reduce hypertension throughout Latin America.

"Behavior change is really hard and it really can only come from the people themselves, but you can change the context," Whiteford said. "We like to work on the idea of making it easier for people to have good options - options that they say are good options."


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Anthropology