Hola Desde Chile!

Perlita and I arrived in Santiago, Chile safely and are currently staying in our hostel located in the central part of downtown in Providencia. When we arrived to our hostel, we were immediately welcomed by a friendly staff member who helped us carry our luggage up to our bedroom. It is a quaint and small bedroom, but in this 90 degree weather, the humidity can be somewhat uncomfortable.

We decided to unpack partially, have dinner, and explore the surrounding area a little more. It wasn’t in our best interest to go out at night. Many places were closed and there weren’t too many people walking in the neighboring streets. Before we met with our preceptor, we had the opportunity to sight see. There were many old and historical buildings that are preserved in downtown. We are walking distance to the metro station which is very convenient to get to and from the Instituo de Nutricion y Tecnologia de los Alimentos (INTA) where we will be conducting our research. Our nearest metro station is located in the city’s main plaza called Plazas de Armas. The plaza used to be the center for political and cultural activities and is still bustling with a wide range of people. There are public concerts, comedians, preachers, chess players, and artists. We even got to see the national dance of Chile called, the “Cueca” in the Plaza de Armas.

Today, we had our first meeting with our preceptor, Dr. Camila Corvalan at INTA. Her colleague, Dr. Maria Luisa, introduced herself while Dr. Corvalan was in a meeting with the Director of INTA. Dr. Maria Luisa is also a physician who studies and researches chronic diseases such as obesity, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Much of their work involves working with the low-middle income population and collecting quantitative data. For the purpose of our research, we are collaborating with the Chilean Ministry of Health (MINSAL) to provide technical support for implementing the new law that regulates the publicity and labeling of foods. The law basically states that any food that contains high sodium and/or fat content will have warning messages on its food packages. They have decided not to follow the UK system’s concept of traffic color coding. For example, green represents a healthy food choice while red represents an unhealthy one. Instead, we will be developing another alternative that alerts and helps consumers distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food products through warning messages. Since, there’s not enough evidence to suggest these alternatives, Perlita and I will be collecting data through focus groups.

In our focus group, we want to understand how people, particularly mothers, understand nutritional labeling by checking, reading, interpreting it; and whether they find this useful. The second part of the focus group will be dedicated towards displaying these warning messages to our participants. Since a majority of food publicity is focused on low-middle income families, Dr. Corvalan suggested that our focus groups should be based on our participant’s educational background. Once we find that our messages are appropriate and understood by the participants, we will present the findings to MINSAL and suggest the alternatives that were based on the feedback we obtained from our focus group discussion.

This week, we will be focusing on the logistics (i.e. contacting participants, development of warning messages) so that we can begin on Monday with the focus groups discussion. We will be meeting with an expert who has experience in marketing of foods and labeling. She will be providing recommendations of the messages that will be presented on the food packages. We will also be meeting with dieticians at the office.

We are excited to be part of this team and we look forward to the progression of our study!