COLLEGE STATION — A new agreement between Texas A&M University and a Mexican university may mean new hope for malnourished families in Central Mexico.
Signed Feb. 2, the memorandum of agreement lays out initial terms for cooperation between Texas A&M and the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro. The agreement involves research into nutrition and food technology, developing nutrition education materials, and exchange of students and faculty members.
Both universities expect benefits for their institutions in addition to the people of Queretaro and other states, said Dr. Edward A. Hiler, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M.
“Helping people improve their lives is our most basic mission, and we are grateful for the opportunity to do that,” Hiler said. “At the same time, research and education partnerships we form will enrich our understanding of mutual problems. This is increasingly important in a time of growing trade and other relationships between Mexico and Texas.”
Hiler was one of three officials representing Texas A&M at the signing ceremony in Queretaro. J. Alfredo Zepeda Garrido, rector of the Queretaro university, headed a contingent of Mexican officials at the signing.
Queretaro, the capital city of the Mexican state of the same name, is located some 150 miles north of Mexico City.
The primary focus of the A&M effort will be in helping Mexican authorities battle malnutrition, said Dr. George Bates, a Texas A&M professor of biochemistry and biophysics and researcher with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.
“Several governmental studies indicate widespread prevalence of mild to moderate malnutrition among the rural children of Mexico,” Bates said. “The situtation is more urgent among indigenous or Indian children, where two-thirds or more of the children may be malnourished, depending on location.”
In the state of Chiapas, Bates said, studies show two-thirds of indigenous children are malnourished, while in Queretaro one-third are malnourished.
In the indigenous Otomi village of El Rincon in Queretaro, 87 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys are malnourished, showing decreased growth rates in height, Bates said. The figures are from a study conducted by him and Dr. Rocio Arellano of the Queretaro university.
Nutritional problems in the region include deficiencies in energy, protein, vitamin A and iron and zinc, Bates said.
“These result from a diet largely based on white corn tortillas and beans. In addition, infectious diseases such as diarrhea, parasites and upper respiratory diseases or common pulmonary diseases also take their toll,” he said.
Bates and Arellano will head a research project to develop a vitamin A supplementation and growth-monitoring program for the rural areas of the state of Queretaro.
Research projects dealing with food microbiology also may be carried out by Texas A&M’s animal science department and the Queretaro university under the agreement.
Another project involves translation of nutritional information.
“Unfortunately, there is no modern nutrition textbook in Spanish. There is a real need for upgraded material for teaching at medical schools and at the undergraduate level in Mexico and other Central and South American countries,” Bates said.
“We want to develop a package enabling professors to teach basic nutrition courses that are up-to-date and consistent with the needs of students.”
A series of overhead projector transparencies and a set of essay questions and answers also should be completed this spring to go along with a Spanish/English dictionary, nutritional glossary and other materials already completed. The materials are funded through a $37,000 grant from the Allen Foundation of Midland, Mich.
A documentary video focusing on the Otomi, an indigenous people in the Bajio region of Mexico, should be finished by the end of the year. The region includes parts of several Mexican states.
Produced in cooperation with Texas A&M’s KAMU-TV and funded by a $23,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, the video will explore agricultural practices, family economics, food availability and prices, dietary patterns in families, and an analysis of diets and dietary requirements, particularly in children and pregnant or lactating women. The video will be primarily for use by nutrition professionals, but it may also be used for general audiences.
The video will be shot during a four-week summer study and travel program involving students from Texas A&M. The program includes lectures and training sessions at the Valle de Solis campus of Mexico’s national nutrition institute.
Among other activities, students will learn to carry out nutritional and clinical assessments of children in mestizo and indigenous cultures in an effort to determine the extent and causes of malnutrition among children in Queretaro state.
The agreement is an outgrowth of cooperation between Bates, who has taught a springtime course at the Queretaro university for two years, and faculty there. Bates has been on the Texas A&M faculty for 25 years.
Bates is also involved in a related project that is not part of the agreement — the building of a basketball court in El Rincon. That project is being financed by St. Thomas Episcopal Church of College Station, the Episcopal Diocese of Mexico and the Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro.