CSU professor using Fulbright to study in Ecuador

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As a prelude to his trip, Melby spent a few days in January mountain climbing. Here he is pictured climbing 17,300 feet Illiniza Sur, a steep glaciated mountain considered one of the more technically difficult peaks in Ecuador.

Unfortunately, the growing prevalence of obesity and diabetes is not unique to the United States. Chris Melby, a professor in CSU’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, is in Ecuador studying this problem in the Ecuadorian population with his five-month Fulbright Fellowship. The Fulbright Fellowship is a competitive scholarship founded in 1946 by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, and is intended for U.S. citizens to study and/or conduct research abroad.

Melby has led a seasoned career in his 25 years as a faculty member at CSU, including 10 years as department head. He left for Latin America in January.

“These experiences will significantly benefit my teaching and research at CSU, and help contribute to the internationalization of our curriculum at CSU as well,” Melby said.

He said the fellowship is an excellent fit for his area of research and teaching interest: obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Cardiometabolic diseases are risk factors that give an overall indication of someone’s chances of getting type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Melby has a keen interest in the “nutrition transition,” which in Ecuador is characterized by the diminishing use of more traditional, locally grown foods in favor of a dietary pattern with more highly processed and refined convenience foods, including sugary drinks. Some of these changes are associated with greater risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Teaching in Ecuador

Working together with colleagues at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the Escuela Superior Politecnica de Chimborazo (ESPOCH), Melby has been welcomed with warm hospitality by his Ecuadorian colleagues. His enthusiasm about his opportunity is palpable.

“I am excited about what I can contribute, and what I can learn,” Melby said.

Melby is teaching about clinical disease risk within both universities’ schools of public health. He is also scheduled to provide lectures at the USFQ School of Medicine on the topics of metabolic complexities of body weight regulation, and the interaction of physical activity and dietary patterns to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce risk for cardiometabolic disease.

With the growing rate of obesity and cardiometabolic disease among the Ecuadorian population, Melby also serves as a curricular program reviewer to help his colleagues strengthen the academic training of nutritionists at the USFQ. While teaching, he is simultaneously learning from the experiences and expertise of his students and colleagues at USFQ and ESPOCH as they seek to develop innovative public health strategies in Ecuador.

Research conducted by Melby primarily involves collaborating with Ecuadorian colleagues at both USFQ and ESPOCH on a specific pilot project. They are examining the nature of in-country geographic differences (urban vs. rural) in dietary patterns and risk for cardiometabolic disease. Dietary nutrient intake and specific risk factors for cardiometabolic disease are being measured, with the long-term goal of developing future strategies and public health approaches to lessen the impact of nutritional transition. This pilot project is funded in part by the Master of Public Health Program at CSU through the Colorado School of Public Health.

“Although my efforts will be but a drop in a bucket,” Melby said, “I have a strong desire to collaborate with nutritionists, dietitians, exercise specialists and medical professionals in Ecuador to gain a better understanding of the complex metabolic issues involving lifestyle and health, with the ultimate goal of less individual and societal burden of cardiometabolic disease.”

This article was written by Chance Johnson