Fulbright Grant Takes Pawloski to Thailand to Study Obesity

Posted: January 4, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Christopher Anzalone

Lisa Pawloski
Lisa Pawloski

Continuing research she conducted during the summer of 2004, Lisa Pawloski, associate professor of nursing and health science, spent additional time working with the nursing faculty at Thammasat University in Rangsit, Thailand, from June to September 2005.

Funded by a Fulbright grant, Pawloski was able to build upon her previous work examining nutrition and malnutrition in the developing world.

“This experience was quite interesting and different from research I have done in places such as Mali and Nicaragua,” she says. During her 2004 stay, which was funded by George Mason’s Center for Global Studies and College of Nursing and Health Science (CNHS), Pawloski examined the rise of obesity in the farming communities surrounding the university, where starvation and malnutrition had been so prevalent in recent years.

“This contradiction was quite fascinating to me,” she says. “Most Westerners think that the typical Thai is petite and that Thai food is loaded with vegetables and low in calories. So how could this be the case that obesity was on the rise? In addition, chronic illnesses related to obesity such as diabetes and heart disease are now quite common.”

After obtaining parental permissions and with the assistance of Thammasat’s nursing faculty and local school principals, Pawloski handed out questionnaires to a subject group of adolescent females between the ages of 10 and 17. She then collected nutritional assessment data from a subject group of 300 girls from local primary and middle schools. The data showed that 16 percent of the girls were overweight, with prevalence among the primary school girls.

In addition, the data showed that approximately 20 percent of the girls had hemoglobin levels indicating anemia, which, according to an article Pawloski later wrote for the CNHS publication, Dimensions, “[suggested] that, as in many countries, obesity is growing and found in combination with micronutrient deficiencies.”

Pawloski found that there were several factors contributing to the increase in cases of overweight and obese children. For example, many parents said that their children were no longer walking to school due to unsafe roads and the lack of sidewalks. Many parents were making more money at their jobs and could now afford to drive their children to and from school.

The availability of food had also increased, with vendors setting up their stands near schools and selling high-calorie fried and sugary snacks. The number of chain convenience stores peddling inexpensive, low-nutrient foods had also increased. More homes had air conditioners and fewer children were going outside to play during Thailand’s hot, humid days.

Pawloski hopes to continue exploring how the adolescents she studied compare with those who reside in more urban areas of that country. She would like to compare her data against data collected from Thai immigrant communities in the United States.

“While obesity is a growing issue in Thailand, it is considered an epidemic in the United States and particularly high in immigrant populations,” she says. “Little research has really examined adolescent immigrant populations.”

Pawloski also plans to continue looking at how the transition from undernutrition to overnutrition occurs, specifically in developing countries.

“Many developing countries around the world are seeing this kind of transition from undernutrition to consumption of too many calories,” she says. “I have seen some of this in Nicaragua, but the challenge is to understand why this occurs and how to prevent it. I would like to synthesize my findings from my research in Mali, Nicaragua, and Paris to better understand the impact of dietary behaviors on adolescent growth and development.”

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