Food Deserts in a Tropical Paradise

A sea lion lies in the street on the island of San Cristobal“Before I was even at UNC, I didn’t know that people lived on the Galápagos,” PhD student Josh Miller said. “I was really shocked to learn how many people live here, the prevalence of water and food issues, and how much that aligned with my research interests.”

Miller’s research is part of a broader study run by biological anthropologist Amanda Thompson through the Galápagos Science Center (GSC). It represents a collaboration between researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill and Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), looking at how water and food insecurity on the islands have impacted health outcomes.

Thompson’s study found that about 70% of adults in the Galápagos suffer from obesity, which is the highest in Ecuador and among the highest in the world compared to similar populations. At the same time, many study participants also experienced gastrointestinal infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, or other chronic conditions like iron deficiency, typifying the dual burden of disease researchers expected.

“What we concluded is that the Galápagos actually suffers from a triple burden of ill health,” said Thompson. “That is, many individuals and households are simultaneously experiencing infectious diseases, chronic diseases like obesity and hypertension and diabetes, and high levels of distress.”

Miller studies water distribution and quality across the island of San Cristóbal. Much of Millers’ work is done in tandem with the Puerto Baquerizo Moreno government. When he and his team travel to residents’ homes to test the water, they are often accompanied by an official from the municipality. Miller is hopeful that his data will help.

“We have the mayor’s office and municipality involved so that hopefully the findings we are generating don’t just stay in a lab or some stuffy scientific publication, but are being implemented at the policy level.”

Read more about Carolina’s broad study of food and water insecurity in the Galápagos…

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