Fighting Hidden Hunger

Laure Rowe

Laura Rowe, MS-Nutrition ’06, MPH ’07
Chief Operating Officer, Project Healthy Children

“Hidden hunger”— or vitamin and mineral deficiency caused by a lack of essential nutrients in the diet—is a leading cause of disease and death in resource-poor countries. According to Laura Rowe, Chief Operating Officer for Project Healthy Children (PHC), the statistics are staggering: Every year, one million children under 5 die due to zinc and vitamin A deficiency; 136,000 women and children die due to iron deficiency anemia; 18 millions babies are born with mental impairments due to iodine deficiency; and 150,000 babies are born with severe birth defects due to inadequate maternal folic acid intake. And these are just a few examples. “The quality of food is extremely important,” Rowe explains. “Of course, calories are critical, but they must be effective calories.”

For Rowe, the fight against malnutrition begins at the micro level. She specializes in food fortification—the addition of micronutrients to commonly consumed staple foods that save lives and promote healthy development. “Fortifying food with micronutrients is a sustainable solution to an enormous problem,” she says. At PHC, Rowe collaborates with health officials and government agencies, trains and oversees staff members working in developing countries, and works to implement, strengthen, and promote food fortification programs—jobs for which she was well trained at Tufts.

Her MS in International Nutrition from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy has given Rowe the technical expertise she needs to focus on food fortification; her MPH in Global Health has proved invaluable in giving her management, budgeting, and leadership skills—“all those intangibles that can make or break programs,” she says. In particular, Tufts’ interdisciplinary, multicultural focus has helped her to implement effective food fortification programs. “You can’t just go into a country and say, ‘We are adding something to your food.’ That’s scary for people. It’s important to understand how effecting healthy behavior change is influenced by culture.” Her Applied Learning Experience (ALE)—during which she conducted an evaluation of a UNICEF child survival program in India—offered a unique, career-launching opportunity and was her first experience evaluating global nutrition intervention programs.

My ALE, along with Tufts’ emphasis on ethics, human rights, and the political implications of working with governments and NGOs, has given me a meaningful perspective on the different issues you face when working cross-culturally,” Rowe says. “Tufts taught me to navigate the many actors involved in the field of global health.”