Helping Hondurans

Terri Kemmer’s interest in eating healthy can be traced back to when she was seen picking fat from bacon as a young girl. “I’ve always been interested in health and nutrition, even as a child,” she says. “I love cooking and experimenting, creating different foods and always modifying recipes to make them lower in fat and higher in fiber.” Kemmer, registered dietitian and assistant professor of health and nutritional sciences, has spent her adult life researching and educating people about improving their nutrition for a better way

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life. “I have the optimum position at SDSU with the ability to teach nutrition in my role as faculty,” she says. “I can positively impact South Dakota and underserved families in Honduras as an SDSU Extension specialist, and expand SDSU research capacity through my Agricultural Experiment Station appointment.” Her primary focus of research over the years has been assessing the nutritional status of children in developing countries. Working with ministries of health and health departments, her research efforts have taken her to the Thailand-Burma border in Southeast Asia, America Samoa, and, for the last ten years, Honduras. In Honduras, Kemmer has established a study abroad program as a three-credit travel studies course combined with pediatric nutrition assessments. The objectives identify nutrition and health risks in children in rural Honduran communities. The teams travel by foot through rough mountainous terrain carrying equipment to visit families and complete the evaluations in their home environment. 

Continues work after Army

Kemmer, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who spent twenty-two years as an active duty Army dietitian, started going to Honduras as part of a program designed to train pediatric residents and

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junior dietitians in austere environments. The project is a collaboration of the U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo Military Medical Element, the Honduran Ministry of Health, and Mission Honduras LeMars. Since joining the College’s Health and Nutritional Sciences Department in 2007, Kemmer has continued her research while incorporating SDSU students into the program. “Having the opportunity to work with the Honduran Ministry of Health, communities, families, and children within Honduras is extremely rewarding,” says Kemmer. “The ability to positively impact lives and promote improved health and nutrition among those less fortunate is very humbling and gratifying.” Joining with the Honduran Ministry of Health, budding dietitians focus on high-priority nutrition issues and promote long-term nutrition policy. Students are provided extensive training on nutrition assessments prior to travel, and participate on the trip as nutrition educators and research assistants. They join a team comprised of U.S. military personnel stationed in Honduras who are members of Joint Task Force Bravo, a linguist, local health-care workers, a physician, volunteers for Mission Honduras LeMars, and a dietitian.

Students get involved

Kemmer returns to Honduras multiple times per year, providing SDSU students a hands-on international experiential learning opportunity. Students learn about the culture, the importance of cultural awareness, effects of under nutrition, nutrition assessments, malnutrition treatment, research methods, assessment techniques, nutritional impacts on health, and political issues impacting nutrition. According to Kemmer, surveys focus on children from six months to five years of age, gathering nutritional information; taking measurements of height, weight and upper arm circumference; and gathering economic and demographic information. Children undergo a complete head-to-toe physical examination, checking for signs and symptoms of malnourishment. Blood samples are taken to test hemoglobin levels for anemia; if needed, iron supplements are provided. Children found to be at high nutritional risk are referred into the local health-care system for treatment and medical follow up.

Honduran experience

an eye-opener

Households are chosen at random for her research. Some homes may be right next to the road. Others require a hike along narrow mountain paths as team members use backpacks to bring in supplies and equipment. At the end of their hike, students often find families living in rough circumstances. Each student, in their own way, has a sense of wonder about the conditions endured by the people of Honduras. Senior Briana Austin says families were appreciative of their

services and more than willing to cooperate. “Their homes are in remote locations that you can only reach by foot. There were some days where we would hike up mountains for miles, but once you reach the families it was worth every step. “The days of field work were long and tedious, but very much rewarding. The feeling I had walking away from each home is something I will forever cherish.” Kemmer points out that in terms of the global situation, college students come from a very wealthy privileged society, and giving them a glimpse of how little it takes from each of us to positively impact lives, is very satisfying. “Introducing SDSU students to the fact that we live in a world beyond South Dakota and yet have the ability through our education, research, and humanitarian efforts to promote global nutrition and health has a profound, life-altering affect on all those participating.”

Cited for research

In recognition of her nutritional expertise, she was honored February 2011 with the College’s Distinguished Researcher Award. “I have the flexibility to do research and a passion for teaching. I value the opportunity to do research with undergraduates and graduate students, both at the master’s and doctoral levels.” Kemmer indicates SDSU has been extremely supportive of her research endeavors. “In the Army I had the opportunity to initiate research opportunities, but it was never my full-time job,” she says. “Transitioning to SDSU and having the ability to work hand-in-hand with undergraduate and graduate students has been wonderful. Introducing them to the concepts of research is very rewarding, both personally and professionally.”

Kyle Johnson

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