Emory Report

March 27, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 26

Martorell to deliver faculty lecture

By Michael Terrazas

Reynaldo Martorell, Woodruff Professor of International Nutrition and chair of the Rollins School's Department of International Health, will deliver the fifth annual Distin-guished Faculty Lecture on Thursday, March 30, at 4 p.m. in Winship Ballroom.

Each year the Faculty Council solicits nominees and votes on which professor will be asked to deliver the Distinguished Faculty Lecture. Last year Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, Candler Professor of Urban Education, delivered the talk on "The Education of Children Whose Nightmares Occur Both Night and Day." Martorell's address will be followed by a reception.

His lecture, titled "Child Nutrition and the Wealth of Nations," invokes 18th century economist Adam Smith, whose 1776 The Wealth of Nations earned him the reputation as the "father" of modern capitalism. Martorell will argue that proper nutrition of children in the world's developing countries not only fulfills a human rights obligation but also will result in healthier­­and more productive­­adults, thus furthering economic objectives.

Martorell, who has been at Emory since 1993, has examined childhood malnutrition in developing countries, as well as poor regions of developed countries, all around the world, including India, Latin America and the United States. One project in particular on which he will focus in his lecture and slideshow is a longitudinal study of two groups of Guatemalan children begun in 1969.

The study gave two nutritional supplement beverages, one of higher quality than the other, to very young children in two villages. When Martorell measured the two beverages' cognitive effects during preschool, he found that the correlation between the more nutritious beverage and superior school performance was only modest.

However when he returned in the late 1980s to study both cognitive performance and physical growth, he uncovered differences much more pronounced. "We found effect sizes on the order of half a standard deviation in adolescence, compared to effects of around a fifth of a standard deviation in childhood," Martorell said.

"There were no differences between performance at low levels of primary schooling," he continued. "However, as primary schooling increased, the effect of [the better beverage] was magnified."

Martorell said there is research to support the connection between adult health and economic productivity, as well as the connection between good childhood nutrition and adult health, but there is a gap in the literature when it comes to tying all three together.

"What we don't have is studies, for example, that begin with anemia in early childhood, look at school performance in adolescence and link it with wages." Martorell said. "We don't have that kind of information. We can only take it from A to B and then look at the economic literature from B to C."

But the idea seems like common sense, Martorell added. Even the father of capitalism, the practice of which has resulted in a yawning gap between rich and poor, felt obliged to speak out on behalf of those less fortunate and argue that feeding the hungry eventually results in full stomachs for everyone.

"Smith really had a soft heart," said Martorell, who will close his lecture with the following quote from Wealth of Nations:

"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe [sic], and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged."

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