Chloe Souza ’12 took home an ACM award for her research on childhood obesity in Costa Rica.
It was a long trek—a solid hour and a half—through the Costa Rican countryside to the little school in rural Aguas Zarcas. Chloe Souza ’12 (Los Angeles) had been there earlier in the week to talk to the children and distribute questionnaires for them to take home to their parents. Now the psychology and sociology major was returning to weigh and measure the children and collect the surveys. For Souza, it was another day in the field, gathering data for the research project on childhood obesity she was doing as part of her Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) Costa Rica program.
“I got there and 90 percent of the kids weren’t in school that day," Souza recalled. When she left the school to begin the long walk home, she had just a handful of completed surveys to show for the trip. It was frustrating, she said, but “it was important to keep the bigger picture in mind on days like that.”
Keeping her eye on the bigger picture served Souza well, as her field project—“Media Screen Time, Physical Activity, and Nutritional Indicators as Risk Factors for Childhood and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity in Aguas Zarcas, Costa Rica”—earned her the Award for Outstanding Research on an ACM Program.
Souza was selected from among students who participated during the 2010-11 academic year in the five ACM programs that include independent research projects; her program, Costa Rica: Field Research in the Environment, Social Sciences, & Humanities, is among those.
Along with the walking and data gathering, Souza answered questions from a lot of inquisitive schoolchildren and analyzed spreadsheet after spreadsheet for her project. During two months of school visits, she worked with more than 1,000 children, ranging in age from 4 to 18 years.
At each stop, she set up her scales and tape measure to collect the children’s heights and weights, and then had them fill out a survey about the time they spent sitting in front of a televisions, computers, or video games—a.k.a. screen time—and how much exercise they got.
In a unique collaboration, Souza and fellow program participants Jessica Meyer (Colorado College) and Maggie Swift ’12 worked together to develop an overall research plan and survey, while each gathered data in different geographical areas and wrote individual research proposals and papers. They designed the study to determine the prevalence of obesity among children and to identify possible factors—such as amount of screen time and physical activity—that put them at risk of being overweight.
“The kids were really curious and always asking us questions,” Souza recalls. “Teachers were really curious, too, about why we were there, what we were doing, where we were from, and how long we were going to be in Costa Rica. Sometimes English teachers asked us to sit in on classes and explain different things."
Back on campus, the students had time to reflect on the program. For Souza—now considering a career in public health—the program caused her to change her summer plans. She ended up receiving a Taylor Public Health fellowship to work at Open Arms Of Minnesota, making and delivering food to people living with HIV/AIDS. “Doing my work in Costa Rica showed me that I want to be out in the field and working hands-on with people,” she says. “I really enjoyed having the contact with children and teachers in the school and building those relationships.”
Adapted from the ACM website (April 16, 2012).