Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hello, Arequipa!

The last three months, I have been busy running around town preparing for a clinical trial funded by the International Association of Dental Research. We are working with our long-time friends and colleagues in Peru to test whether adding xylitol to milk prevents tooth decay in Peruvian school children. Xylitol is a natural sweetener found in birch trees and other agricultural byproducts that has been shown to prevent tooth decay. There is an interesting story that led to the development of our study. All low-income children in Peru are given a glass of milk each day as part of Peru's Programa del Vaso de Leche, a national nutrition program designed to improve the health of vulnerable populations. Peruvian children, like most children worldwide, don’t like the taste of  milk. To enhance uptake by children, local schools add sucrose (table sugar) to milk. Adding sweeteners like table sugar or honey to milk is common practice by milk manufacturers in Latin America. Notice the honey bees on the Gloria milk can label. The rest of the world isn't innocent. We do this in the U.S. with chocolate and strawberry milk and in Korea with banana milk. The public health problem is that exposing low-income children to fermentable carbohydrates via sweetened milk can increase tooth decay risk among these already vulnerable children.

Before we left Seattle, I visited the Peruvian Consulate in North Seattle to seek approval to transport our microbiological supplies to Peru. The Consul, Miguel Angel Velasquez, was very friendly and helped moved the process along quickly. The Consulate is located in a neighborhood off Bothell Way.

We flew to Atlanta and arrived in Lima at 1:00 AM. After a few hours of sleep, we were back at the Lima airport to catch our morning flight to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru (after Lima, the capitol).

After nearly 22 hours of non-continuous travel that started at SeaTac Airport, we made it to Arequipa, Peru. We were greeted by at least 100 parents and family members of local high school students who were returning from studying abroad in Europe. Each family member was holding balloons and screaming as each passenger entered the airport. I felt like a K-pop star.

Our team will be in Arequipa for the next 11 days. The weather today was sunny, dry, and warm. Rain is in the forecast, which is an obvious feature of the rainy season that typically lasts from January to March.

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