Summer course trains experts in WHO policies

nutrition experts
Jason Koski/University Photography
More than 30 nutrition experts from around the globe gathered at Cornell July 7-18 for hands-on training in World Health Organization (WHO) policies.

More than 30 nutrition experts from around the globe are gathering at Cornell July 7-18 for hands-on training in World Health Organization (WHO) procedures to retrieve, summarize and assess reliable, current evidence to inform WHO’s recommendations for nutrition and public health policy.

The two-week School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions (SCE) course, “Summer Institute for Systematic Reviews in Nutrition for Global Policy-Making,” is hosted by Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences in conjunction with the WHO, the Micronutrient Initiative and the Cochrane Collaboration, a worldwide nonprofit network of more than 28,000 reviewers that synthesizes research into credible health information. Institute trainers and participants, attending from North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, are conducting systematic reviews to summarize evidence on the effects of 15 different nutrition-related interventions, including folic acid supplementation in malaria-endemic areas and vitamin A fortification of staple foods for health and nutrition outcomes.

“[The conference’s] participants are dedicated to the improvement of the health of men, women and children throughout the world,” said Glenn Altschuler, SCE dean and the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies. “[The] program [is] committed to ensuring that policy recommendations in this area are grounded in solid and sound empirical evidence.”

Course lecturers and facilitators include nutritional sciences professors Patricia Cassano, Jere Haas, Saurabh Mehta, Kathleen Rasmussen, Rebecca Stoltzfus and Patrick Stover, along with Sarah Young, health science and policy librarian, and Juan Pablo Peña-Rosas, Ph.D. ’97, coordinator for evidence and program guidance, Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland. Cornell trainees include nutritional sciences assistant professor Julia Finkelstein, research associate Martha Field and graduate student Sarah Luna.

“Through this institute, the WHO and Cochrane are growing their pool of experts capable of participating in evidence-informed approaches to policy reviews for nutrition interventions,” said Stover, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “This group will help the WHO in their need to obtain steady systematic reviews of high quality to set nutrition policy for the next 10 years or more. With our focus on international nutrition, human health and epidemiology, Cornell is a natural partner to help advance public health policy recommendations in this way.”

All recommendations by the WHO must comply with a set of rigorous procedures, beginning with expert steering groups to identify and respond to rising public health issues to ranking priorities, planning interventions and updating guidelines.

Peña-Rosas, who delivered the institute’s opening remarks and will guide numerous sessions, said that the knowledge generated during the course “will be used to inform policies with global impact and to support efficacious and safe interventions in public health.” He added that the course adds to WHO’s capacity for “multicountry, multidisciplinary review teams” that are responsive to emerging public health needs and “nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.”

Ted Boscia is director of communications and media for the College of Human Ecology

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