La Voz del Interior, the second-largest circulation newspaper in the interior of Argentina, joined with a research team from Czekalinski Project to discover the health consequences of only eating products from the Basic Food Basket (CBA, for its acronym in Spanish). This food basket is a tool used by the federal administration to measure poverty, and the basket content has not changed in over 30 years.
As part of this team, I participated as a member of the control group, collecting information not only for La Voz, but also collaborating with other media organisations interested in reporting on the experience.
For the first time, the problems of millions of Argentines who eat this way were exposed — not only in the way this affected the volunteers’ bodies, but in stories told by the poor.
Through an unprecedented partnership with SRT, the media operated by Cordoba University, we were able to show the phases of this research in a TV programme. This programme pinpointed issues that go unseen, beyond ideology or political differences. It also anticipated, by several months, what would later become a key enterprise for the Argentine government: the fight against hunger.
Creating a hands-on experiment
Six volunteers signed on for six months to eat only the allotted amounts of 58 products in the CBA. They had to be the cheapest ones in the market. These foods had scarce amounts of nutrients and included lots of bread, noodles, and sugars.
The project measured not only the physical consequences of this type of food intake but also other aspects, such as mental health and social problems.
Participants of the study defined their fitness, BMI, bone structure, and other indicators at the beginning, middle, and end of the project. They were also monitored by nutritionists, community physicians, psychologists, and other professionals.
Besides these six volunteers, the project included six people who made up a control group that continued their regular diet and six other participants who followed the Food Intake Guidelines for Argentines. In other words, they ate what the population should eat, from a food basket that costs 50% more than the CBA.
This research was overseen by Conicet, School of Nutrition at the National University of Cordoba, and Aero Estudio Design.
Seeing the results of poverty in real time
Partial results with the first three volunteers intaking the CBA were staggering: All of them — two females and one male, who was also the coordinator of the study — had to quit the experience after three months. They experienced weight loss and different issues related to malnutrition that forced physicians to ask them to exit the program.
But it was not just nutritional problems; it was also difficult for them to live their daily lives. For example, they quit sports because they had no energy. They could not celebrate their birthdays or attend social gatherings in which food was the main event.
Additionally, the journalistic coverage showed stories of complete families that, by living in poverty, suffer this situation on a regular basis, with health consequences that are already difficult to overturn.
Results make a lasting impression
This study had national impact on several levels:
- It exposed the hunger and poverty suffered by many Argentines, even before that issue became a social program for the new administration.
- It questioned the nutritional value of the National Food Basket used to draft public policies.
- It exposed the problems to measure poverty with tools that only assess income.
- The second part of the research, which is in progress for 2021, will look for legal consensus to submit a bill in Congress that would change the way poverty levels are measured in Argentina.
- After the newspaper published a story about two of the volunteers exiting the research group due to health hazards, the main researcher was invited to be a part of the Federal Council Against Hunger that will help devise a national plan to fight against such scourge.
Photo courtesy of StockSnap from Pixabay.