Why I Chose Global Health

When Rafael Pérez-Escamilla was a chemical engineer in Mexico he observed many people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.  His curiosity as to why these problems existed in a country with an abundance of food eventually led him to a career examining social and economic inequities as they related to food and nutrition…and a move to Connecticut. Prior to coming to the Yale School of Public Health, he joined the University of Connecticut, as a professor of nutrition and founded the Connecticut Center for Eliminating Health Disparities among Latinos.

At the Center, he championed a unique way to deliver messaging to Puerto Rican communities to help them understand the impact of nutrition and physical activities on a child’s development — puppet shows. It is his creative vision for communities and his willingness for collaboration that now has Pérez-Escamilla involved with public health nutrition programs in 12 countries across 5 world regions. One of his most impactful collaborations came about through a simple act of hygiene. On a visit to the Institute for Nutrition for Central America and Panama (INCAP) in Guatemala City, Pérez-Escamilla went to wash his hands and met up with a local ob/gyn researcher. Within a year, this random encounter led to a study about clamping the umbilical cord until it stops pulsating. This procedure cut the risk of iron deficiency anemia in babies by 50% and is now globally recommended by the World Health Organization.  

...it's tremendously important in the early stages of life to maximize development and minimize poor health outcomes.

Rafael Pérez-Escamilla

His research has contributed to improvements in breastfeeding, iron deficiency anemia among infants, and household food security measurement and policies. “We know that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical,” says Pérez-Escamilla. “So, it’s tremendously important to provide adequate nutrition in early life to maximize development and minimize poor health outcomes.” His work has also led to improved type 2 diabetes self-management in low-income communities.   

When asked if this work follows his initial vision, he replies, “Yes.  I was looking to help develop effective and sustainable public health nutrition interventions to improve the wellbeing of infants and families affected by poverty and social injustice. In many ways this is exactly what I have been able to accomplish.” 

Pérez-Escamilla says his future hope is that the more than 100 graduate students and postdocs that he has mentored become better scientists than him with 10x more positive impact on the world’s health. 


This article was submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on January 16, 2019.

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Rafael Perez-Escamilla

Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences)