While the earthquakes of 2010 brought Haiti to the attention of the American people, the children of Haiti have been on the mind of Dr. Wayne Mitchell, professor of psychology, for the past the past 3 years. Dr. Mitchell, Caitlin Vaught, a graduate student, and Carmen Boyd, dietetics program director, traveled to Haiti twice to assess the effects of supplemental food on children’s physical, mental and motor skill development.
The study began with the administration of anthropometric (height and weight), cognitive and motor skill assessments to both children at schools and in orphanages. They also collected school test scores and information about nutritional intake, including frequency, amount and type of food.
“We hope we have captured a description of Haitian children and have collected enough pilot data to develop predictive models of development which in the long run could assist in the development of appropriate interventions,” said Dr. Mitchell.
This project was modeled after former longitudinal research that Dr. Mitchell and his colleagues conducted several years ago in which they followed infants from birth to age 3 identifying factors that influence a child’s development. Dr. Mitchell hopes to assist not only the Haitian children through this study but to identify factors and develop interventions that can be used in other underdeveloped countries.
“At the schools where we tested, the children receive supplemental food, which is still not enough to compensate for that which is lacking at home,” said Dr. Mitchell. “We are trying to understand the short term and long term effects of nutrition at near-starvation levels. Something Haitian children appear to live with for most of their lives.”
In addition to his research on Haiti, Dr. Mitchell, a child development psychologist, operates an infant and cognition lab at the Park Central Office Building at Missouri State. For the past several years, he has been mapping visual learning in both infants and adults through visual scanning and heart rate monitoring equipment.