Empowering children to be agents of change for better health and wellbeing

Working in partnership with Maya indigenous communities in Mexico, our researchers are disseminating key health messages on nutrition, hygiene, physical activity and early sensory stimulation.

Banner image by Miguel Cetina

The fundamental approach is one of co-creation involving children, their families, school communities, Maya activists, and artists. They have been fundamental in shaping the project, helping to promote a deep sense of local ownership.

The educational tools have been developed in partnership with partners Dr Hugo Azcorra (Universidad Modelo, Merida), MSc Samantha Sanchez (Universidad Vizcaya de las Americas) and Maya educational company: BALKAJ: Enseñanza y producción lingüística en Lengua Maya (Teaching and linguist production in Mayan language). They will be delivered in Yucatec Mayan and in Spanish, considering research showing the positive impact of including indigenous languages in educational and health resources.

Anyone who has regular contact with children knows how determined they can be when they want something. Usually, those around them will comply following their perseverance. Therefore, we hypothesised that if children are trained to promote health messages and are given culturally suitable resources to share knowledge, they will be more likely to be successful in implementing change, among their families and communities.

Dr Inês Varela-Silva

Research in focus

Reflecting several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – specifically SDG3 Good Health and Wellbeing, SDG4 Quality Education and SDG5 Gender Equality, the project also aligns with Loughborough University's commitment to creating social, cultural, and economic impact through research-informed knowledge exchange.

It is hoped that the project content will be incorporated into the school curriculum in Mexico, and can be adapted to the sociocultural realities of neighbouring countries such as Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador, with whom the team already has active research and innovation connections.

Continuous professional development aimed at teachers, community leaders and health professionals will be delivered alongside the launch of the cards, while the resources will be available online with the aim of guaranteeing a tangible legacy for the project.

Cards for Health - Tarjetas para la salud

Cards for health: feeding  Cards for health: nutrition Cards for health: weighing 
Created by: Mestre Marcelo Jiménez, Dr Deira Jiménez Balam and Dra Maria Candelaria May Novelo

Research outputs

  • Veille A, Cristopher L, Azcorra H, Dickinson F, Kramer KL, Varela-Silva MI. (2022). Differences In Nutritional Status Between Rural and Urban Yucatec Maya Children: The Importance of Early Life Conditions. American Journal of Biological Anthropology, 178 (2), 205-222. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.24510
  • Azcorra H, Varela-Silva MI, Dickinson F. (2020). Birthweight and body composition in 6-to-8 years old Maya children. American Journal of Human Biology. DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.23542
  • Azcorra H, Bogin B, Dickinson F, Varela-Silva MI. (2021). Maternal grandmothers' household residency, children's growth, and body composition are not related in urban Maya families from Yucatan. Human Nature. DOI: 10.1007/s12110-021-09402-y
  • Varela-Silva MI, Sanchez S, Dickinson F, Bogin B, Azcorra H. (2020). Growth stunting in the Yucatan Peninsula. Chapter 4. In Environment and Health in the Yucatan Peninsula. A Human Ecology Perspective (Federico Dickinson and Hugo Azcorra Eds). Springer Books.
  • Azcorra H, Bogin B, Varela-Silva MI, Dickinson F. (2020). The Urban Maya from Yucatan: Dealing with the Biological Burden of the Past and a Degenerative Present. Chapter 5. In Environment and Health in the Yucatan Peninsula. A Human Ecology Perspective (Federico Dickinson and Hugo Azcorra Eds). Springer Books.

Meet the experts

Dr Ines Varela-Silva is a Human Biologist who uses a biocultural approach to study health and nutrition outcomes in partnership with minority groups and indigenous communities. The main purpose of her research is to promote sustained health and wellbeing for all, at all ages.

Dr Varela-Silva is very keen to work with other colleagues on research and innovation projects that promote health and wellbeing among indigenous and other minority groups, using participatory approaches that are explicitly anti-patriarchal, anti-colonialist and anti-racist.

Dr Ines Varela-Silva

Dr Inês Varela-Silva

Senior Lecturer in Human Biology

Prof Emily Rousham

Professor Emily Rousham

Professor of Global Public Health