Recent PhD Graduate Continues Childhood Nutrition Research in India

Aakanksha Sinha (second from left) during Commencement 2016.

Aakanksha Sinha (second from left) during Commencement 2016.

This past May, Aakanksha Sinha graduated with a PhD from the Boston College School of Social Work. In the time since, she has been appointed, and has begun working, as a visiting research fellow at the Institute for Human Development in New Delhi, India. Sinha is the lead investigator on two projects studying community resilience mechanisms of low-income primary caregivers of children between the ages of zero and five and the role of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) service providers. Both address the impact of optimal utilization of community resources, and grassroots interventions on child nutrition; this is an extension of the research she began to conduct while pursuing her PhD at BC.

In this Q&A with Innovate, Sinha discusses what a BCSSW education means to her, her particular research interest in low-income mothers and their children in her native India, and her goals for her fellowship.

Congratulations on your recent successful dissertation defense and graduation from BCSSW. Tell us a little bit about what your time at BC has meant to you.

Aakanksha Sinha: Thanks! Overall, I had a wonderful experience at Boston College, both for my MSW and my PhD. I worked closely with Ruth McRoy, Tom Crea, and Margaret Lombe throughout my studies, and each was a valuable mentor to me. All three helped me to establish a strong base in research methods – in fact, I’m often complimented on my research training, and this is thanks to these three professors. McRoy and Lombe in particular encouraged me to follow my interest, and pursue projects related to food security and child welfare, and to do so with the practical in mind. I believe that research shouldn’t exist in a vacuum, and for this reason, I strive to find new interventions to address the social problems I study.

My dissertation at BCSSW specifically addressed the impact of maternal autonomy on child nutritional status, and it investigated the role of socio-cultural norms as critical determinants of child nutrition outcomes in my home country of India.

Instead of placing the emphasis on financial resources as the primary determinant of child nutritional outcomes, my study instead sought to analyze unique resources available to all socioeconomic groups in urban areas (such as maternal autonomy and health-related awareness) towards better understanding how to build interventions to create better childhood nutrition overall.

Tell us more about your interest in this important issue, and how you are addressing it at the Institute for Human Development.

Aakanksha Sinha

Aakanksha Sinha

AS: I am very fortunate to have been awarded this fellowship from the Institute for Human Development, and I am working on two projects related to childhood nutrition in India.

In short, the first project will investigate positively deviant environmental factors that lead to good nutrition outcomes in urban below poverty line households that are enrolled in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the primary existing nutrition and early child development program in India. This is an extension of a previous study I conducted for the Government of Delhi in 2014.

The second project will seek to lay the groundwork for policy recommendations to the Government of Jharkhand located in east India on nutrition outcomes of both mothers and their children, taking into account existing data on pregnant and nursing mothers and the corresponding health trajectories of their children up until the age of five. The source of data for this project is the Annual Health Survey (AHS), National Sample Survey (NSS), Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) and United Nations Human Development Index, which is a ‘summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living.’ The project lists a host of indicators for each country, towards establishing this summary measure (Here’s the report on India, for reference).

These projects sound fascinating. What do you hope to gain during your fellowship and what are your hopes for the future?  

AS: I’m hopeful that both projects will help to inform child health policy both in India and globally, specifically on how to develop programs and interventions that employ community-based strengths to effect positive change.

In terms of how I hope this time will bolster my own career aspirations, my goal is to eventually pursue a tenure track position in academia, while continuing to conduct research that unfolds along a two-way street; I believe the community can both inform, and benefit, from academic inquiry, and that together, we can create the kinds of interventions to solve some of the world’s most pressing social ills. This research marks one positive example of how I’m working to do just this.

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