American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Juan Rivera

Interview with Dr. Juan Rivera

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 11/17/2009 at 02:58:14 PM by Student Blogger
By: Rebecca K.

Family trip to Chihuahua, Mexico in 2007

Induction into the Mexican Academy of Sciences in 2005

Dr. Juan Rivera is the 2009 ASN Kellogg International Nutrition Research Award Winner and the Director of the Center for Research in Nutrition and Health at the Mexican National Institute of Public Health

Favorite micronutrient:
Favorite macronutrient: fat
Favorite food: so difficult for someone who likes so many…tortillas, beans, Serrano peppers
Favorite music/musician: Non-classical—Pink Floyd, Classical—Puccini operas
Uncovered fun fact: “Juan sings and plays the guitar beautifully!! What he most enjoys playing is Joan Manuel Serrat's music.”
Favorite thing to do for fun: So many things…movies/cinema.
Favorite movie:Amarcord” (1973) directed by Federico Fellini (Italian for ‘I remember'-- the topic is nostalgia)
Uncovered fun fact: “Juan loves to exercise, especially walk.”

What and/or who inspired you to go into the nutrition field?

Poverty here in Mexico and the big gap between the rich and the poor made a very big impact on me since childhood. In high school, I worked in indigenous communities in Chiapas. I had to do something to improve the life of those people. For a long time, I was divided between medicine and food technology. It was always a struggle. I finished high school and made up my mind to study food technology, but then I learned about a new nutrition program [both at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City]. It was exactly what I wanted, health and food. For three semesters, I also studied medicine, but Dr.Cravioto at the Mexican National Institute of Pediatrics, with whom I was doing an internship with, convinced me that I was more interested in public health nutrition/epidemiology than medicine; [this catalyzed my later pursuit of a masters and doctorate in International Nutrition from Cornell University].
Side story from Juan's wife: “Juan very much enjoys field work and has enjoyed it since he was very young. We did our undergrad social service back in 1973 and often slept on the floor in our indigenous friends' marvelous and warm homes, beside a fire place/bonfire. Juan was very much liked by our local friends and is great at making respectful conversations with mothers of toddlers.”

What do you think is the biggest nutritional problem today and why?

The double burden [of under-nutrition/infectious disease and over-nutrition/chronic disease] is still for me the biggest problem. You cannot separate under- and over-nutrition because they often coexist in the same household and person over the course of their life. [The double burden] is definitely related to poverty, infectious diseases, and poor dietary intakes, but at the same time a society (in general) that has lost aim and direction. A society in which the model is over-consumption and obesity is the gross manifestation of over-consumption. I think our aims in life are also very obese and there is very little consciousness about what we are doing to earth: over-use of water, fossil fuels, and homes that are often more than we need. That consciousness of trying to be a society that thinks about the future and using only what is required is an essential part of [solving] the obesity epidemic that is driven by over-consumption. At the same time, inequity persists and there are so many people undernourished and with little resources. We are hurting earth and we need to be more equitable.

What do you like most about your job and why?

I like very much the experience of learning more about the world (health, nutrition, nature) through research. Every time I confront new findings it gives me pleasure because I understand more about the world. I also like seeing the effects of training: seeing young people change their views and/or paradigms and sometimes their lives due to their experience. And I like being capable of influencing and improving policies and programs.

What is the accomplishment you are most proud of and why?

This center [Center for Research in Nutrition and Health at the Mexican National Institute of Public Health] is an accomplishment of many, but I played a leading role. It did not exist in 1993 when I came to the Institute and now it is a reality. It has many problems and is not perfect, but it does a lot regarding my answer to the previous question.

What advice do you have for nutrition students?

They should really invest as much as possible in their training and development. When you are a student you have a window of opportunity to learn as much as possible and to obtain skills and abilities you need. Once you work, the pressure is such that you learn from experience [but it is not the same].

You need to have passion for what you do; and be very enthusiastic. If you don't have passion, maybe you are in the wrong place.

And to know that the [stereotypical] “incentives” related to hard work and “success”—recognition, being well-known, and money—are fine, but don't be fooled, they are not important. To have an opportunity to serve humanity—that is what counts and is important. Remember: any accomplishment that you have is an accomplishment that is possible because you are in a supporting environment and is a result of that collective effort.


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