Healthy Families Study

Over the past two years, we have been conducting the Healthy Families Study in San Cristobal in collaboration with USFQ and funded by the National Institutes of health. In this project, we examine how the water and food environments of the Galapagos impact human health.

We have been measuring the availability of clean water and healthy foods on the islands, using a mixture of spatial, observational, and secondary analytic methods. Working with local research assistants, we also recruited 120 households to participate in a household survey to examine whether households are able to access these resources and whether their access to and the quality of food and water on the island contribute to infectious illnesses, like gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses, and to overweight and risk of cardiometabolic diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Participants provided information about their water sources and use, the foods they consume and shopping patterns, their health, their experiences with daily stressors, and household characteristics. Participants were weighed and had their height and blood pressure measured.

In addition, they provided finger-prick blood samples for measures of iron deficiency, glucose levels, and inflammation. We are still working to analyze much of this huge quantity of data, but our preliminary results suggest that almost 40% of participating households suffer from at least mild food insecurity and over 50% rely on purchased bottled water for their drinking water.

Even more importantly, over 1/3 of households faced limitations in both food and water, something that may increase their risk of experiencing the dual burden of both infectious disease and overweight/cardiometabolic disease.

We also saw that food and water limitations contribute to significant distress for Galapagos households. Individually, experiencing water and food insecurity were associated with stress, anxiety and depression and individuals suffering from both water and food insecurity were at greatest risk of suffering from any of these conditions. We will continue to examine the pathways linking individuals’ exposure to these water and food environments to their health and well-being. Ultimately, we hope to identify strategies to intervene to improve health and well-being for island residents. 


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In 2022, the Galapagos Science Center (GSC) and the broader UNC & USFQ Galapagos Initiative will celebrate its 10th Anniversary. We are proud to announce the World Summit on Island Sustainability scheduled to be held on June 26–30, 2022 at the Galapagos Science Center and the Community Convention Center on San Cristobal Island.

The content of the World Summit will be distributed globally through social media and results documented through papers published in a book written as part of the Galapagos Book Series by Springer Nature and edited by Steve Walsh (UNC) & Carlos Mena (USFQ) as well as Jill Stewart (UNC) and Juan Pablo Muñoz (GSC/USC). The book will be inclusive and accessible by the broader island community including scientists, managers, residents, tourists, and government and non-government organizations.

While the most obvious goal of organizing the World Summit on Island Sustainability is to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the GSC and the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, other goals will be addressed through special opportunities created as part of our operational planning of the World Summit.

For instance, we seek to elevate and highlight the Galapagos in the island conservation discourse, seeking to interact with other island networks in more obvious and conspicuous ways to benefit the Galapagos Islands, the UNC-USFQ Galapagos Initiative, and the world. We will seize the opportunity to further develop the I2N2 – International Islands Network-of-Networks. Further, we wish to highlight and emphasize multiple visions of a sustainable future for the Galapagos Islands and we cannot do this alone. Therefore, engaging the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Council of Galapagos, the Galapagos National Park, and local Galapagos authorities, including government and non-government organizations and local citizen groups, is imperative.

The Galapagos Science Center on San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Borrowing from Hawaii’s and Guam’s Green Growth Program and the Global Island Partnership, we wish to examine existing global programs that emphasize island sustainability and their incorporation into life, policies, and circumstances in the Galapagos Islands. We will also seek to enhance our connections with the institutional members of our International Galapagos Science Consortium and expand the Consortium through the recruitment of other member institutions. We will also work to benefit islands and their local communities by working with citizen groups as well as important NGOs who seek to improve the natural conditions in the Galapagos and diminish the impact of the human dimension on the future of Galapagos’ ecosystems.

Lastly, we will use the World Summit to benefit UNC & USFQ and our constituencies through a strong and vibrant communication plan about the World Summit, creating corporate relationships as sponsors, identifying funding goals through donors, and benefiting our study abroad program for student engagement in the Galapagos Islands. We plan to develop and issue a Galapagos Sustainability Communique after the World Summit that includes the vision and insights of all its participants for a sustainable Galapagos with applicability to global island settings.

We are eager to hear your perspective and have you join us at the World Summit on Island Sustainability!