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Gimme Five: Caroline Sölle de Hilari


We are always impressed by our Leaders and their work in preventing childhood obesity here in the U.S., but just as exciting are Leaders who are working abroad. We had a chance to chat with Caroline Sölle de Hilari, senior specialist of school health and nutrition with Save the Children, to talk about the personal and career motivations behind her work and learn more about the state of childhood obesity prevention beyond the borders of the United States. To directly contact Caroline, message her through her profile here.

Name: Caroline Sölle de Hilari
Title: Senior Specialist, School Health and Nutrition
Organization: Save the Children

What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?

I am a medical doctor and moved to Bolivia, South America, for my internship year. Since then, I have worked most of my career on trying to overcome child undernutrition, especially stunting, which means short stature and indicates a chronic state of a lack of macronutrients (mainly protein) in children under two years of age. I worked in a large-scale food security program for Save the Children, looking at how to change mothers’ feeding practices with their small children.

But over the years, the situation in Bolivia has changed rather quickly and dramatically. In my work with a women’s microfinance organization, we were monitoring the nutritional status of our clients. Our overweight rate was 60 percent, half of them obese. I developed a lot of counseling guides for nurses and physicians to counsel overweight women, and I felt very alone in this, as the Ministry of Health was just beginning to recognize that nutrition problems had shifted from scarcity to overabundance.

How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?

I came back to work with Save the Children in 2013, now as a regional advisor for all of Save the Children’s school health and nutrition programs in Latin America. Actually, all my country’s programs have seen problems with increasing rates of being overweight. In my advisory role, I teach workshops to program coordinators and sometimes officials from the Ministries of Education or Health. I share scientific publications, and I review and comment on educational material that is going out to schools. I always stress that the two main issues for school age children on the continent are anemia and being overweight. We also conduct surveys in our projects, and I have modified questionnaires that only measured knowledge on vitamin A and iron to include now new indicators such as screen time, physical activity time and soft drink vs. water consumption.

What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?

We were able to document how policy about food sales regulation is playing out in the field, from qualitative research in rural El Salvador. (Article forthcoming).

Who is your role model in your work?

That’s difficult to say. I met some amazing nurses during my work with women who were able to counsel and achieve behavior change for the entire family.

What game or sport did you play growing up?

I really liked rubber band (not sure whether you play that in the U.S., I grew up in Germany). Two girls stand with the rubber band around their feet, a third girl performs a sequence of jumps and steps. Every time she performs the sequence, the two girls put the rubber band higher up. They start with their ankles, then calves, then knees, then mid-thighs, then below hip, they can get as high as below shoulder. When she hasn’t been able to perform the sequence right, she replaces a standing girl and that girls starts again with the same sequence at the lowest level.

Each week, our own Prarthana Gurung speaks with a Leader to get a quick look at why he or she loves working to create healthy environments for kids. Want to take part? Visit Prarthana’s profile and contact her.