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NMSU Student's Research Focuses on Infant Birth Weight in Oman

LAS CRUCES--Coming to the United States from Oman to earn a master's degree while addressing one of her country's main public health issues was no small accomplishment for Lyutha Al-Subhi. She recently completed work on a master's degree in nutrition at New Mexico State University.

Al-Subhi is the first student from her country to attend NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Her research focused on the maternal factors that affect infant birth weight in Oman, a country that borders Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

"This is the first study of its kind in Oman," she said. "They really don't have this kind of data or information available."

The research results will be used as a basis for planning nutrition education programs for pregnant women in Oman, Al-Subhi said.

Wanda Morgan, associate professor of family and consumer sciences at NMSU, advised Al-Subhi's work. "This research was really needed in the country and will be really meaningful for the public health in Oman," Morgan said.

Last summer, Al-Subhi conducted personal interviews with 362 Omani women in the third trimester of their pregnancies. To evaluate the woman's nutritional health, she asked them to recall everything they had eaten in the past 24 hours.

"I didn't have the exact nutritional breakdown of our native foods, so i used the Food Guide Pyramid to look at their nutrition. I counted the number of servings they had from each food group, compared that to the recommended servings, then used that information to analyze their children's birth weights," she said.

Women also were asked about other factors that can affect infant birth weight, like age, socioeconomic status, pre-pregnancy body mass and number of children they'd given birth to. When the babies were born, Al-Subhi went to the hospital and collected data including infant birth weight from hospital charts.

Dealing with two languages created a lot of work, Morgan said. Since the research was being done for universities in two different countries, consent forms from the women were necessary in both English and Arabic. Much of the translation was done by the Omani embassy in Washington, D.C.

Although Al-Subhi's research has yet to be published, results indicate that there are several factors affecting infant birth weight in Oman. Maternal age and height were important, as younger and smaller women had babies with lower birth weights. The number of previous pregnancies also was a factor. Women with more pregnancies tended to have heavier babies.

In addition, the nutritional status of a woman before pregnancy also seemed to affect birth weight. "I found that the dietary intake of Omani women is significantly different than the recommendations that are in the Food Guide Pyramid," she said. While protein intake of these women is almost at the recommended level, they eat much more fruit. Servings of dairy, breads and grains, and vegetables, however, were much lower than recommended.

Morgan said this research shows how NMSU can help people outside the community. "It shows how we can be of service to people who really need out expertise," she said. "It shows that out college can be a player in the international community, teaching Lyutha skills that she can take back to her country and use to improve the lives of women there."