Gretel Pelto
Gretel Pelto
Visiting Professor
Division of Nutritional Sciences

360 MVR



Professor Gretel Pelto is a Graduate Professor (retired from active teaching) in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. She received her BA in sociology, MA and Ph.D in anthropology from the University of Minnesota. She is internationally recognized for her work on bridging the interface between academic research and actions to improve nutrition and public health in communities. The interaction between theory and practice brings social science methods, particularly those of ethnography, to bear on nutrition and child health research, with an emphasis on infant and young child nutrition.

She began her teaching career in the Department of Nutritional Science at The University of Connecticut, where she developed nutritional anthropology as an academic research area and helped to build the theoretical and organizational foundations for this emerging field.  She has written and edited four books on the field, and numerous articles on theoretical and empirical issues, often addressed to the academic nutrition community.  Her initial field research was in Mexico (including a major project in the 1980s under the auspices of the Collaborative Research Support Program (CRSP), and later in other parts of Latin America. She has also worked in Finland carrying out research on dietary change with support from a Fulbright grant. In 2006 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Helsinki, in recognition of this work and contributions to the development of nutrition research and teaching.

Professor Pelto’s experience led to her appointment at the World Health Organization (WHO) where she served for 8 years as the senior social scientist responsible for creating research tools and implementing their application to improve household management of acute respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases in developing countries. In addition to addressing family care-seeking behavior, she also worked on improving health worker communication skills and the organization of health services to support skill development.  In 2007 she received the Malinowski Award from the Society for Applied Anthropology, which is given "to an outstanding social scientist in recognition of efforts to understand and serve the needs of the world's societies and who has actively pursued the goal of solving human problems using the concepts and tools of social science." She is also a Fellow of the American Society for Nutrition and the Society for Applied Anthropology.

She was a founding editor of the journals, Medical Anthropology, and Reviews in Anthropology, which was established to further the quality in publishing of academic anthropological research. To provide a forum for nutritional anthropology she worked with colleagues to establish a group within the Society for Medical Anthropology, which is now an independent organization (The Society for Food and Nutrition) that operates under the umbrella of the American Anthropological Association. She currently serves on the editorial board of several nutrition and health journals. 

Currently my research is focused primarily on infant and young child feeding. My research activities involve applications of a research approach and tool that I created, the" Focused Enthnographic Study Manual for Infant and Young Child Feeding. This flexible set of  theory-based research protocols can be used  for investigations of caregiver and the household and community contexts of infant and young child feeding, investigating feeding behaviors from the perspectives of women and families, and the delivery of nutrition interventions. In addition to providing guidance to investigators in a number of countries who are applying the tool, I am actively engaged in analyzing the publishing the results of studies using this tool. I am also writing a book that includes the manual as well as research results from its application.

Although I am retired from formal teaching, I work with students in directed readings and directed research. I also serve on student committees as a minor member, but not as a major advisor.

Selected 2015

Tumilowicz, A., Habicht, J. P., Pelto, G., & Pelletier, D. L. (2015). Gender perceptions predict sex differences in growth patterns of indigenous Guatemalan infants and young children. The American journal of clinical nutrition102(5), 1249-1258.

Pelto, G. H., Martin, S. L., Van Liere, M., & Fabrizio, C. S. (2015). The scope and practice of behaviour change communication to improve infant and young child feeding in low- and middle-income countries: results of a practitioner study in international development organizations. Matern Child Nutr, (accessed July 1 1, 2016)

Pelto, G. H., Martin, S. L., van Liere, M. J., & Fabrizio, C. S. (2015). Perspectives and reflections on the practice of behaviour change communication for infant and young child feeding. Maternal & Child Nutrition, (Accessed March 1,2015)

De Ver Dye, T., Pelto, G., Kristensen, S., Samen, A., & Dozier, A. (2015). Attitudes and practices towards micronutrient supplementation among pregnant women in rural Tibet. Global public health10(1), 119-128.

Thuita FM, Pelto. (2015) Resilience and Economic Growth in the Arid Lands – Improving Resilience: Summary Report on Focused Ethnographic Studies on Infant and Young Child Feed Behaviours, Beliefs, Contexts and Environments in Isiolo, Marsabit and Turkana Counties. Geneva and Washington: Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

I am active in various groups that are involved in  research and program development in international nutrition, particularly in  the areas of  maternal  nutrition and infant and young child feeding. I  am particularly active in activities with   GAIN (the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition),  and PATH. I am involved in establishing a new research society, the Society for Implementation Research in Nutrition.  I also work actively with the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition. Additionally I am active on several editorial boards and committees.

 I am working with a group in upstate New York who are developing a school-based nutrition and food program.

1963, BA, Sociology, University of Minnesota

1967, MA, Anthropology , University of Minnesota

1970, Ph.D, Anthropology, University of Minnesota

View all people