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Chessa Lutter

Chessa Lutter

Senior Fellow, Food Security & Agriculture


PhD, Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University

MS, Nutrition, Cornell University

BS, Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley

Chessa Lutter is a senior nutrition researcher and senior fellow at RTI. Based on more than 30 years working in maternal and child nutrition with the World Health Organization and academic and non-governmental institutions, Dr. Lutter’s research and program expertise have helped shape the public dialogue around breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and the prevention of child undernutrition and obesity through more than 75 scholarly articles, book chapters, and commentaries. She is currently involved with a two-year mix methods longitudinal study to examine factors that influence acute malnutrition in youg children in the arid and semi-arid region of Kenya. 

A major focus of Dr. Lutter’s work has been applying nutrition sciences and epidemiology to improve maternal and child health in low- and middle-income countries. She is currently supporting the USAID Nawiri project to reduce persistent acute malnutrition in Kenya and the USAID project “Enhancing Nutrition, Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning in the hHealth sSector in USAID Nutrition Priority and Strategic Support Countries.

Dr. Lutter serves on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guideline development group to develop a guideline for the integrated management of children in all their diversity with obesity. She also recently worked with the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety at WHO to develop a Guideline for complementary feeding of infants and young children 6 to 23 months of age. She also serves on the Design, Analyze, and Communicate (DAC) review board of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

She joined RTI in 2017 after 19 years with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization’s regional office for the Americas. At PAHO, Dr. Lutter worked with Ministries of Health throughout Latin America and the Caribbean as well as with UNICEF, the World Food Program, and numerous nongovernmental organizations to implement programs and policies aimed at preventing obesity, promoting breastfeeding, and ensuring good nutrition for mothers, infants, and children.

Dr. Lutter’s background also includes positions with Wellstart International and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. She is a member of the American Society of Nutrition, the Global Nutrition Council, and the International Union of Nutritional Scientists. A skilled communicator, Dr. Lutter has prepared television and radio briefings on maternal and child nutrition in English and Spanish and frequently speaks at events worldwide.

Get To Know Dr. Lutter

Dr. Lutter shared her experience at her first job, what sparked her passion for nutrition, and a book that continues to influence her work.

My first job had nothing to do with nutrition, but rather my plans to become a forest ranger in the High Sierra’s of California where I grew up. One winter, as part of a biology project, I studied the mating behaviors of Belding ground squirrels in Yosemite. I spent a lot of time watching and waiting for something exciting to happen, which it did once mating season came around!

My life trajectory was changed when I lived in Guatemala as a volunteer after graduating from college. I had never seen malnourished children, stunted because of poor nutrition and preventable illnesses in early childhood, which could have been prevented by access to more nutritious foods and water and sanitation systems. I decided to change career aspirations and return to school to obtain a master’s and PhD degree in nutrition, with a focus on maternal and child nutrition. A summer collecting data in Costa Rica and a year in Colombia deepened my love for Latin America and commitment to global nutrition policies and programs.

The Children of Santa Maria Cauque: A prospective Field Study of Health and Growth by Leonardo Mata (1978) describes the life of children in an Indigenous community in Guatemala. Because of poor maternal nutrition, children at birth already suffered the consequences of poor nutrition in utero. Although they thrived on breastmilk early in life, once complementary foods of poor nutritional quality were introduced their growth took a turn for the worse. Compounded with frequent preventable infections and vaccine-preventable illnesses their risk of early death increased. The determinants underlying these immediate causes included lack of good governance – including political, financial, social, and public sector actions to enable children’s and women’s right to nutrition. The book is as relevant today as 45 years ago as RTI International works on programs to prevent malnutrition by addressing these underlying determinants.

Get in Touch

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