Food purchasing selection among low-income, Spanish-speaking Latinos

Dharma E Cortés, Andreina Millán-Ferro, Karen Schneider, Rodolfo R Vega, A Enrique Caballero
American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2013, 44 (3 Suppl 3): S267-73

BACKGROUND: In the U.S., poverty has been linked to both obesity and disease burden. Latinos in the U.S. are disproportionately affected by poverty, and over the past 10 years, the percentage of overweight U.S. Latino youth has approximately doubled. Buying low-cost food that is calorie-dense and filling has been linked to obesity. Low-income individuals tend to favor energy-dense foods because of their low cost, and economic decisions made during food purchasing have physiologic repercussions. Diets based on energy-dense foods tend to be high in processed staples, such as refined grains, added sugars, and added fats. These diets have been linked to a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

PURPOSE: This pilot study conducted ethnographic qualitative analyses combined with quantitative analyses to understand grocery shopping practices among 20 Spanish-speaking, low-income Latino families. The purpose was to analyze food selection practices in order to determine the effect of nutrition education on changes in shopping practices to later develop educational tools to promote selection of healthier food options.

METHODS: Participants received tailored, interactive, nutrition education during three to five home visits and a supermarket tour. Grocery store receipts for grocery purchases collected at baseline and at the end of the project were analyzed for each family to extract nutritional content of purchased foods. Nutritional content was measured with these factors in mind: quantity, calories, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and percentage of sugary beverages and processed food. Data were collected in 2010-2011 and analyzed in 2011-2012.

RESULTS: After receiving between three and five home-based nutrition education sessions and a supermarket tour over a 6-month period, many families adopted instructions on buying budget-friendly, healthier alternative foods. Findings indicate that participating families decreased the total number of calories and calories per dollar purchased from baseline to post-education (median total calories: baseline, 20,191; post-education, 15,991, p=0.008); median calories per dollar: baseline, 404; post-education, 320, p=0.008). The median grams of carbohydrates per dollar (baseline, 66, post-education, 45) and median calories from processed food (baseline, 11,000, post-education, 7845) were not reduced (p=0.06).

CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study demonstrated that grocery shopping practices are an important factor to address in nutrition education among Spanish-speaking, low-income individuals, and that there may be ways to encourage low-income, Latino families to purchase healthier foods. Findings challenged arguments suggesting that such an approach is not possible because of the high cost of healthier foods.

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