Food & Latino Kids Research: Access to Healthy Food

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This is part of our Food and Latino Kids: A Research Review »

Increased access to healthy foods in low income neighborhoods does not necessarily ensure that it will lead to improvements in residents’ diets.

Some studies some no affect on dietary improvement

Two studies of low-income neighborhoods that have reported findings without racial sub-analyses have shown that increased access to healthy foods does not affect diet quality in low-income neighborhoods.

A national study using longitudinal data observed that proximity to a supermarket was not related to diet quality in low-income young to middle-aged adult populations.27 In addition, the first controlled (one intervention neighborhood and one comparison neighborhood), longitudinal study of a PFFFI-funded project found that exposure to a new neighborhood supermarket did not significantly affect daily fruit and vegetable intake or BMI of residents at six months. Even though the community actively indicated a preference for a new food supermarket during the planning and consultation stages, relatively few residents adopted the new supermarket as their primary food store.28

Other studies found greater consumption of healthy food

In contrast, another study observed that greater access to affordable, healthy foods is related to greater consumption of such foods in underserved communities due to larger shelf space devoted to healthy foods in grocery stores, subsidies on such items, or the introduction of farmers’ markets.6

Discrepancies between studies may be due to differences in the different low-income populations analyzed. Only 2 percent of the participants in the PFFFI-funded study were Latino, while 13% of participants in the positive study were Latino.6,28

Findings from two other studies that used 24-hour dietary recalls to evaluate food consumption suggest that when given incentives, such as WIC subsidies for healthy foods or access to fresh produce in their neighborhoods, low-income Latinos (especially new immigrant arrivals) are particularly likely to improve their diets.29,30

The first study found that Latino mother-child dyads participating in WIC consume fewer calories from fat, added sugars, sodium, and sweetened beverages than African American mothers and children. Additionally, Latino mothers and children consume more vitamin A, calcium, whole grains, fruits and dairy.29 The second study found that Latino children participating in WIC consume significantly less total and saturated fat, more dietary fiber, and have better overall diet quality than their African-American couterparts.30

Two cross-sectional studies specifically assessed the relationship between access to healthy food options and purchase/intake of fruits and vegetables, which is inversely correlated with BMI.31

The benefit of farmers markets for Latinas

One study of Latino immigrant women in New York City reported that the presence of a farmers’ market within the home neighborhood was linked to greater consumption of fruits and vegetables.32 Another study focused on corner stores in Hartford, Connecticut, where nearly half of the customers were Latino and where more than half lived in an underserved neighborhood. In this study, 40% of participants were Latino. This study showed that the greater the variety of fruits or vegetables made available in the store, the more likely customers were to purchase them. Further, this study found that SNAP participants were nearly two times as likely to purchase fruit as those who didn’t receive such food subsidies.33

In contrast, one cross-sectional study of 300 Latino and African-American women in Austin and Houston, Texas, found that of the presence of grocery stores and supermarkets in neighborhoods was not linked to the intake of fruits and vegetables.

Instead, individuals’ levels of stress in response to a wide range of variables were inversely related to fruit and vegetable intake in this study.34 These findings suggest that the dietary habits of African-American and Latino women may be more significantly influenced by stress levels that affect the willingness of family providers to take the extra time to purchase and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables.

Collectively, these mixed findings suggest that building a store may be the first step toward increasing availability of healthy foods in underserved populations; to also alter dietary behavior, complementary strategies, such as reduced prices, coupons, advertising for healthy foods, and nutritional education programs (such as SNAP-Ed) may be needed.35

Dietary improvement among low-income Latino communities seems to occur with increased accessibility to healthy foods alone, more so than in other populations.

More from our Food and Latino Kids: A Research Review »

References for this section »

(27) Boone-Heinonen, J.; Gordon-Larsen, P.; Kiefe, C. I.; Shikany, J. M.; Lewis, C. E.; Popkin, B. M. Fast Food Restaurants and Food Stores: Longitudinal Associations with Diet in Young to Middle-Aged Adults: The CARDIA Study. Arch. Intern. Med. 2011, 171 (13), 1162–1170.

(28) Cummins, S.; Flint, E.; Matthews, S. A. New Neighborhood Grocery Store Increased Awareness of Food Access but Did Not Alter Dietary Habits or Obesity. Health Aff. (Millwood). 2014, 33 (2), 283–291.

(29) Kong, A.; Odoms-Young, A. M.; Schiffer, L. A.; Berbaum, M. L.; Porter, S. J.; Blumstein, L.; Fitzgibbon, M. L. Racial/ethnic Differences in Dietary Intake among WIC Families prior to Food Package Revisions. J. Nutr. Educ. Behav. 2013, 45 (1), 39–46.

(30) Kong, A.; Odoms-Young, A. M.; Schiffer, L. A.; Kim, Y.; Berbaum, M. L.; Porter, S. J.; Blumstein, L. B.; Bess, S. L.; Fitzgibbon, M. L. The 18-Month Impact of Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Food Package Revisions on Diets of Recipient Families. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2014, 46 (6), 543–551.

(31) Heo, M.; Kim, R. S.; Wylie-Rosett, J.; Allison, D. B.; Heymsfield, S. B.; Faith, M. S. Inverse Association between Fruit and Vegetable Intake and BMI Even after Controlling for Demographic, Socioeconomic and Lifestyle Factors. Obes. Facts 2011, 4 (6), 449–455.

(32) Park, Y.; Quinn, J.; Florez, K.; Jacobson, J.; Neckerman, K.; Rundle, A. Hispanic Immigrant Women’s Perspective on Healthy Foods and the New York City Retail Food Environment: A Mixed-Method Study. Soc. Sci. Med. 2011, 73 (1), 13–21.

(33) Martin, K. S.; Havens, E.; Boyle, K. E.; Matthews, G.; Schilling, E. A.; Harel, O.; Ferris, A. M. If You Stock It, Will They Buy It? Healthy Food Availability and Customer Purchasing Behaviour within Corner Stores in Hartford, CT, USA. Public Health Nutr. 2012, 15 (10), 1973–1978.

(34) Ledoux, T. A.; Mama, S. K.; O’Connor, D. P.; Adamus, H.; Fraser, M. L.; Lee, R. E. Home Availability and the Impact of Weekly Stressful Events Are Associated with Fruit and Vegetable Intake among African American and Hispanic/Latina Women. J. Obes. 2012, 2012, 737891.

(35) Committee on Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention; Food and Nutrition Board; Institute of Medicine. Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. Natl. Acad. Press 2012.

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