Food & Latino Kids Research: Introduction and Methodology

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

Introduction

While a nationwide concern, obesity is especially prevalent among Latino children.

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. Latino youth ages 2-19 are overweight or obese compared with 28.5 percent of non-Latino white youths.1 Obesity is linked to increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, liver disease, and cancer.2

Given that Latinos are one of the fastest-growing U.S. populations, preventing and reducing obesity among Latinos will have an important impact on our nation’s health.

Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, Latino children are more likely to live in poverty,3,4 causing diet quality to suffer and increasing the risk for developing obesity.5

Limited neighborhood access to affordable, healthy foods, such as fresh produce, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products—products that tend to be offered at affordable prices in higher-income neighborhoods—is an obstacle for lower-income Latinos to have a healthy diet and body weight.6,7

Regardless of income, Latino neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets in general and only one-third as many chain supermarkets as non-Latino neighborhoods.8

These underserved Latino communities tend to have a greater concentration of convenience or corner stores with produce of poorer quality, limited selections of whole-grain products and low-fat dairy products, and higher prices.9

Predominantly Latino neighborhoods typically have Latino grocery stores (also called bodegas or tiendas). Although studies find that Latino grocery stores often offer a less expensive range of produce than nearby markets, they tend to have limited or more expensive selection of other healthy foods, such as low-fat dairy products or low-fat meats.10–12

In recent years, a number of food retail and financing initiatives on the local, state, and national levels have been developed and implemented in underserved communities, including Latino communities.

These initiatives seek to improve the food environment in these neighborhoods by increasing access to affordable, healthy foods at stores and farmers’ markets.13–15 They also help to create jobs, bring in much-needed tax revenue, spur economic activity, and establish markets for our nation’s farmers.15

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized $125 million for the national Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), which provides funding and technical support for food retail projects across the United States through three agencies: the Treasury Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Agriculture.16

The HFFI provides incentives to encourage supermarkets and farmers’ markets to locate in underserved areas, including tax credits, zoning incentives, equipment, and financial, legal, or technical assistance. It also encourages already-established corner stores to expand their selection of healthy foods at affordable prices by subsidizing the equipment, training, procurement, and/or promotion needed to offer such foods.

HFFI also provides subsidies to food retailers so that they can expand demand and purchasing power for healthy foods by low-income consumers.

Food retail and financing initiatives are relatively new ways to prevent obesity in Latino and underserved communities. Given the urgent need to halt and reverse the obesity epidemic in these groups, it is important to understand and monitor the relative contributions of these efforts to promote availability and access to healthy food, with the ultimate aim of improving body weight outcomes.

This research review examines the relationships between supermarket availability, healthy food access, healthy food consumption, and obesity, with a focus on the Latino population.

Ongoing financing initiatives and government programs to improve healthy food consumption in low-income neighborhoods are summarized and preliminarily evaluated. Finally, the role of advertising and media as a barrier to health improvements and obesity reduction in Latino families is discussed.

Methodology

To gather peer-reviewed, published literature for this research review, keyword searches were conducted in PubMed and Google Scholar, using these search terms in various combinations: “obesity,” “food deserts,” “low-income,” “Latinos,” “minorities,” “farmers’ markets,” “food financing initiative,” “grocery stores,” “healthy food,” “tiendas,” “bodegas,” “WIC,” “SNAP,” “healthy food financing initiative,” “corner stores,” and key food marketing terms. Searches were not limited to identifying only research conducted on children because much of a child’s diet is determined by the food purchases made by his or her adult caregivers.

Additionally, we conducted more targeted searches of specific food financing initiatives identified in initial database searches. Referenced policy briefs and reports accessed on the Internet were also used to help find other peer-reviewed articles or reports from reputable government agencies or national organizations, as well as to provide information otherwise unavailable from these sources. Search limits were confined to the English language. Searches were not restricted by date or study design.

We combined and condensed all the information collected from 74 journal articles or grey papers without making any assumptions that biased the selection of these articles and used the information gathered to inform conclusions and policy implications.

We report all findings, including those where the evidence is mixed.

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

References for this section »

(1) Ogden, C. L.; Carroll, M. D.; Kit, B. K.; Flegal, K. M. Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA 2014, 311 (8), 806–814.

(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics About Childhood Obesity.

(3) BeLue, R.; Francis, L. A.; Rollins, B.; Colaco, B. One Size Does Not Fit All: Identifying Risk Profiles for Overweight in Adolescent Population Subsets. J. Adolesc. Health 2009, 45 (5), 517–524.

(4) Lopez, M.; Velasco, G. Childhood Poverty Among Hispanics Sets Record, Leads Nation: The Toll of the Great Recession; 2011.

(5) Darmon, N.; Drewnowski, A. Does Social Class Predict Diet Quality? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2008, 87 (5), 1107–1117.

(6) Larson, N. I.; Story, M. T.; Nelson, M. C. Neighborhood Environments: Disparities in Access to Healthy Foods in the U.S. Am. J. Prev. Med. 2009, 36 (1), 74–81.

(7) Kaufman, P.; MacDonald, J.; Lutz, S.; Smallwood, D. Do the Poor Pay More for Food? Item Selection and Price Differences Affect Low-Income Household Food Costs; 1997.

(8) Powell, L. M.; Slater, S.; Mirtcheva, D.; Bao, Y.; Chaloupka, F. J. Food Store Availability and Neighborhood Characteristics in the United States. Prev. Med. (Baltim). 2007, 44 (3), 189–195.

(9) U.S. Department of Agriculture. Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences; 2009.

(10) Emond, J. A.; Madanat, H. N.; Ayala, G. X. Do Latino and Non-Latino Grocery Stores Differ in the Availability and Affordability of Healthy Food Items in a Low-Income, Metropolitan Region? Public Health Nutr. 2012, 15 (2), 360–369.

(11) Sheldon, M.; Gans, K. M.; Tai, R.; George, T.; Lawson, E.; Pearlman, D. N. Availability, Affordability, and Accessibility of a Healthful Diet in a Low-Income Community, Central Falls, Rhode Island, 2007-2008. Prev. Chronic Dis. 2010, 7 (2), A43.

(12) Horowitz, C. R.; Colson, K. A.; Hebert, P. L.; Lancaster, K. Barriers to Buying Healthy Foods for People with Diabetes: Evidence of Environmental Disparities. Am. J. Public Health 2004, 94 (9), 1549–1554.

(13) Lindholm, R. Combating Childhood Obesity: A Survey of Laws Affecting the Built Environments of Low-Income and Minority Children. Rev. Environ. Health 2011, 26 (3), 155–167.

(14) Karpyn, A.; Young, C.; Weiss, S. Reestablishing Healthy Food Retail: Changing the Landscape of Food Deserts. Child. Obes. 2012, 8 (1), 28–30.

(15) Holzman, D. C. White House Proposes Healthy Food Financing Initiative. Environ. Health Perspect. 2010, 118 (4), A156.

(16) U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2014 Farm Bill Highlights; 2014.

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