In a country where obesity rates are staggering, it is hard to believe that food shortages exist. Often it is the quality, not the quantity of food that is lacking. The country’s Hispanic population is disproportionately affected when it comes to such limited availability of nutritious food.
Hispanics and Mexicans living in the United States have an increased prevalence of obesity compared to non-Hispanic whites. Forty percent of Mexican-Americans and 39.1% of all Hispanics are obese compared with 34.3% of whites (Ogden et al., 2010).1 Part of the problem is that many Hispanic-Americans live in food deserts — areas where fresh foods and healthy produce are scarce.
Quality food is hard to come by in many low-income areas, and research shows that Hispanic neighborhoods have one-third the supermarkets as non-Hispanic neighborhoods (NCLR, 2010). Further contributing to the problem, many Hispanics lack access to reliable transportation or have to drive long distances to reach a supermarket (NCLR, 2010).2 Consequently, much of the food available in these regions consists of fat and sodium-laden fast food or items sold at convenience stores.
Increasing access to healthy, inexpensive food can help improve dietary patterns. A study of neighborhood stores serving Hispanics examined the effects of fresh food availability on consumption. Compared with those who shopped at control stores, customers who purchased food at stores which offered fresh fruits and vegetables increased their consumption by a full serving (Guadalupe et al., 2009).
National policy should focus on solutions to food deserts by offering low interest loans and other incentives to companies that supply healthy food to areas in need. Stores reluctantly stock produce due to a short shelf life and difficulty with storage. In rural stores, keeping fresh goods with a short expiration date isn’t as cost-effective as stocking less nutritious shelf-stable foods with nearly indefinite lifespans.
Another strategy is to promote consumer education regarding healthier food choices when options are limited, such as choosing canned foods with low sodium or decreasing portion sizes.
Communities should also encourage farmers markets in order to supply residents with fresh produce. Readily available information and supplies for keeping small gardens could allow the growth of fresh fruits and vegetables. Mobile grocery stores and food banks could visit areas that lack supermarket access.
Finally, increasing the effectiveness of public transportation, especially in rural or unsafe neighborhoods, could improve access to food. The problem of limited food access and obesity in the Hispanic population is multifaceted. To be effective the solution must be, too.
Jessica Swanson, FNP, MSN, is in the DNP program at the University of Central Florida College of Nursing in Orlando, where Julee Waldrop, DNP, FNP, PNP, is the director of the MSN-DNP program and an associate professor.
- Guadalupe A et al. Working with tiendas to promote healthy eating, Presentation at the IOM/NRC Workshop in the Public Health Effects of Food Deserts, Washington, DC. US Department of Agriculture. January 27, 2009.
- The food environment and latinos’ access to healthy foods. National Council of La Raza. January 4, 2010. Available at http://www.nclr.org/images/uploads/pages/Jan12_Profiles_Issue_4.pdf . Accessed June 12, 2013.
- Ogden C et al. Obesity and Socioeconomic Status in Adults: United States, 2005–2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December, 2010. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db50.pdf. Accessed June 12, 2013.