NYU College of Nursing student researcher Lauren Gerchow, RN, BSN, has sought to identify the factors that contribute to obesity in Latino populations by compiling a systematic review of qualitative studies that focused on food patterns in Latina women. Her study was published in the May/June issue of Nursing Research.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos are the largest minority group in the country, comprising 16.7% of the population. Approximately one-third of Latinos are obese and are 1.2 times as likely to be obese compared to non-Hispanic whites.
The review focuses on women in particular, because they are usually the primary caretakers, with responsibility for food-related decisions, Gerchow said in a news release. We performed this analysis in the hopes of identifying common food patterns across Latino culture and within Latino subcultures, and to inform future research by determining gaps in the existing literature.
Gerchow encountered several disparities in her review of 13 studies, through which she was able to outline the complexity surrounding this issue and provide recommendations for future research, according to the release.
One problem she encountered was that current qualitative studies on eating behavior do a poor job at differentiating Latino populations by country of origin.
A particularly troubling discrepancy found was that the definition of Latino varied considerably between studies, with four even considering Latinos a single ethnic group with no cultural differentiation for analytical purposes, Gerchow said in the release. We found that these purportedly qualitative studies, of which findings are not supposed to be generalizable, were consistently reporting ways their findings could be generalized across Latino populations.
Gerchow and her team found that despite researchers and providers acknowledging the importance of cultural differences based on country of origin in this population, there was no change in practice or methods of the studies. Contributing to the need for specification is that food words vary between countries, so Latinos may be unable to rely on each other for proper translation when it comes to making informed, healthy decisions.
Gerchow said the immigrant experience influences the dynamics that become barriers and facilitators to healthy food choices. Such barriers include changes in routines and circumstances such as snacking, the availability of fast food and the cost of healthy foods. Socioeconomic status, lack of transportation and a lack of nutritional knowledge and education all were found to be barriers to healthy food patterns, she said in the release.