Contextual Determinants of Food Security in Southern Hispanic and African-American Neighborhoods

Year: 2002

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Bentley, Margaret E., Sonya Jones, and Janice Dodds

Institution: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Project Contact:
Margaret E. Bentley
The University of North Carolina
Department of Nutrition
4115-C McGavran-Greenberg, CB 7400
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400
Phone: 919-843-9962


Since 1995, when the Federal Government began monitoring food insecurity, African-American and Hispanic households have had consistently higher rates of food insecurity than the overall U.S. population. This study examines whether community-level factors in predominantly minority neighborhoods can help to explain the higher rates of food insecurity among minority households.

Previous research has found that accessibility of food varies with the level of residential racial segregation and that supermarket access is associated with average dietary quality in a community. The authors conducted a community-based participatory study, in partnership with residents of predominantly minority neighborhoods, to identify the most important community factors that relate to household food insecurity.

The authors held focus groups and photography sessions with residents of six predominantly minority neighborhoods in Durham, NC. They used two innovative methods to gain an “insider’s perspective” of community factors related to food insecurity. First, all participants were asked to use cameras to identify and record the aspects of their communities that they thought were important in supporting their efforts to eat healthful, adequate diets. Second, participants analyzed data from the focus groups to identify the salient themes among members of their neighborhood research group. In addition, 12 members of the neighborhood research groups participated in individual interviews to explore further their personal experiences with food insecurity.

Participants in the study identified dietary quality as their primary food-related concern. They expressed concerns about five aspects of dietary quality: taste, freshness, balance, variety, and nutrient density of foods. They identified community factors that influence their diet quality, including access to fast food restaurants and food stores, the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Food Stamp Program. Hispanic participants expressed concern about their children’s dietary habits related to their greater acculturation to “fast foods.” However, many participants recognized the importance of fast food restaurants as community centers and as the only source of safe playgrounds in some minority neighborhoods.

This study identified community factors, such as accessibility of retail food and food assistance programs, related to food insecurity in predominantly minority neighborhoods in Durham, NC. The authors noted that quantitative analysis is necessary to test the relationship between community characteristics and household food insecurity. The qualitative research could help to identify possible community-level policies that might help reduce household food insecurity.