The Availability and Variety of Healthful Foods at Convenience Stores and Trading Posts on the Navajo Reservation

Year: 1999

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: Bauer, Mark, Marvin Shorty, Emmanual Agbolooso, and Shirley L. Pareo-Tubbeh

Institution: Diné College

Project Contact:
Mark Bauer, Ph.D.
Diné College, Shiprock Campus
P.O. Box 580
Shiprock, NM 87420


A basic assumption of health and nutrition education programs is that the foods being promoted will be available. On the Navajo reservation, where the nearest source for groceries may be a trading post or convenience store, this assumption may not be valid. To test this assumption, Diné Tribal College staff and students, in partnership with the University of New Mexico, developed and administered a 69-item food inventory at rural trading posts and convenience stores across the three States encompassing the Navajo reservation. The food inventory included only “healthful foods” such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and lean meat. Interviewers asked store managers open-ended questions about the stores’ primary customers and foods most commonly sold. The sample included a total of 48 stores, with one large grocery store for comparison. Individual foods were combined into broad food categories.

The authors used analysis of variance to determine differences in food categories by State, type, and distance of store from a major grocery store. Seventy-five percent of store owners reported that local people were their primary customers, and 53 percent reported that “junk food” was the food most commonly sold, while 19 percent reported staples as the foods most commonly sold. All but five stores had at least one fresh fruit or vegetable available; the mean number of these items available was nine. Only 4 stores had 1-percent milk, and only 6 stores had skim milk available. Ninety percent of the stores accepted WIC stamps, and these stores had whole grain cereals, fruit juices, and low-fat string cheese available. There were no differences in food availability by type of store or distance from a major grocery store. However, the number of fresh fruits and vegetables and total variety differed significantly across States. Their results show that the number of healthful foods available throughout the reservation is limited, and that store owners would stock more of such foods if they were demanded.