A Comparison of Food Insecurity Levels and Weight Status Among Rural- and Urban-Residing Latino/Hispanics in North Carolina

Year: 2006

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: Haldeman, Lauren

Institution: University of North Carolina

Project Contact:
Lauren Haldeman
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Nutrition
P.O. Box 26170
Greensboro, NC 27402-6170


The high prevalence of food insecurity and overweight/obesity among low-income, Latino/Hispanic households has serious implications for the health and welfare of the members of these households. Indisputable evidence indicates that proper nutrition is essential to normal development of children and that it serves as a protective factor in reducing susceptibility to illness and disease. Consequently, determining ways to avoid food insecurity and overweight/obesity is an important priority.

The problems of food insecurity and overweight/obesity are likely to manifest differently as a consequence of the availability of support systems and density of population groups. Latino/Hispanic immigrants living in rural areas likely face additional barriers that their counterparts do not face living in urban areas. Urban areas are more likely to have more services available to low-income residents of any ethnicity and consequently offer more resources to food-insecure families than those living in less populated and less service-dense areas.

The Latino/Hispanic population has extremely high rates of obesity and diabetes and increased chances of dying from certain cancers and heart disease.

The Latino/Hispanic population is particularly vulnerable as they have disproportionately high rates of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases compared with Caucasians and African Americans. Being overweight or obese is associated with most chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and cancer. Living in a rural area only compounds these issues as availability and accessibility of necessary resources are limited.

Given its potential impacts on health and well-being, understanding the determinants of food insecurity and weight status is essential. Little has been done to assess the food security levels of the increasing rural Latino/Hispanic population. This issue is of particular importance as this group, compared with non-Hispanic Whites, is at the greatest risk for poverty, poor dietary intake, and the development of diet-related chronic diseases, such as obesity.

The objectives of this study were as follows:

  • Assess the level and contributors to food insecurity and weight status in a rural Latino community.
  • Compare food insecurity and weight determinants among rural and urban Latino populations.
  • Identify barriers to food acquisition and strategies used by Latino/Hispanic families to manage limited food resources.

A convenience sample (n=126) of rural-residing, low-income Latino/ Hispanics adults were recruited and interviewed by two bilingual, bicultural interviewers. A translated and face-validated survey examining socioeconomic status and demographics; nutrition knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs; food security; strategies for managing food; food group consumption; acculturation; food assistance program participation; and anthropometrics was used for data collection. Rural data were then compared with data collected previously on an urban sample (n=166). Based on information derived from the survey questionnaire, a qualitative component involving a semi-structured interview was conducted with a subsample of the rural respondents. Interviews focused on identifying barriers to food acquisition and strategies used by families to manage limited food resources.

Rural Latinos were primarily low-income, low-educated, Mexican women that spoke Spanish only. Respondents had been in the United States on average for 9 years. Over three-quarters of the participants reported some level of food insecurity with one-quarter reporting current food stamp participation. The majority of respondents (greater than 80 percent) were overweight or obese with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 29.1 kilograms/meter2.

Latinos in rural areas are more vulnerable to food insecurity and overweight than their urban counterparts.

Both rural and urban participants were similar in demographic characteristics. However, some distinct differences were noted with regard to key variables in this study. Compared with their urban counterparts, rural Latinos were significantly more likely to have been receiving food stamps at the time of the interview, to report food insecurity, and to be classified as overweight. Although rural respondents had been living in the United States significantly longer than urban respondents (9 years versus 4.5 years, respectively), this was associated only with current food stamp use among the urban respondents. Respondents living in the United States longer were more likely to be currently receiving food stamps. Rural respondents were also more likely than urban respondents to report that eating healthy was difficult and to have a lower self-efficacy with regard to selecting healthy snacks for their children.

Logistic regression revealed that determinants of food insecurity and weight status differed between groups. For rural respondents, difficulty eating healthy was a determinant of both food insecurity and overweight/obesity. However, this was not the case for the urban sample. Food insecurity, older age, and weight gain since arriving in the United States were determinants of overweight/obesity among urban respondents.

Findings from this study indicate that rural-residing Latinos are more vulnerable than urban Latinos to food insecurity and overweight, which may be partly caused by rural Latinos having more difficulty in eating healthy and reporting less confidence in their ability to choose healthy snacks. High levels of food insecurity and overweight/obesity, however, exist among both rural and urban Latinos. Not addressed in the survey was the availability of alternative food assistance options and opportunities for nutrition education that may help explain the difficulties that rural Latinos are experiencing with regard to healthy eating. Qualitative interviews may help elucidate reasons for this increased vulnerability by identifying strategies used by rural Latinos to meet food needs.