Effects of Weight History, Resource Cycling, and Fast Food on Overall Diet Quality and Health in Low-Income Louisiana Women

Year: 2004

Research Center: Southern Rural Development Center, Mississippi State University

Investigator: O’Neil, Carol E., and Pamela A. Monroe, and Vicky Tiller

Institution: Louisiana State University

Project Contact:
Carol E. O’Neil
Human Nutrition and Food Division
School of Human Ecology
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803
Phone: 225-578-2281


Obesity is associated with health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Low-income women are more likely to be overweight or obese than those with higher incomes. The purpose of this project was to study the weight and diet of women receiving food stamps and to assess their understanding of diet, health, and food choices that contribute to obesity. Interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 64 women receiving food stamps to determine food security status, diet history, and perception of diet and weight.

A modified version of the USDA food security short form was used to determine the women's food security status: food secure (FS), food insecure (FIS), and food insecure with hunger (FISH). Twenty-nine subjects were food secure (FS), 26 were food insecure (FIS), and 9 were food insecure with hunger (FISH).

After determining the women’s food insecurity status, the study used the National Institutes of Health Criteria to calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI) by using their stated height and weight as measured by the researchers. The average BMI for each food security group was in the obese range. When asked to select a silhouette that matched their BMI, on average, all three groups chose a figure in the overweight group; and when asked to select their desired BMI, all groups selected a BMI in the normal weight range. FISH individuals were the least likely to identify themselves as obese (33 percent), while 44 percent of FS and 53 percent of FIS individuals were able to identify correctly their weight status.

Diet histories determined that the overall diet quality of the women was very poor: Both at the beginning of their resource cycle (Day 1), when they received their food stamps, and at the end of their resource cycle (Day 2). In all groups, energy intake dropped from the beginning of the month. Average intake of protein, carbohydrates, and total fat was within recommended ranges. However, for Day 1, the percentage of women exceeding recommendations for total fat was 41, 38, and 44 for FS, FIS, and FISH, respectively. For Day 2, these percentages were lower, with the exception of the FS group which maintained the same level of fat intake. Average saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium levels exceeded recommendations for all groups on both days of the resource cycle. All three groups reported a very low intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy for both days.

Women self-rated their eating habits, the nutritional quality of their diet, and their knowledge of nutrition. Sixty-two percent of FS women rated the nutritional quality of their diet as poor/fair, while 65 percent of FIS women and 78 percent of FISH women rated their dietary quality as poor/fair. Fifty-nine percent of FS women ranked their eating habits in poor/fair range, whereas 54 percent of FIS women and 44 percent of FISH women did. Finally, 45 percent of FS women rated their nutrition knowledge as fair/poor, whereas 62 percent of FIS and 67 percent of FISH women did. When asked, the overwhelming majority of women were unable to define a healthy meal as outlined by the Food Guide Pyramid regardless of how they rated their own nutrition knowledge or eating habits.

About half (49 percent) of the total sample reported having received formal nutrition education through programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). In the FS group, 47 percent reported having had some nutrition education, and 52 percent of FIS group reported some exposure to nutrition education. Thirty-three percent of the FISH group reported receiving some type of nutrition education.

The study results underscore the lack of nutrition knowledge among low-income women. The research can aid policymakers, nutrition educators, and the women themselves understand more fully the relationship between food choices, past and present weight, and health status.