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.