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US Latina immigrants

Complex obesity issues influence US Latina immigrants

Healthcare providers need to recognise the complex influences behind eating behaviours among immigrant Latinas

A systematic review of qualitative studies focusing on food patterns in Latina women has reported that current qualitative studies on eating behaviour do a poor job at differentiating Latino populations by country of origin. The study, published in Nursing Research, is the first of its kind to address the qualitative literature regarding the food patterns of Latinas living in the US.

"The review focuses on women in particular, because they are usually the primary caretakers, with responsibility for food-related decisions," said NYU College of Nursing student researcher Lauren Gerchow. "We performed this analysis in the hopes of identifying common food patterns across Latino culture and within Latino subcultures, and to inform future research by determining gaps in the existing literature."

Gerchow encountered several disparities in her review of thirteen studies, through which she was able to outline the complexity surrounding this issue and provide recommendations for future research on this topic.

"A particularly troubling discrepancy found was that the definition of Latino varied considerably between studies, with four even considering Latinos a single ethnic group with no cultural differentiation for analytical purposes," she said. "We found that these purportedly qualitative studies, of which findings are not supposed to be generalisable, were consistently reporting ways their findings could be generalized across Latino populations."

The researchers found that despite researchers and providers acknowledging the importance of cultural differences based on country of origin in this population, there was no change in practice or methods of the studies. Contributing to the need for specification is the fact that food words vary between countries, therefore Latinos may be unable to rely on each other for proper translation when it comes to making informed, healthy decisions.

The immigrant experience pervades every aspect of an immigrant Latina's life," said Gerchow, and ultimately influences the dynamics that become barriers and facilitators to healthy food choices. Such barriers include changes in routines and circumstances such as snacking, the availability of fast food, and the cost of healthy foods. Furthermore, socioeconomic status, lack of transportation, and a lack of nutritional knowledge and education, were all found to be barriers to healthy food patterns."

The results of her analysis indicate that healthcare providers need to recognise the complex influences behind eating behaviours among immigrant Latinas in order to design effective behaviour change and goal-setting programs to support healthy lifestyles. In order for such a level of recognition to be achieved it is imperative that future studies limit overgeneralisation in this population.

"Our study identifies some of the unique similarities in Latina behaviour patterns among the diverse ethnic group while encouraging future studies to limit overgeneralisation in this population and identifying gaps in the literature, which future research can begin to investigate," she concluded.

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