McCurdy, Karen [faculty advisor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies]
nutrition; eating habits; hispanic culture; foods; cultures; health
Before declaring myself a Human Development and Family Studies major at the end of my sophomore year, I searched for universities based upon my interest in nutrition. Since high school, I have become more health conscious and with my recent studies in human development and families, I became interested in family food choices and behaviors. Obesity is a rising epidemic in the United States and many habits, healthy or unhealthy, start with the family during childhood. I began working with Professors McCurdy and Gorman in the fall of 2007 on their Food Behavior Study, interviewing mothers with young children at a Providence pre-school about food acquisition and behaviors within the family meal setting. No questions were asked concerning actual meal and food choices, or awareness of healthy habits in the family. While gaining research experience, I also grew increasingly interested in talking more with these mothers, many low-income and Latin American, about their families. To test my assumptions that the United States has a negative effect on Latino family food choices, I created some interview questions for these mothers, specifically relating to the influence of the United States’ culture and practices on their food choices. I interviewed eight Latin American mothers who did not grow up in the US, therefore allowing them to compare their meals now and before they lived in the US. I asked about the influence of their background on their food choices now, other factors affecting their meal choices, what afternoon snacks consist of, and if they are informed on ways to prevent obesity in children. I also observed children’s packed lunches at the URI Child Development Center. To integrate all my findings, I created a meal book with quick, easy, healthy or just favorite recipes contributed from the mothers I interviewed to hand out at the pre-school. I discovered that the US culture has actually educated many Latin-American families about the negative health effects of cooking with oil, a common practice done in abundance in Latin countries. Even though there is less fresh food available in the US and more unhealthy ‘fast food,’ most mothers were aware of healthy habits to incorporate into their family now, such as more outside time and less TV time, plus cooking with less oil and with more vegetables, and eating less sugar.