Though diet-related diseases are more common in the Delta, a few residents
who took part in a recent ARS-funded survey did not realize the extent
of the problem and did not know there were screening programs in their
communities. Only 16 percent of males and 22 percent of females identified
diabetes as a significant health problem in the region. And only 20
percent overall knew there were places to go for quick diabetes testing.
Survey Says . . .
One of Delta NIRI's goals is to intervene where they find a need for
increased awareness. A telephone survey collected self-reported food-intake
data from a representative sample of households in 36 lower Delta counties
in the 3 states to compare with national survey data. The Foods of Our
Delta Study (FOODS 2000) provides baseline data that could be used to
develop future nutrition interventions. Results showed that children
and adults of all ethnic groups, but especially African Americans, have
reasons to be concerned. For example, children had lower intakes of
vitamins A, C, riboflavin, B6, calcium, and iron than the national average.
Another study used a USDA 18-question module to determine residents'
"food security," or economical access to sufficient amounts
of safe and nutritious food. The researchers hoped to confirm earlier
studies that found food security to be a good measure of child health,
development, and behavior. They found that, indeed, children in households
with poor food security scored much lower on measurements of health
status and physical and psychosocial functioning than children in food-secure
The team also convened 37 focus groups to determine perceptions Delta
residents have about buying and eating healthy foods and to determine
which factors influence their behaviors. Researchers will use this data
to find ways to help consumers there make healthier choices.
"Several themes were common to all focus groups: People needed
food-preparation skills, many did not know what foods to eat, shopping
in a supermarket was mostly once a month, 'healthy foods' were too expensive,"
Bogle says. "Others thought the solution to changing food choices
was to have someone else prepare all the food for them or to eat out
In addition, 228 stores were chosen at random to determine the characteristics,
availability, styles and package types, quality, and prices of 102 food
items, including 67 on the USDA Thrifty Food Plan, a meal plan that
demonstrates how a healthy diet can be achieved on a modest budget.
The stores were located throughout 18 of the 36 Delta counties or parishes
in the 3-state partnership. The survey found that a lack of variety
and poor nutritional quality of foods limits shoppers' ability to eat
One important finding was that convenience stores outnumber supermarkets
and smaller grocery stores in the region. Most convenience stores have
fewer healthy foods and higher prices. Many residents must travel long
distances to a full-service grocery store.
Consortium researchers now know what the study population is eating.
They also know the perceptions Delta residents have about buying and
eating healthy foods. The next step is to determine the factors that
influence their food choices and to help residents choose more healthful
In one study, conducted by Delta NIRI partners at the University of
Southern Mississippi, African American preteens (ages 10 to 13) were
interviewed to find out how they preferred to learn about nutrition.
They found that young boys wanted to have tasting parties and get the
messages from popular cartoon characters, while girls preferred learning
nutrition by cooking different foods themselves. The study showed that
methods have to be active, involve family members, and possibly be different
for boys and girls.
Discovering common perceptions in the Delta often involves the researchers
going out to isolated communities and meeting with their leaders. Bogle
says that leaders know there is a problem and can suggest ways to reach
members of the community.
Bogle and Tim Kramer, an ARS nutritionist at Delta NIRI, worked with
consortium members to develop a model for building collaboration between
rural communities and university scientists. The model has proven effective
for conducting nutrition-intervention research and has demonstrated
how to keep community participation going while nutrition interventions
are planned, implemented, and evaluated.
"Delta NIRI has used its resources to build capacity in these
communities so they can sustain whatever gains are made through the
nutrition-intervention research. "For instance, community research
groups have completed training in community participatory planning and
evaluation," Bogle says. "This has helped them to interact
in our organization as well as with other groups with whom they may
Delta NIRI recently presented $50,000 grants to three rural communitiesone
in each of the three study states. These local research groups, which
also include ARS and university partners, have identified and prioritized
food and nutrition problems in their communities and are designing nutrition
interventions to determine how and why people make food choices and
how those choices may be improved.
Another unique feature of these community research groups is the collaboration
of Delta NIRI with each of the three state partners in USDA's Cooperative
State Research, Education, and Extension Service. A regional cooperative
extension person will coordinate the efforts of community research groups
and encourage more citizens to participate, all of which will be valuable
in helping sustain successful interventions after the research is completed.
"Community-based research techniques are new to human nutrition
research in ARS and within the universities that are part of Delta NIRI.
But it's state of the art for population research in rural areas and
especially for attempting to change food behaviors so that they can
be sustained into the future," Bogle says. "Delta NIRI will
continue to share our research outcomes with other professionals through
national and international meetings and publications."By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program
(#107) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
Margaret Bogle is with
the USDA-ARS Lower
Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative, 900
South Shackleford Road, Suite 509, Little Rock, AR 72211; phone (501)
954-8882, fax (501) 954-9596.
"What You Eat Can Kill You: Finding Answers to Diet-Related
Illness in the Delta" was published in the June
2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.