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Delta Initiative Finding Answers to Region's Poor Health

By Jim Core
June 9, 2004

The Agricultural Research Service and collaborators are identifying the underlying causes of nutrition-related diseases in the Lower Mississippi Delta and are developing intervention strategies to help control this growing problem.

Delta residents have high rates of obesity, heart disease, strokes and cancer. Babies born there have lower birth weights and higher mortality rates. Diets that lack variety and are higher in fat are two factors that may increase the risk of nutrition-related chronic disease in that region.

The ARS Lower Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Initiative (Delta NIRI) has teamed up with six institutions of higher learning to form the Lower Mississippi Delta Nutrition Intervention Research Consortium.

One project of the consortium, a telephone survey, collected self-reported food intake data from a representative sample of households in 36 lower Delta counties in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi to compare with national survey data. The Foods of Our Delta Study (FOODS 2000) is providing baseline data that could be used to develop future nutrition interventions, according to Margaret Bogle, Delta NIRI's executive director.

Surveyors also randomly chose 228 stores where food is sold to determine the characteristics, availability, styles and package types, quality and prices of 102 food items, including 67 items on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan. This plan is used to demonstrate how a healthy diet can be achieved on a modest budget. The Food Store Survey found that a lack of variety and poor quality of foods limit people's ability to eat a healthy diet. Results showed that convenience stores are much more common in the region than supermarkets or small and medium grocery stores.

Consortium members developed a model for building collaboration between rural communities and university scientists. State partners in USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service will coordinate the efforts of community research groups and encourage more community members to participate.

Read more about this research in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine, online at:

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.