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An Ecological Approach to Understanding Factors that Influence Dietary Practices in African-American Children and Their Caregivers

Angela Odoms-Young PhD, Northern Illinois University, Shannon Zenk, PhD, University of Illinois at Chicago, Robin Jarrett, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

African-Americans are disproportionately at risk for childhood overweight as compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Effective intervention and treatment strategies to address the needs of this population have been limited. Understanding factors that contribute to weight-related behaviors in African-American families is essential for developing successful approaches to address racial/ethnic disparities in childhood overweight, as well as the increasing national prevalence of obesity overall.

Project design and subject selection
This study uses a mixed-method approach to identify multiple factors (i.e. individual, interpersonal, community/neighborhood) that influence dietary practices of African-American families residing in a low-income community in the Chicago area. The study takes an asset-based (or strength-based) vs. deficit approach to understanding the lives of families with limited resources. A series of semi-structured, in-depth individual interviews will be conducted with 12 African- American women with children ages 2-5, recruited from community-based organizations and agencies within the Englewood neighborhood. Englewood was targeted for the study: because 1) evidence suggests that communities with high rates of poverty (>40%) face significant barriers to weight management and obesity prevention and 2) investigators are currently involved in a community partnership focused on developing programs to address health concerns of families living in this area.

Methods for data collection and analysis
Individual interviews will specifically focus on issues believed to influence usual food consumption patterns including daily activities, social/family networks and social support, parenting practices, household budgeting and food shopping, neighborhood perceptions, and child/caregiver health and nutrition beliefs. The open-ended nature of the interviews allows participants to describe issues from their own perspective vs. being limited by the investigators' conceptualization of the issues. To learn more about food access and availability, a neighborhood ethnography and quantitative/qualitative assessment of the food environment will also be conducted. The neighborhood food assessment will focus on availability and quality of healthy/unhealthy food products and characteristics of local store/restaurant environments. Grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1990) will be the key methodological strategy for analyzing the interview and observational data. An inductive methodology, grounded theory facilitates the discovery of meanings, social processes, and social interactions as they emerge from the data. Qualitative data analysis also will rely on Miles and Huberman’s Qualitative Data Analysis (1984), which provides strategies for managing large quantities of data through visual displays and aides in data reduction. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and ArcView 3.3 will be used to analyze retail food establishment data.

Anticipated results
It is anticipated that results will reveal factors that encourage both positive and negative influences on dietary behaviors. Expected results will provide insights into the role of individual characteristics, family, institutions and environment in shaping children’s food behaviors and strategies used by low-income women to obtain food for their families in the face of limited resources and competing priorities.

Significance of this work
It is anticipated that study findings will help expand knowledge related to developing culturally appropriate programs for African-American families to reduce barriers to weight management and obesity prevention. Research findings will be disseminated to local and national community-based and policy organizations. Reports will also be provided to participating families and agencies.

Acknowledgments and contact info
This project is supported by a seed grant from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). We also would like to acknowledge assistance from students from the UIC-HCOP program, W/E HELP partnership, and Cook-County Bureau of Health Services ACHN-Woodlawn and Englewood Health Centers for providing feedback or assisting with preliminary data collection.

For more information contact the Lead Investigator: Angela M. Odoms-Young, Northern Illinois University, School of Allied Health, Public Health and Health Education, Dekalb, IL 60115. Phone: (815) 753-6324, Email:


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CLOCC: Taking on childhood obesity in Chicago