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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

GW Research Examines How Caregivers Navigate ‘Food Deserts’ to Feed Children

Poor, predominantly minority and African-American neighborhoods tend to have a limited number of supermarkets and large grocery stores. Instead, residents rely on corner stores that typically stock highly processed, low nutritional value food. Previous research has linked living in these so-called food deserts with a nutritionally poor diet.

Dr. Uriyoán Colón-Ramos, an associate professor of global health at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, and her colleagues, did a qualitative study using the Photovoice approach to gain a deeper understanding about how parents and other caregivers navigate the nearby desert or go outside the neighborhood to find a better variety of foods. The paper, “How do African-American caregivers navigate a ‘food desert’ to feed their children? A Photovoice narrative” appeared online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on June 19.

The Photovoice approach is a participatory qualitative research method in which participants were asked to take photographs documenting and describing their lives. The research team interviewed 16 African American primary caregivers of children under the age of 10 who lived in one or two adjacent low-income neighborhoods in Washington, DC. The researchers initially conducted a 40-minute interview with each parent or caregiver. Afterward, the caregivers took photos over a 3-to-4-day period that documented what made it easier or harder for them to provide foods that they wanted for their families. Researchers then conducted a secondary interview with caregivers for them to examine the photos and describe the scenes they depicted.

The participatory approach also aimed to find out how to engage community residents around nutrition, even though there are other priorities in the lives of these residents. To improve nutrition in food desert neighborhoods, the participants in this study said that researchers should first tackle the root causes of nutrition disparities, such as the lack of affordable housing, jobs and transportation.

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