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Open Access Research article

Using direct observations on multiple occasions to measure household food availability among low-income Mexicano residents in Texas colonias

Joseph R Sharkey1234*, Wesley R Dean134, Julie A St John34 and J Charles Huber5

Author Affiliations

1 Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, MS 1266, College Station, TX, USA

2 Department of Social and Behavioral Health, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX, USA

3 Center for Community Health Development, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX, USA

4 Comidas Saludables & Gente Sana en el Sur de Tejas (Healthy Food and Healthy People in South Texas), School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX, USA

5 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Rural Public Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center, College Station, TX, USA

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:445  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-445

Published: 29 July 2010

Abstract

Background

It has been recognized that the availability of foods in the home are important to nutritional health, and may influence the dietary behavior of children, adolescents, and adults. It is therefore important to understand food choices in the context of the household setting. Considering their importance, the measurement of household food resources becomes critical.

Because most studies use a single point of data collection to determine the types of foods that are present in the home, which can miss the change in availability within a month and when resources are not available, the primary objective of this pilot study was to examine the feasibility and value of conducting weekly in-home assessments of household food resources over the course of one month among low-income Mexicano families in Texas colonias.

Methods

We conducted five in-home household food inventories over a thirty-day period in a small convenience sample; determined the frequency that food items were present in the participating households; and compared a one-time measurement with multiple measurements.

After the development and pre-testing of the 252-item culturally and linguistically- appropriate household food inventory instrument that used direct observation to determine the presence and amount of food and beverage items in the home (refrigerator, freezer, pantry, elsewhere), two trained promotoras recruited a convenience sample of 6 households; administered a baseline questionnaire (personal info, shopping habits, and food security); conducted 5 in-home assessments (7-day interval) over a 30-day period; and documented grocery shopping and other food-related activities within the previous week of each in-home assessment. All data were collected in Spanish. Descriptive statistics were calculated for mean and frequency of sample characteristics, food-related activities, food security, and the presence of individual food items. Due to the small sample size of the pilot data, the Friedman Test and Kendall's W were used to assess the consistency of household food supplies across multiple observations.

Results

Complete data were collected from all 6 Mexicano women (33.2y ± 3.3; 6.5 ± 1.5 adults/children in household (HH); 5 HH received weekly income; and all were food insecure. All households purchased groceries within a week of at least four of the five assessments. The weekly presence and amounts of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, dairy, meats, breads, cereals, beverages, and oils and fats varied. Further, the results revealed the inadequacy of a one-time measurement of household food resources, compared with multiple measures. The first household food inventory as a one-time measure would have mistakenly identified at least one-half of the participant households without fresh fruit, canned vegetables, dairy, protein foods, grains, chips, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Conclusions

This study highlights the value of documenting weekly household food supplies, especially in households where income resources may be more volatile. Clearly, the data show that a single HFI may miss the changes in availability - presence and amount - that occur among low-income Mexicano households who face challenges that require frequent purchase of foods and beverages. Use of multiple household food inventories can inform the development and implementation of nutrition-related policies and culturally sensitive nutrition education programs.