Urban ethnic food stores and farmers markets appear to help curb obesity, research by UAlbany’s Dr. Akiko Hosler finds.
The study looked at food shopping habits of more than 2,200 White, Black and Guyanese adults in Schenectady, comparing neighborhood food environments, choices of food shopping venues and body mass index (BMI). Hosler and her team found a link between lower rates of obesity and shopping at ethnic markets among Guyanese population in the city. Similar results were found in Black populations that shopped at farmers markets in white populations that shopped at food coops.
The study appeared in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the study documents that the Guyanese population of Schenectady prefers shopping at ethnic markets, because many adhere to their native Indo-Guyanese diet. The same population averaged a lower BMI compared with other ethnic groups, which can be explained by the obesity-protecting effect of a traditional non-Western diet in first-generation immigrants.
“All four Guyanese markets in Schenectady were classified as healthy stores in this study,” said Dr. Hosler, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UAlbany’s School of Public Health and lead author of the study.
Research to understand the relationship between the food environment and obesity has progressed steadily. Evidence suggests that systematic disparities in food environments exist and that disadvantaged communities have low availability of healthy foods and stores likely to carry healthy foods.
In Hosler’s study, which examined the food shopping habits of multiple ethnic groups in Schenectady, eight of the neighborhoods studied did not have a supermarket within walking distance. Shopping at a supermarket, however, did not necessarily relate to a healthy body weight and was associated with a higher BMI in black adults. Supermarkets carry large selections of fresh fruits and vegetables but also offer volumes of inexpensive, high-caloric, nutritionally poor foods.
Dr. Hosler’s study also found an association between food pantry use and a higher BMI in Black residents, who had the highest proportion of food pantry use (33.4 percent) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation (56.9 percent).
“This suggests that food insecurity affected them disproportionately,” said Dr. Hosler. “The so-called hunger-obesity paradox could be an underlying mechanism of the positive association between food pantry use and BMI.”