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Acculturation and Diet of Latino Youth - A critical review of the literature

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Author's Reflection

My interest for conducting my Culminating Experience (CE) MPH project on acculturation and its association to obesity comes from my experience as a young Latina immigrant. I was 18 and my siblings were four, 13, and 16 years old when we migrated to the U.S. My youngest sister was born in San Francisco. All of us have different diets, but the three of us who migrated at an older age seem to have healthier diets than the ones who were native born or were raised in the American culture. I was always curious to find out the underlying factors that influenced us all in making decisions about food. When growing up my mom would cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for us. My siblings and I were encouraged and at some point forced to eat food even if I did not want to. My mom used to say, "Aprende a comer de todo, para que en tiempos de necesidad, no sufras por tener solo una zanahoria para comer." ("Learn to eat everything, so when rough times approach and you only have a carrot to eat, you don't suffer.")

In the U.S., everyday after her work, my mom would rush to try to cook dinner for us. Weekends were time for family gatherings where we would eat more of mom's food. The dishes my mom prepared were close to our ethnic cultural food. As my siblings grew up, I realized my little sisters started to dislike or not want my mom's food. They desired to eat hamburgers, fries, soda, chips, etc. and would refuse to eat my mom's food. They both didn't seem to enjoy our family gatherings around food, unless they saw their food on the table.

Abstract

Latino youth, who are newcomers in the United States and are adjusting to a new life, could be at risk of developing or acquiring behaviors that are related to obesity: sedentary activities and fast-food consumption. The Latino population in the U.S. goes through a process of acculturation through which there is an exchange of traditional diets of vegetables, meats and whole grains for more processed, fatty, and sugary food. As Latino children and adolescents acculturate to the American society and culture, they are at risk of gaining weight, and developing chronic diseases such as obesity and type II diabetes. Studies on acculturation usually use simple measures such as language use and birthplace and neglect contextual and structural factors such as food and eating practices, food accessibility and availability, parents' beliefs about food and perceptions of children's weight. A multidimensional comprehensive approach of the study of acculturation is needed to understand how dietary patterns of Latino children and adolescents change over time. This paper explores the literature on acculturation research studies that expose acculturation factors that influence diets of Latino youth.

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