Researchers Examine Health, Well-being of Latino Immigrant Families

AMES, Iowa – Since 2004, Iowa State University has been participating in a multi-state study to research the health and well-being of rural families who have low incomes and young children. ISU Extension and Outreach researchers are specifically examining the health and well-being of Latino immigrant families in Iowa, and have recently published findings regarding families’ ability to understand their new food environments and children’s eating practices.

“We joined the study in 2004, and since then, we’ve learned a lot about the Latino immigrant population in Iowa, particularly Latina immigrant mothers and their children,” said Kimberly Greder, associate professor and ISU Extension and Outreach program specialist. “We’re interested in rural families and their well-being, and since Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the population, we were very eager to learn more about how these families are faring in the state.”

The Iowa study has been conducted in four rural communities. Researchers found that Latina immigrant mothers see themselves as responsible for their children’s health. According to the study, many mothers are not happy with the kinds of foods their children are eating. Rather than choosing traditional, home-prepared foods, many of their children are preferring and beginning to crave canned, pre-packaged, frozen foods or fast-food. The mothers are unsure what to do about these changes since they are from countries where fresh food is available on a daily basis.

These mothers are used to preparing and consuming homemade meals and not meals from a box, Greder said. They feel the food their children consume at school isn’t “real food” because they say it is pre-made and full of preservatives.

“ISU Extension and Outreach can be a valuable resource for these families,” Greder said. “A key is connecting with families to learn what is important to them and what they want for their families – like we’ve been doing through this study – and then applying that knowledge and adapting resources to meet their needs.”

The study will continue, Greder said. Researchers will collect data again from the mothers in two of the counties from 2013 to 2014 to continue to identify applications for ISU Extension and Outreach education.