By: Hannah Ross
Two weeks ago, I discussed numerous factors that lead to food insecurity among migrant farmworkers in the United States. Not only is it very important to understand the various barriers to obtaining food, but it is also crucial to recognize the health implications that result from significant food insecurity as it is clear they are closely related. Low incomes and lack of money, infrequent consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables, insufficient time to prepare meals due to long work days, communication barriers, and the uncertainty of trying new foods are all contributors to nutritional inadequacies and other related health problems. Some of the most commonly reported deficiencies are of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Other nutritional inadequacies include: thiamin, niacin, B6, folate, phosphorous, zinc, and fiber. Calcium and riboflavin deficiencies are often due to an inadequate consumption of dairy products whereas vitamin A and vitamin C deficiencies are caused by a low consumption of fruits and vegetables (Essa 2001: 22-23). Perhaps what’s most important to recognize here is that the nutritional inadequacies migrant farmworkers experience in the United States were never a previous concern because traditional diets provided adequate sources of nutrients (Essa 2001: 19). Therefore, it is evident that the incidence of nutritional inadequacies is also caused by a lack of knowledge regarding common foods present in the United States. Prolonged nutritional inadequacies can have a detrimental effect on one’s health.
An increased risk of high-energy intake within the migrant farmworker population in the United States, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are some of the most common nutritional inadequacy-related health problems (Cason et al 5). Due to their low socio-economic status, data indicates that among the Hispanic migrant farmworker population, “energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods frequently are consumed at the expense of nutrient-dense foods” which results in:
- Marginal micronutrient intake
- Poor compliance with nutrient and food group-related dietary guidance
- Low serum concentrations of vitamins and carotenoids (Deza 2006: 6)
With a diet such as this one, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease all become common health concerns. Even when considering the high amount of physical activity farmworkers exert throughout the day, “the excess of unhealthful food often rich in fats, proteins, and carbohydrates puts migrant farm workers at risk for other nutrition-related diseases” (Deza 2006: 55).
Despite high rates of nutrition-related diseases among migrant farmworkers, they do understand the importance of having a balanced and healthy diet. In a study examining components of health and well-being among Hispanic migrant farmworkers in Pennsylvania, there was an overwhelming support for instituting nutrition education classes. Participants advocated for classes to include information on “nutrition, food safety, and diet-related health issues, including diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure” (Cason et al 155). They were also interested in learning how to use American foods because most of it was foreign to them. But most of all, having culturally appropriate information and having lessons taught in Spanish were great concerns these migrant farmworkers expressed.
Cason, Katherine, Sergio Nieto-Montenegro, and America Chavez-Martinez. “Food Choices, Food Sufficiency Practices, and Nutrition Education Needs of Hispanic Migrant Workers in Pennsylvania.” Topics in Clinical Nutrition (n.d.): n. pag. National Center for Farmworker Health.
Deza, Abel C. The Health and Nutrition of Migrant Farm Workers in South Carolina. Thesis. Clemson University, 2006.
Essa, Jumanah S. Nutrition, Health, and Food Security Practices, Concerns, and Perceived Barriers of Latino Farm/industry Workers in Virginia. Thesis. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2001.