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Biotech Week

Tufts University; Loss Of Familiar Produce May Increase Obesity Risk For Some Elderly Hispanics

February 25, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Biotech Week. All rights reserved.

2004 FEB 25 - ( & -- Immigrants to the U.S. often acquire new eating patterns as they become accustomed to American products and fast-food culture, a phenomenon that researchers call "acculturation." These new eating patterns can sometimes result in lower nutritional value and a subsequent rise in obesity and associated chronic conditions.

A recent study conducted by Katherine Tucker, PhD, associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and her colleagues found that while elderly Hispanics in Massachusetts follow dietary patterns that have not been strongly adapted to general U.S. patterns, they also have a high prevalence of obesity and associated chronic conditions. Unlike some other groups, where reports have shown that acculturation to American eating habits leads to poorer diets, Tucker explained, "less dietary acculturation was associated with obesity in this group of mainly Caribbean-origin Hispanics."

Tucker and colleagues Odilia Bermudez, PhD, and Hai Lin, PhD, MPH, at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University examined major dietary patterns of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants, the two most common Hispanic groups in Massachusetts. The researchers identified the association between acculturation and dietary patterns as well as the association among those dietary patterns with total and central obesity (around the torso). Their findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Study participants consisted of 449 Puerto Rican and 133 Dominican elders, and a neighborhood-based comparison group of 243 non-Hispanic white elders, all aged 60-92 years. Dietary patterns were defined by five clusters of food groups: fruit and cereal; starchy vegetables; rice; whole milk; and sweets. They discovered that Hispanics were more likely to consume the starchy vegetables and milk dietary pattern than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Furthermore, only Hispanics followed the rice pattern, which correlated with two measures of obesity and was not correlated with adaptation to the American diet.

The study provides insight into the effects of acculturation on dietary patterns in this population subgroup. Tucker and colleagues believe that consumption of highly refined grains combined with an overall lack of fruit and vegetables may contribute to weight gain and associated chronic conditions. According to Tucker, "Based on our experience, tropical fruits and a variety of root crops are readily available in Puerto Rico while here, if available, they are quite expensive, and therefore may be less consumed" (Lin H, Bermudez OI, Tucker KL, Dietary patterns of Hispanic elders are associated with acculturation and obesity. J Nutr, 133(11):3651-7).

This article was prepared by Biotech Week editors from staff and other reports.

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