In one study published last year in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, we found that Mexican-American described food as central to expressing cultural identity. Yet Mexican food traditions were characterized as unhealthy; many preferred American foods, which were seen as healthier. Among the participants who expressed a desire to eat healthfully, to do so meant to reject Mexican ways of eating.
This study raises questions about the nature of the “dietary acculturation paradox.” While food—the eating of Mexican foods—is central to the maintenance of ethnic identity throughout acculturation, negative perceptions about the healthfulness of Mexican foods introduce tension into Mexican-American women’s self-identification. This study suggests a subtle contradiction that may help to explain the dietary acculturation paradox: While previous research has suggested that as Mexicans acculturate to the United States they adopt unhealthy diets, this study finds evidence that they do so at least in part due to perceptions that American diets are healthier than Mexican diets. Implications for interventions to improve Latinos’ diets include an emphasis on the family and use of Spanish linguistic cues. Finally, messages that simply advocate for “traditional” diets should be reconsidered because that message is discordant with perceptions of the healthfulness of such foods.
How would you go about designing effective nutrition education messages for this group?