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Document Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Nutrition

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded

2013

Month Degree Awarded

September

Keywords

Food Insecurity, Acculturation, Immigrant

Abstract

ABSTRACT

FOOD INSECURITY AND CULTURE- A STUDY OF CAMBODIAN AND BRAZILIAN IMMIGRANTS

SEPTEMBER 2013

SARVNAZ MODARRESI GHAVAMI, B.S., IRAN UNIVERSITY OF MEDICAL SCIENCES

M.S., UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AMHERST

Directed by: Jerusha Nelson Peterman

Vulnerable immigrant populations such as refugees and undocumented immigrants are at higher risk for food insecurity and its health consequences than other low- income populations. Acculturation and adaptation of certain coping strategies, as well as certain characteristics, make these populations vulnerable to food insecurity.

This thesis focuses on two of the understudied immigrant populations in Lowell, Massachusetts: Brazilian immigrants and Cambodian refugees and immigrants. To better understand food insecurity, acculturation, and coping strategies of these immigrant populations, we conducted a mixed-methods study with two Brazilian focus groups (n=16) and three Cambodian focus groups (n=21). We assessed 1) food security experiences, 2) the role of acculturation in the aspects of food security status, and 3) the role of coping strategies in the food insecurity and acculturation of these populations.

Participants were similar with respect to age, income, length of stay in the U.S. across both Brazilian and Cambodian groups. Native language was the preferred language spoken at home. In quantitative survey analyses, Cambodians participants experienced higher rates of food insecurity compared to Brazilians (91% vs. 25%, p<0.001). Cambodians experienced greater food hardship in their home countries compared to the Brazilian immigrants (66.6% vs. 43.7%). Throughout the focus groups, Cambodians talked about a difficult food environment in which desired foods were not available or accessible to them. In contrast, the Brazilians seemed to enjoy a suitable food environment. Dietary acculturation was also evident in both groups. However, Cambodians expressed more indications of adapting to what they considered an American diet. Also, Cambodians seemed to engage in more risky strategies that could potentially exacerbate their food security status and health than Brazilians.

These results suggest that some of the possible contributing factors to the higher rates of food insecurity in the Cambodian groups are their employment of risky coping strategies, as well as the difficult food environment. The difficult food environment along with their past food experience might have played a role in the greater dietary acculturation in the Cambodian groups.

First Advisor

Jerusha Nelson Peterman

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