Joseph R. Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.

Dr. Sharkey examines food insecurity among Mexican-origin households in colonias along border

July 13, 2011

Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD, professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health, is lead author of an article titled “Association of Household and Community Characteristics with Adult and Child Food Insecurity among Mexican-Origin Households in Colonias along the Texas-Mexico Border,” published recently in the International Journal for Equity in Health.

Dr. Sharkey, who is in the social and behavioral department at TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health, also serves as director of the Center for Community Health Development’s (CCHD) core research project and director of the Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities.

“There is little published data that provides insights regarding the extent and severity of food insecurity among the hard-to-reach Mexican-origin families who reside in the growing colonias along the Texas border with Mexico,” Dr. Sharkey said. “Considering that culture, economics and elements of the environment may increase the risk for food insecurity and adverse health outcomes, the purpose of this study was to examine the relation between household and community characteristics and food insecurity.”

Four team promotoras conducted a door-to-door survey in 44 randomly identified colonias near two communities in South Texas and interviewed 610 women in Spanish. According to the article, 78 percent of households experienced food insecurity, a much higher prevalence than previously reported among Hispanic adults and children in national and regional studies. The most severe food insecurity – child food insecurity – was reported by 49 percent of all households and 61.8 percent of households with children.

The study’s findings show that increased severity of food insecurity was associated with being born in Mexico, increasing household composition, decreasing household income and employment status. Reduced food insecurity was associated with participation in federal food assistance programs.

“The study suggests that systematic and sustained action on federal, state and community levels is needed to reduce household, adult and child food insecurity that integrates cultural tailoring of interventions and programs to address food and management skills, multi-sector partnerships and networks, expansion of food and nutrition assistance programs, and enhanced research efforts,” Dr. Sharkey said.

Co-authors on the paper include Wesley Dean, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor at TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health, and Cassandra Johnson, M.S.P.H., research associate and research program coordinator. Both are affiliated with the CCHD core research project and Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell