Childhood Hunger

Sharkey identifies high rate of childhood hunger among Mexican-origin families in Texas border colonias

September 26, 2013
Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D.

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

A recent study shows alarming rates of child hunger among children of Mexican immigrants. The Program for Research and Outreach-Engagement on Nutrition and Health Disparities at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health also identified economic and family factors that increased the odds for child hunger as well as community strategies that reduced the odds among Mexican-origin families who reside in Texas border colonias.

The study lead by Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., Professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences and Founding Director of the program, used 2009 Colonia Household and Community Food Resource Assessment (C-HCFRA) data from 470 mothers who were randomly recruited by promotora-researchers. Dr. Sharkey and his team identified hunger among children in 51 percent of households in this C-HCFRA sample.

Participants from colonias near two small towns in two South Texas counties participated in an in-home community and household assessment. Interviewer-administered surveys collected data in Spanish on sociodemographics, federal food assistance program participation, and food security status.

“We found that the presence of hungry children in a household was associated with select maternal characteristics, such as lower educational attainment and Mexican nativity, and household characteristics, including household composition, reliance on friend or neighbor for transportation, food purchase at dollar stores and from neighbors, and participation in school-based nutrition programs,” states Sharkey. “A smaller percentage of households with child hunger, compared with households without child hunger, participated in school-based nutrition programs or used alternative food sources, while 131 households were unable to give their child or children a balanced meal during the school year and 145 households during summer months.”

Sharkey further pointed out that the households most at risk for hunger among children had increased household composition and adults who were unemployed. Sharkey and his team found that participation in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and purchasing food from a
neighbor were significantly associated with decreased odds for child hunger.

“It is unsettling that so many children did not participate in school-based nutrition programs, and that many who participated in federal nutrition assistance programs remained hungry,” states Sharkey.

This study underscores the importance of identifying the presence of child hunger among low-income Mexican-origin children in Texas border colonias and increasing access to nutrition-related resources. Hunger-associated health inequities at younger ages among colonia residents are likely to persist across the life span and into old age.

Further explorations by Sharkey and his team will focus on strategies to address child hunger with young mothers that incorporate both knowledge and skill building. Ideally, this would include the empowerment of promotoras to deliver culturally- and linguistically-appropriate interventions and strategies.

Research findings are published online in BMC Pediatrics, with Sharkey as lead author. Additional authors from the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health include Wesley Dean, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, and Courtney Nalty, M.S.P.H.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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