Academic journal article Centro Journal

“My Eyes Opened to a Healthier Life”: An Exploration of Health Choices Made by Puerto Rican Mothers Living in Pennsylvania

Academic journal article Centro Journal

“My Eyes Opened to a Healthier Life”: An Exploration of Health Choices Made by Puerto Rican Mothers Living in Pennsylvania

Article excerpt


Food and physical activity-related decisions are major factors in maintaining health (Mackert, Stanforth and Garcia 2011). Nutrition choices such as the excessive intake of carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and sodium are associated with increased obesity prevalence and illness (Healthy People 2020 2016; RieraCrichton and Tefft 2014). In addition, high caloric intake combined with low physical activity can lead to weight gain (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2014). Obesity is widespread globally and across all social gradients (Ford et al. 2011).

The United States has the sixth most overweight population in the world (World Health Organization 2014). However, the obesity epidemic affects the Hispanic population disproportionately. In the United States, nearly 78 percent of adult Hispanics are overweight or obese (Ogden et al. 2014). In Pennsylvania, 68 percent of all adult Hispanics are overweight or obese compared to 66 percent of White, non-Hispanics and 77 percent Black, nonHispanics (Pennsylvania Department of Health 2013). Of great concern is that 53.5 percent of Hispanic children age 10-17 in Pennsylvania are overweight or obese, compared to 28.4 percent of non-Hispanic children in Pennsylvania (Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health 2012). Obesity is a serious problem because of the risk of related health comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension (Grover et al. 2015; Pulgarón 2013). The prevalence of overweight and obese individuals in the Hispanic population is particularly significant because this ethnic group is the fastest growing minority group in the United States (Aragones at al. 2014; Kornides et al. 2011).

Most studies about the weight status of Hispanic ethnic groups have been focused on Mexican Americans, the largest Hispanic subgroup in the United States. Because weight status and health choices may vary depending on the ethnic subgroup and geographic location, findings regarding Mexican Americans may not be entirely transferrable to other Hispanic subgroups (Tucker et al. 2010; Wiley et al. 2014). No studies have been conducted on the factors that influence the nutrition and physical activity choices of Puerto Rican-born mothers in Pennsylvania, a state where the largest Hispanic subgroup is the Puerto Rican population. Puerto Ricans comprise 51 percent of the Commonwealth's total Hispanic population (Pennsylvania State Data Center 2013).

Low socio-economic status is also linked to obesity (Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health 2012). In the two counties in central Pennsylvania where the study took place, nearly 50 percent of all Puerto Rican families with children under 18 live in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau 2010a, 2010b). The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore choices related to nutrition and physical activity among Puerto Rican-born mothers. Knowledge gained through this study may lead to the implementation of strategies to help Puerto Rican mothers make healthy food and physical activity decisions.

Conceptual Framework

Decision-making is a complex process (Jacquier, Bonthoux, Baciu and Ruffieux 2012). Social ecological models such as the Social Ecological Framework (SEF) have been used to explore the influence of society and environment over human behaviors (Bronfenbrenner and Ceci 1994; Kaiser and Baumann 2010; Yan et al. 2014). In the SEF, human behaviors are affected by the back and forth influences of society and the environment. Since many Puerto Ricans travel or have communication between the island and the mainland (Duany 2010), these individuals' health choices are influenced by family, the immediate social setting, the larger community, and environmental settings on the Island and mainland (Riportella 2005; Stokols, Lejano and Hipp 2013). Examples of environmental forces that influence people are available food supplies, the women's labor force working outside the home, and proximity of fast-food restaurants in neighborhoods (Schneider and Stokols 2009). …

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