Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Education

First Advisor

Welshimer, Kathleen


A food desert is defined as "a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store," (USDA, ERS, 2011). The purpose of this study was to examine how African-American residents of a rural food desert navigate their nutrition environment to obtain the foods they eat. Twenty-four in-depth interviews with 17 African-American men and seven African-American women were conducted in Alexander County and Pulaski County, Illinois. The interviews ascertained ways in which individuals navigate the nutrition environment. A quantitative assessment of the availability, price, and quality of African-American culturally-preferred dried legumes (beans), fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables was conducted with the customized Nutrition Environment Measurement Survey-Stores (NEMS-S) in 27 food venues (stores) (Glanz et al., 2007). The qualitative data was coded, categories were established, and themes were derived. The qualitative data analysis software, ATLAS.ti, 7.0 was used in the study. The quantitative data analyses were completed using SPSS 17.0 software (SPSS Inc, 2009). The availability and quality of food items were measured with a customized NEMS Scoring Sheet for Stores. The prices of food items were compared among the food venues (stores). Data obtained from interviews and food venues (stores) data were triangulated. Culturally-preferred foods remain a dietary staple. Fruit was often given as a snack to children. Changes in diet to address health problems were described as well as specific modifications to diet were made to traditionally southern and African-American food preparation. Family history and food practices that maintained the same flavors in childhood were important. Cultural traditions like gardening were also important. The respondents often settled for the convenience of food available in the area. The mean availability score was highest in the "Big Box Stores" and lowest in the gas stations-convenience stores-food marts. Prices were generally the lowest in the "Big Box Stores" and highest in the grocery stores. The "Big Box Stores" had the best quality food items. Coordinating shopping trips, carpooling, and gardening, community sharing, were ways challenges in the nutrition environment were managed. Limits of the nutrition environment were further managed through roadside markets, mobile sources, and pantries or give-a-ways. Health educators can better plan, implement, and administer culturally-appropriate interventions and strategies as well as strengthen social, environmental, and political factors that empower residents of the rural nutrition environment.




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