Overall, results of this study suggest limited availability of both commonly consumed and culturally specific fruits and vegetables in food stores located in majority African-American and Latino neighborhoods. Commonly consumed fruits and vegetables were more available, with 41.7% of the items (10 of 24) available in the majority of grocery stores. Primarily due to greater availability at convenience/corner stores, stores located in Latino neighborhoods had better availability of commonly consumed fruits and vegetables compared to stores in African-American neighborhoods. This finding is consistent with some prior studies that have found restricted availability of any fruits and vegetables in African-American neighborhoods (17
). Given the scarcity of culturally specific fruits and vegetables, residents of predominately African-American neighborhoods may be at higher risk for poor dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables compared to residents of Latino neighborhoods.
Compared with commonly consumed fruits and vegetables, availability of culturally specific fruits and vegetables was limited in the majority African-American and Latino neighborhoods sampled. For example, only 6.3% of African-American items (one of 16) and 16.7% of Latino items (three of 18) were for sale in at least half of the grocery stores. Nonetheless, culturally specific fruits and vegetables were more likely to be carried at stores in neighborhoods of the predominant group. When compared to grocery stores in Latino neighborhoods, grocery stores in African-American neighborhoods, for example, were significantly more likely to carry 37.5% of the culturally specific African-American fruits and vegetables (six of 16). Moreover, as compared with grocery stores in African-American neighborhoods, grocery stores in Latino neighborhoods were significantly more likely to carry 50% of the culturally specific Latino fruits and vegetables (nine of 18). As cultural food preferences have received limited attention in neighborhood food environment research, these findings on the availability of culturally specific fruits and vegetables have important implications for both measurement and intervention.
With respect to measurement, the finding that the availability of several varieties of culturally specific fruits and vegetables (37.5% of African-American and 50.0% of Latino culturally specific fruits and vegetables) differed by neighborhood ethnic composition suggests the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables that reflect the cultural food practices of these groups into food store survey instruments. Otherwise, studies risk underestimating the availability of fruits and vegetables in African-American and Latino neighborhoods or the effect of neighborhood fruit and vegetable availability on intake. While ample data at the individual level demonstrates an association between culture and dietary intakes (49
) there is a paucity of studies exploring the relationship between the neighborhood availability of culturally specific fruits and vegetables and dietary intakes. Comprehensive assessments are vital to document racial and socioeconomic inequities in food environments, gain a clearer understanding of relationships between environmental contexts and dietary behaviors, identify appropriate targets for intervention, and evaluate these intervention efforts (51
As corroborated by prior studies, these results also suggest that interventions are needed to increase the availability of culturally specific fruits and vegetables in Latino and especially African-American neighborhoods. In one study (26
), Latino immigrants indicated that the lack of familiarity with fruits and vegetables at stores served as a barrier to their purchase. Another recent study found that even though the median cost per serving of these items were higher than other fruits and vegetables, culturally relevant fruits and vegetables such as greens and okra were more likely to be found in African-American homes (52
). In a study that found that availability of a large grocery store in the neighborhood had a stronger effect on fruit and vegetable consumption of urban Latinos than African-Americans, researchers hypothesized that grocers serving the Latino population may have offered more fruits and vegetables preferred by Latinos, which facilitated their purchase and consumption (14
). Taken together, these findings highlight the importance of working with retailers to provide fruits and vegetables that are consistent with the preferences of local residents in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
This study has limitations. First, the lists of culturally specific fruits and vegetables were not based on actual dietary intake data for the populations of interest and thus may not reflect preferred fruits and vegetables. However, the lists derived from the literature were also reviewed by experts in the field and African-American and Latino residents of the study area. Second, although acculturation has been hypothesized to influence dietary habits of Latinos in the US (53
), the study design precluded an examination of the impact of acculturation on the fruit and vegetable preferences of Latinos in the neighborhoods surveyed. Third, the sample of Latino neighborhoods were primarily Mexican-American, and these findings may not be as relevant for other large Latino subpopulations in the US such as Puerto Ricans or Cuban Americans.