Abstract Integrated Approach to the Prevention and Reduction of Childhood Obesity in the Alabama Black Belt

Adelia Bovell-Benjamin, Ph.D., Research Professor, Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Tuskegee University

Date and Location

When (Date/Time)

October 10, 2019, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM


252 Erickson Food Science Building

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Alabama has the ninth highest obesity rates for children ages 10 to 17 in the nation.  Obesity trends for Alabama’s children also indicate striking disparities, with those of African and Latinodescent being disproportionately affected.  The Alabama Black Belt (ABB) is characterized by a predominance of African Americans, persistent poverty, low education levels, high unemployment rates, limited access to healthcare, unhealthy eating habits, negligible opportunities for healthy food or physical activity choices, high chronic disease rates and an epidemic of overweight and obesity.  Specifically, the research evaluated the impact of a culturally, sensitive nutrition and physical activity education model; its effects on dietary patterns, overweight and obesity, and documented taste preferences for fat and sweet foods in African American children in the Alabama Black Belt.  Additionally, we investigated the opportunities for healthy food choices and physical activity and characterized the food and physical activity environment in the Alabama Black Belt.  Store owners’ and consumers’ perceptions of healthy food options and convenience stores were also examined.  The percentage of children with high passing scores increased significantly from pre- to post-study.  The dietary patterns of the children revealed a diet high in sugars, meats, with low intakes of fruits and vegetables.  However, over the study period, the intake of fiber from grains while consumption of sugary, sweetened beverages decreased.  Among the children, 58% were classified as overweight or obese.  In the preintervention, moderate correlations were shown between waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) and body mass index (BMI), and BMI and waist circumference (WC), while in the post-intervention a strong, positive correlation was seen between WC and WHtR.  The mean physical activity levels of the children did not significantly differ by age, gender or counties over the study period.  In terms of taste preferences, the 9, 11, and 14-year old children mostly preferred the fatty samples.  Our findings revealed that low-income, predominantly African American neighborhoods in the ABB have limited opportunities for healthy food and physical activity choices for the prevention of obesity and obesity-related disease. Visual display of the census block groups indicated that supermarkets and convenience stores were located in areas with higher and lower incomes, respectively.  More than 50% of the convenience store owners made the decision on what foods to stock on the basis of the food’s popularity among customers.  The findings revealed that customers wanted healthful foods sold at the convenience stores in the community; however they were willing to pay a very low price for them.  The research continues to implement projects to incorporate the nutrition and physical activity education model in the curriculum of the schools in the ABB to prevent and reduce obesity, and to ensure healthy foods are accessible, available and affordable to consumers in the ABB by setting up model convenience stores in the neighborhoods.