Cultural models of food and social networks among Mexican immigrants in the southeast United States

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This project used biocultural medical anthropology, cognitive anthropology, and social network analysis to examine the interrelationships among cultural knowledge, eating behaviors, and diabetes risk among a sample of Mexican immigrants in Alabama. Cultural domain analysis examined the cultural models of food among Blacks, Whites, and Mexicans (n = 81). A separate sample of Mexican immigrants (n = 50) participated in interviews about food beliefs and behaviors, migration, and social integration. A formal personal social network analysis was completed, as were anthropometric measurements and the collection of a whole blood sample from which to analyze percent hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c). It was hypothesized that distinct cultural models of food would characterize the three ethnic groups. Increased social network interaction with Americans was expected to be positively correlated with Mexican immigrants' competence and consonance in American cultural models of food. Finally, it was hypothesized that increased competence in American cultural models of food and increased social network interaction with Americans would negatively affect immigrants' risk of diabetes. Key distinctions were found among the three models, especially with regard to the salience of fruits and vegetables. Variation was evident in the competence in the cultural models of food along four dimensions of meaning--health, cost, convenience, and the desirability of foods. The personal social network analysis indicated that Mexicans were mainly interacting with White Americans, with varying frequency of interaction. The proportion of one's network with which one shares meals was an important variable in this project, as it was associated with competence in the American model of food . In the final logistic regression analysis, having an HbA1c percent above normal was predicted by competence with the White model of desirability that prefers unhealthier foods to fruits and vegetables as well as having at least one American alter with whom one shares meals on a weekly basis, controlling for age and moderate exercise. This project advocates for attention to social structural factors, cultural knowledge, and cultural consonance when examining the social production of health among immigrant groups in America.

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Cultural anthropology