The good nutrition news is that children in poor, rural parts of the Lower Mississippi Delta are a lot more willing to try fresh fruits and vegetables than generally believed, even by their parents or the kids themselves. The bad news is that such foods are often in short supply in an area where gas stations and convenience stores are the closest places to buy food and where growing family gardens has given way to long work commutes by parents – and that the situation is growing worse with a worsening economy.
Two presentations drawing from a multi-year nutrition research program in Delta summer camps and schools were presented on April 19 at the Experimental Biology 2009 meeting in New Orleans as part of the scientific program of the American Society for Nutrition. The ongoing research program is being conducted under the direction of research nutritionist Dr. Beverly McCabe-Sellers, US Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service, Little Rock, Arkansas, and is part of the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit (OPRU) headed by Executive Director Dr. Margaret Bogle.
The research arm of the Delta OPRU works with local communities to understand obstacles to better nutrition in the Lower Delta (including rural parts of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi), which leads the nation in the rising prevalence of obesity in both adults and children.
The challenge to having more fruits and vegetables in the diets of youngsters is not their unwillingness, she says, nor is it necessarily the admittedly low income in the area. Potato chips are not inexpensive, but the children often had small bags of them for every meal. The largest challenge, she believes from her experience, is the difficulty in obtaining quality fresh produce at a reasonable cost in these rural areas far away from distribution centers.