While the labor of migrant farm workers gives the U.S. population access to
high-quality, affordable foods, migrant workers themselves often suffer
from food insecurity, malnutrition, poor health status, poverty, and low job
security. They often live and work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions that
contribute to a myriad of health, mental health, social, and behavioral problems,
including chronic health conditions, substance abuse, domestic
violence, and other co-morbid mental health problems. This study examines
critical components of health and well-being: the nutrition, food security,
and food sufficiency maintenance practices of migrant farm workers in
Pennsylvania, and the impact of food program participation on these
The study methodology involved the collection of quantitative and qualitative
data using focus group interviews and surveys in five Pennsylvania
agricultural counties. The focus groups, conducted with 117 participants,
had three main objectives: 1) to identify barriers to achieving good nutrition;
2) to understand the programmatic, social, cultural, and lifestyle
factors responsible for these barriers; and 3) to reveal practices employed to
increase food security.
The survey was administered to 401 participants. It consisted of the USDA
food security instrument, information on utilization of food assistance
programs, 24-hour dietary recall data, and demographic characteristics. The
data were compared to an existing dataset from the Current Population
Survey (CPS) to determine how factors such as ethnicity, migrant status
(seasonal, settled), and other factors affect the use of food assistance
programs among migrant workers.
Study findings indicate that the migrant population is diverse and its composition
varies from county to county. The Pennsylvania migrant population
consists mainly of Spanish-speaking workers from Mexico. Some are
""settled"" while others follow a migrant stream originating in Florida and
moving on to New York or Indiana after their work in Pennsylvania.
This study examined the food security of migrant farm workers. While the
majority of the participants surveyed were food secure, 8.9 percent were
food insecure, and 4.7 percent were food insecure with hunger. The CPS
sample indicated a higher level of food insecurity among migrant farm
workers than the Pennsylvania sample, but with fewer participants experiencing
food insecurity with hunger. A higher percentage of the
Pennsylvania sample participates in the National School Lunch and
Breakfast Programs while more of the CPS sample participates in WIC,
FSP, and food pantries.
Based on the 24-hour recall intake data, a considerable number of participants
did not meet the recommended intake levels for food groups and/or
certain nutrients. Indeed, a large number of participants reported consuming
no fruit, vegetables, or dairy products.
The focus group interviews revealed additional information that could help
explain the survey results. Participants appeared to be concerned with a
variety of nutrition and diet-related health issues, including diabetes, heart
disease, obesity, and anemia. Focus group participants cited issues affecting
their food choices such as flavor, habit, tradition, and pleasure. Reported
barriers to adequate access and consumption included the perception that
American foods are of low quality and expensive, lack of transportation,
language barriers, unfamiliarity with their community of residence and what
foods are available, and difficulty in identifying foods by their name.
Participants in all focus groups mentioned that their eating habits changed
dramatically after arrival in the United States. For example, consumption of
fresh fruits and vegetables decreased because of the perceived poor quality
and high price. Practices to attain food security included sharing with
friends and family, avoiding certain foods and beverages because of the
cost, eating larger quantities of beans, rice and tortillas, buying food on sale,
eating less, and maximizing use of leftover foods. Participants made
suggestions regarding the content and format for educational programs.
They stated that they need information about how to feed babies and children,
how to make more nutritious and cheaper food, how to use American
foods, weight loss information for both children and adults, and information
about diabetes. All focus groups mentioned that the programs should be fun
and interactive, be conducted in Spanish, and involve cooking.
Study findings indicate a need for culturally appropriate health and nutrition
education, focusing on how to prepare healthy, nutritious, and inexpensive
meals as diet-related disease risk reduction. Additional funding could
enhance existing health and nutrition education programs such as those
operating through the Cooperative Extension Service and local health
departments. Culturally appropriate educational programs could be developed
to target the migrant farm worker population. Bilingual educators
indigenous to the farm worker community could deliver them.