Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Linguistic Acculturation and Food Behaviors among Mexican-Origin Populations

  • Author(s): Langellier, Brent Alan
  • Advisor(s): Glik, Deborah C
  • et al.
Abstract

In this dissertation, I seek to examine changes in diet and other food behaviors that take place within and across generations of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. I present four studies, each of which addresses a set of common hypotheses. My first hypothesis is that well-documented shifts in diet that occur as Mexican immigrants spend time in the U.S and become more acculturated may represent just one aspect of a broader shift in food behaviors. I use data from the 2005-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and survey data that were collected as part of a community intervention study in East Los Angeles, California (East L.A. Community Survey) to examine the relationship between linguistic acculturation and a variety of food purchasing, preparation, and consumption behaviors among Mexican Americans. I present evidence of a broad shift in food behaviors as Mexican Americans acculturate, characterized by decreased home meal preparation and increased reliance on prepared and processed foods from restaurants and other food sources.

My second hypothesis is that not all changes in food behaviors that occur within and across immigrant generations are the result of exposure to and adoption of U.S. culture, and thus should not be thought of as `dietary acculturation.' Rather, I argue that much of the change in food behaviors that occurs among Mexican immigrants and their offspring may result from shifts in social characteristics such as income, education, and urban exposure. For example, many immigrants migrate from rural areas in Mexico to large urban areas in the U.S., and educational attainment and socioeconomic status improve quickly among immigrants and their offspring. I argue that these important social factors would affect food behaviors in any country, and thus it is important to differentiate between their influence and shifts in food behaviors caused by exposure to and adoption of U.S. culture.

I investigate my second hypothesis using data from adult participants in the 2006 Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutrición (National Health and Nutrition Study), a large population-based study conducted in Mexico. I examine patterns in food behaviors among Mexican adults, finding that food spending and consumption of foods prepared outside of the home increase dramatically with income, education, and urban versus rural residence. Thus, my findings suggest that many of the social differences between more-acculturated Mexican Americans from their less-acculturated counterparts would result in large social gradients in food behaviors within the Mexican population, even in the absence of exposure to and adoption of U.S. culture. I also examine my second hypothesis using data from the 2005-2010 NHANES and the East L.A. Community Survey. I assess whether any observed relationship between linguistic acculturation and food behaviors is explained by income, education, and other sociodemographic differences between more- and less-acculturated Mexican Americans. My findings suggest that much of the relationship between linguistic acculturation and food behaviors is explained by these other social factors, and thus not all changes in food behaviors that occur within and across immigrant generations should be labeled as `dietary acculturation.'

Main Content
Current View