Promoters and Barriers to Fruit, Vegetable, and Fast-Food Consumption Among Urban, Low-Income African Americans

A Qualitative Approach

This study asked low-income, African-Americans in Philadelphia why they ate or did not eat fruits, vegetables and fast food, and found some reasons varied depending on gender and age.

Previous research on urban, low-income dietary patterns has come from an outside observer. This study sought to gain an insider’s perspective on why community members eat what they eat. So, researchers asked 40 participants—20 men and 20 women, with each gender group including 10 younger participants aged 18-35 years and 10 participants 35+ years—to “freely list” stream-of consciousness responses to visual and verbal prompts regarding foods. Most findings confirmed earlier research.

Key Findings:

  • Regardless of age or gender of participant, taste and flavor were reasons to eat foods; cost and finances were reasons not to eat foods. Cravings promoted fast foods; preferences promoted fast foods and fruits, but dissuaded people from eating vegetables. Convenience and availability promoted fast foods, but were barriers to fruits and vegetables. Health concerns prompted people to eat fruits and vegetables and discouraged them from eating fast food.
  • Women ate vegetables because they felt they “should be part of a meal;” but cited finding fresh vegetables as a barrier. Dietary concerns were reasons for them not to eat fast food; but cravings and “cheating on their diets” were reasons why they did.
  • Younger adults liked fruit because it gave them energy but, in new age-specific findings, cited time and convenience as reasons why they might not eat vegetables.
  • Older adults said they ate fast food because it was ubiquitous and vegetables because they promoted good bowel health.
  • In a new gender-specific finding, men said they ate vegetables because of influence by friends and family, most likely women who are the prime shoppers and cooks.

Further research is needed to find out how these preferences weigh against each other, but there were important differences found by food type, gender and age.