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Food Security, Food Practices, and Health Risks Among Pregnant and Postpartum Cambodian Women Living in Massachusetts

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Co-Principal Investigator/Co-Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Nutrition Dept.
Project Description: 

"Since the 1980's, the cities of Lowell and Lynn, Massachusetts have become home to large numbers of former refugees from Cambodia. Lowell is home to the second largest population of Cambodians in the United States. More than half of all Cambodian Americans live below the poverty line and a significant number are at high risk for food insecurity and hunger. Food insecurity has been associated with depression, poor micronutrient intake, and obesity among women of reproductive age. Purchasing nutritious foods and increasing the pregnant woman's energy intake can negatively affect the budget of a food insecure household. Pregnant Cambodians who are food insecure may alter food practices to the detriment of their intake.

Increasing opportunities for nutrition education and raising awareness of food safety programs can help to alleviate food insecurity and improve dietary practices, resulting in better health outcomes. Cambodian Americans are at higher risk for poor health outcomes than other groups in the United States. Delayed prenatal care, limited nutrition education, and low birth weight (LBW) has been widely reported among Cambodian women in the United States. Additionally, the teen birth rate among Cambodian immigrants is high and 1 in 4 Cambodian women in a recent study reported alcohol consumption during the third trimester of pregnancy. Dietary restrictions during pregnancy and the postpartum period are also common among Southeast Asians. Medicinal teas consumed during pregnancy and among breastfeeding Cambodians may present a unique risk to maternal health, the unborn child, and breastfed infants due to alcohol use in preparation. Alcohol use during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight (LBW), and developmental disabilities in infants. Research has consistently shown a relationship between LBW and chronic disease in adulthood. These findings suggest elevated risk for chronic diseases among Cambodian Americans, given the incidence of LBW and observed increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in this population. The interaction between the health risks and food practices are not well-defined in the U.S. This research will examine the these links among pregnant and post-partum Cambodian women in the United States. "