Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Matt Sponheimer

Second Advisor

Herbert Covert

Third Advisor

Darna Dufour

Abstract

It has been argued that there is an inverse relationship between health and socioeconomic status (SES). Individuals of low SES, as defined by low levels of education and income, are more likely to have poor health and higher observed rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity. The federal government, primarily the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Health and Human Services have responded with various nutritional policies and subsidies that strive to diminish disparity and promote overall good health. These policies largely focus on increasing access to both supermarkets and fresh produce in low socioeconomic areas, working under the assumption that improved access will increase consumption of healthier foods. One potential limitation of recommendations from government agencies designed to increase access to supermarkets is the assumption that grocery store produce does not vary in quality from store to store or over time. If this assumption is untrue, these policies may not be sufficient to provide equal access to healthy foods.

This thesis is a preliminary examination of this fundamental assumption behind food policies and is comprised of three parts: 1) A concise literature review of the factors that affect health, especially with relation to cardiovascular disease, overweight, and obesity, 2) a description of the macronutrient components explored during this study and the analytical methodology used to understand the quality of foods in a diet, and 3) a pilot study that examines the nutritional variance of supermarket produce from disparate socioeconomic areas.

Preliminary results for the produce analyzed refute the assumption that all grocery store produce is equivalent in quality. When the samples are pooled, they are comparable to the USDA reported values. However, when samples are compared across supermarket and season, macronutrient content of these samples significantly vary. Differences between supermarkets are more strongly contributing to the observed variation than differences between seasons. Differences between supermarkets are driven to some extent by the amount of water that these fruits and vegetables contain. In general, produce purchased from the low SES supermarket contains more water than those from the high SES supermarket.