An Evaluation of Attitudes Among the Navajo Nation Community Towards Increasing the Availability and Affordability of Healthy and Traditional Navajo Foods in Local Convenience Stores
Author: Laura Nicholson, MD Class of 2018
Mentor(s): Sonya Shin, MD, MPH; Emily Piltch, Ph.D.
PURPOSE: American Indian (AI) communities experience a large number of health challenges, including higher rates of chronic disease compared with other populations in the U.S. Although many factors underlie poor health outcomes, limited access to healthy food has been identified as one of the key drivers of health disparities in rural AI communities. Small stores on the Navajo reservation often have limited healthy options, sold at higher prices compared to similar stores off the reservation. We sought to understand the perspective of local customers on the availability and pricing of healthy foods and traditional Navajo foods in local small stores.
METHODS: We held three focus groups in the Navajo Nation chapters of Ramah, Blue Gap and Sheep Springs. A total of 27 community members who reported shopping at their local small store participated in the groups. Focus groups were conducted in English. Interviews were transcribed and coded according to themes, which were analyzed using standard qualitative techniques.
RESULTS: Preliminary findings show that community members encounter barriers when shopping for healthy food locally. These barriers include cost, value and quality, freshness, limited variety, and low availability of healthy foods. There are mixed opinions on whether enough frozen foods are available in local stores and whether more frozen produce should be offered. Many participants feel that traditional Navajo food options in local stores are limited. There is interest in increasing offerings of Navajo foods and fresh produce, and concerns about higher costs of fresh produce.
CONCLUSIONS: The needs and concerns of community members must be taken into consideration to provide more healthy, affordable food for their communities. Linking retailers to local producers – including traditional Navajo foods – and finding ways to reduce costs to the consumer could be effective strategies to increase access to affordable, local healthy food. A better understanding of consumer perspectives will inform strategies to partner with community members and local retailers.