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2015 Abstracts

Changing Diet among the Congolese Refugee Population: Implications for Health and Social Integration

Madeleine Clark, University of Utah

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Traditional diets consumed by Congolese refugees are healthier than those consumed by Americans. Their traditional diet is made up of fresh foods that they cook themselves rather than processed foods or take-out. Unfortunately, Congolese refugees quickly adapt to the fast and processed food culture here in the United States and their diets become Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research 2015 113 unhealthy. The specific variables and choices that lead to this shift are not well studied. The purpose of my research is to find out what foods they initially buy when they come to the US and how their food selection gradually changes. When the research is complete, a food plan will be constructed to encourage preservation of the traditional diet, as well as warn against unhealthy food habits. My method of inquiry is to observe the Congolese refugee population in the environment of the supermarket. By going with them to the markets, I observe how they navigate an unfamiliar food market and choose what foods that to eat. In exploring dietary habits, it is essential to consider social, economical, as well as nutritional aspects. What I have found thus far is that children have a major influence on the processed foods that parents purchase. The kids are rapidly integrated into the schools and are exposed to the junk foods that other kids bring. Another factor is the expense of fresh foods versus cheap frozen pizzas. Food prices make it difficult for preserving traditional diets. Food is an essential element in social bonding, and expressing a positive identity. With more than 40,000 refugees in Salt Lake City, it is important for these people to keep this part of their culture upon immigrating to Utah. Food education for immigrants will preserve healthy habits from their food traditions as well as strengthen community bonds.