Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Carol Bryant, Ph.D.

Keywords

cultural perceptions, body image, food, structural constraints, poverty

Abstract

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers play a critical role in the U.S. economy,

producing food for the American public, while their suffering is often rendered invisible

by their existence on the margins of society. The low wages associated with farm labor

combined with the largely undocumented status of this population severely limits access

to food, housing, and health care, resulting in poor health outcomes. Through the use of a

critical anthropological approach, this research examines the social, cultural, political,

and economic context of obesity among Latino migrant and seasonal farmworkers in

Central Florida. Ethnographic research methods were used to explore perceptions about

the relationships between the body, food, and health among Latino farmworkers,

contextualizing these cultural beliefs within the broader, macro-level factors affecting

health, including immigration, agricultural, and economic policies. Furthermore, this

study compares the perceptions of farmworkers with those of healthcare workers that

serve this community, examining the implications that conceptions of culture and

“cultural competency” have for developing health interventions.

The findings of this research reveal that, in contrast to the beliefs of health

providers, farmworkers do understand the relationship between health and body size, and

do not show preferences for overweight or obese figures. Conceptions of food, on the

farmworker interviews indicate an interest for more nutritional information. This suggests

a need to develop nutritional information that is culturally relevant for Latino

farmworkers. Additionally, however, economic constraints significantly limit

farmworkers’ abilities to purchase sufficient and nutritious foods. The combination of

economic constraints and varying nutritional knowledge has significant health

implications for farmworkers, most notably in terms of the connection to diet-related

health problems such as obesity. The implications of these findings indicate that

nutritional interventions focused solely on education without addressing the economic

and political processes that constrain farmworkers’ agency will have little overall effect

on the health of this population. This research, therefore, emphasizes the importance of

using a holistic approach to understand the complexity of health and nutritional issues

among farmworkers.

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