Consider the Gap: How Culture-Specific Messages Can Lead to Better Nutrition

Ana Mavis Rodriguez remembers the first time she realized what she thought was a “gap.”

She was working as a dietitian in her hometown, Mexico City, and she met a young woman who had diabetes and kidney failure. Recent research that MAFS Rodriguez helped conduct shows what kind of fish patients with these diseases can safely eat. I advised the patient accordingly, and everything seemed fine.

However, during subsequent patient visits, Mavis Rodriguez learned that the woman was having trouble following the advice. The patient shared that several factors—price, availability of recommended types of fish, limited cooking experience (and cooking time), and incompatibility with friends and family meals—led her to ignore the advice.

“I realized then that I was failing to guide people effectively in their food choices,” said Mavis Rodriguez. “I–and they–know what they need to eat, but that knowledge hasn’t translated into long-term behavior.”

That was the “gap” that Mavis Rodriguez discovered: the distance between providing information about healthy eating choices and seeing individuals change their behavior based on that information. This discovery inspired Mavis Rodriguez with his desire to better understand how to communicate research-based nutrition information, in ways that will positively influence the behavior of individuals—in particular, the behavior of Hispanics.

The power of custom communications

I enrolled as a master’s student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication and Behavior Change Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. She obtained this degree in 2020 and is now on her way to complete her Ph.D. within the next 18 months.

Under the direction of Chancellor and Associate Professor at the Friedman School, Sarah Volta, Maafs-Rodríguez is working on three distinct assessments of why some messages about healthy eating fail, particularly among the Hispanic population, and how communication strategies can be improved to help direct people for the better. Feeding options.

One project, The You the Mom Campaign, part of Tufts’ ChildObesity180 initiative, aims to identify the messages shared via social media are most effective with mothers in supporting their children’s healthy eating habits. Before developing or publishing any social media content, an early stage of the campaign involved soliciting information from black and Latino moms about their needs as dads, what messages they hoped to see in a campaign about healthy eating, how they typically reach social media, and what kind of content they catch on. their attention.

Working with the Dean of the Friedman School Temporarily Cristina Economos, Mavis Rodriguez focuses on that early stage of the campaign, examining the ways in which mothers’ social media use and expectations ultimately affected campaign strategy. “We believe that ultimately using mothers’ voices to inform the campaign will increase the likelihood that our content will resonate with the audience,” said Mavis Rodriguez.

For a second project, a dietary intervention tailored to ethnicity, Maafs-Rodríguez’s goal is to better understand how culturally adaptive messaging affects diet quality. In the study, researchers divided participants into two groups, according to their Latin-Caribbean or non-Caribbean heritage. They identified the main differences between the groups. Among their findings: While both groups tended to eat unhealthy food choices, Caribbean participants were more likely to make these choices in response to cravings while non-Caribbeans did so during special social events. The researchers then crafted specific text messages that promote healthy eating during each case for the respective heritage group.

“When there is a lack of cultural adaptation in messages, some messages may fail to resonate with the entire population equally,” said Mavis Rodriguez. “Our goal was to provide advice on healthy eating, while adapting tactics to the relevant beliefs and attitudes of each group.” This work is being carried out jointly by researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, led by Dr. Josemir Mattei.

In addition, with the support of Folta, Economos and Mattei, Maafs-Rodríguez has created its own study in which it will analyze online videos with healthy eating advice targeting Latino seniors and evaluate the messages of the videos based on their cultural relevance, and consistency with US dietary guidelines. and its persuasiveness to older Latinos in the United States

When she finishes her current projects and thesis, Maafs-Rodríguez hopes to obtain a postdoctoral position to continue her explorations of how to make messages about healthy eating as effective as possible for a specific audience.

“The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of effective communication about health issues – and its ability to inform opinions and behaviour,” she said. “Now our focus can be on improving and personalizing what we communicate.”

Consider the Gap: How Culture-Specific Messages Can Lead to Better Nutrition

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