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Original Research

Adherence to a Mediterranean diet in a rural Appalachian food desert

Submitted: 17 July 2012
Revised: 30 September 2012
Accepted: 1 October 2012
Published: 21 January 2013

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Author(s) : Hardin-Fanning F.

Citation: Hardin-Fanning F.  Adherence to a Mediterranean diet in a rural Appalachian food desert. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2013; 13: 2293. Available: (Accessed 20 October 2017)


Introduction:  Rural Appalachian food deserts have disproportionately high cardiovascular disease (CVD) rates. The Mediterranean diet, consisting of plant-based dishes prepared with unsaturated fatty acids, contributes to decreased risk of CVD. Several factors can affect dietary choices in rural food deserts. The purpose of this exploratory study was to identify predisposing, reinforcing and enabling factors that affect eating a Mediterranean diet in a rural Appalachian food desert with disproportionately high rates of cardiovascular disease. The PRECEDE-PROCEED model was used as an assessment framework in this study.
Methods:  Volunteers (n=43) were recruited from four churches in a rural Appalachian county to participate in this mixed methods convergent parallel design study. During each of four sessions with 8–12 participants each, a Mediterranean-style meal was prepared by a local caterer and included plant-based dishes prepared with unsaturated fatty acids. The nature of a Mediterranean diet was explained to participants using an illustrated pamphlet. Nominal group process was used to determine predisposing, reinforcing and enabling factors that would affect adherence to a Mediterranean diet. Multivariate ANOVA and t-tests, using SPSS 18, were performed to determine factors associated with potential future adoption and adherence to a Mediterranean diet among a sample of rural residents and assess whether the factors varied based on age, gender and socioeconomic status. All p values of ≤0.05 were considered significant.
Results:  Factors affecting future adherence to a Mediterranean diet included difficulty changing personal habits, limited access to healthy foods, cost, difficulty of preparation, limited knowledge of the health benefits of foods, family attitudes toward food and difficulty determining how to incorporate healthy foods into meals. Younger participants and those with lower incomes were more likely to identify food cost as a barrier to adherence compared to those who were older with higher incomes. Participants with lower educational levels were more likely to report family members would be hesitant to try a Mediterranean diet. Women were more likely than men to report an understanding of the health impact of certain foods as motivation to adopt and adhere to a Mediterranean diet.
Conclusion:  Multiple factors were reported as influencing dietary habits in this sample of rural Appalachian residents. Several of the factors reported are amenable to behavioral interventions. Although Appalachia has more residents per square kilometer than the rest of the country, the population density is not uniform across the region. Because many Appalachians live in sparsely populated counties, rurality plays a significant role in factors that affect dietary choice. Interventions that address barriers related to limited knowledge of nutrition, ease of preparation and changing personal habits as well as promote locally available foods, while considering issues specific to a rural population, may lead to sustained dietary changes.

Key words: public health, rural health status disparities, USA.

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