UofSC Food Choice Research

Food Choice for Children Under Five in Mexico

Work from research associate Ligia Reyes, PhD

The overall goal of this research is to improve the understanding about what drives food choice for children under five years old, which is a sensitive period for children’s growth, development, and dietary habit-formation. The first five years represent a period in which children transition from complementary feeding into foods that the rest of the family consumes, but how that transition occurs and why remains largely understudied in settings like Mexico, and other low- and middle-income countries facing the double burden of malnutrition. This is an important window of opportunity because well-established evidence from developed countries indicates that dietary patterns and preferences established during early-life continue into the adult years. 

To address this gap, we conducted a qualitative study in rural Mexico with 46 mothers of children ages 1 to 5 years old. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews, market observations, and interviews with store owners. We characterized the local food environment from which mothers acquired food, which consisted on retail, production, programs, social ties, wild sources. We identified values that were important for mothers during food acquisition, including the trade-offs they made. We also identified mothers’ social networks specifically tied  to child feeding and identified their functions in food choice for children.

The findings from this research are under current preparation for journal submission and have been presented at the American Society for Nutrition Conference in 2017, 2018, 2019, and forthcoming in 2020 as well as the Latin Society for Nutrition in 2018. This research was conducted by Dr. Ligia Reyes as her dissertation project. Dr. Edward A. Frongillo served as her dissertation advisor and committee Chair and Dr. Christine Blake served as a committee member. Our Mexico partners were Dr. Anabelle Bonvecchio (committee member) from the National Institute of Public Health and the non-governmental organization Un Kilo de Ayuda. Funding for this research came from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of South Carolina as a SPARC Graduate Research Grant. This study obtained ethical approval from the University of South Carolina Institutional Review Board.

In 2018, the research team expanded this work to urban and semi-urban Mexico focused on both primary and alternative caregiver food choice for children in order to expand the unit involved in food choice for children under five years old. Findings from this research are forthcoming. We foresee continuing to collaborate in Mexico and bridging learnings across regions.

Drivers of adolescent food choice in urban Ghana

Work from doctoral candidate Krystal Rampalli, MPH (Twitter handle: @healthisglocal

This project is exploring drivers of food choice among adolescents amidst changing food environments in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Many food/beverage companies use Western marketing techniques when targeting kids. Some food/beverage adverts feature models with unrealistic body types who promote consumption of unhealthy foods/beverages, for example. Therefore, we are interested in the knowledge, attitudes, and food choice behaviors of this population as it pertains to body image perceptions and decisions about food portion size consumption.  It is a mixed-methods study that will involve in-depth interviews with adolescents as well as an analysis of the marketing communications within and around the food environments and on television in the region.

For more information about Krystal’s forthcoming work in Ghana, visit the MEALS4NCDs Facebook and Twitter: