Introduction: Diet and nutrition play an important role in a child’s health and reduce the risk of numerous health problems including obesity. Dietary habits can be difficult to modify in children, particularly in Appalachia, where access to affordable, healthy foods is limited.

Purpose: To examine barriers to healthy eating among Appalachian youth.

Methods: In 2013–2014, data were gathered via focus groups and interviews from parents, school personnel, and adolescents (N=99) in six counties across southern Appalachia. Data were analyzed using thematic network analysis. Analysis was completed in 2015.

Results: Participants identified multiple barriers to healthy eating among adolescents. Barriers comprised three global themes: cultural norms, school-based nutrition policy and programming, and rurality. Within the individual and home environment, beliefs and practices, time management, and preference for unhealthy foods affected adolescents’ dietary behaviors. Schools faced challenges in terms of translating nutrition policy into practice, providing nutrition education, and engaging stakeholders. Limited socioeconomics and food deserts/swamps were community-level impacts.

Implications: Participants discussed how adolescents’ eating behaviors were shaped by social, physical, and environmental factors (e.g., cultural norms, school-based nutrition policy/programming, and rurality). These findings provide important insights into barriers to healthy eating in this population and point to future directions for research and practice. For example, the findings can be used by school personnel to develop ecologic approaches to school-based nutrition programming in Appalachia. Student associations can also use these findings to actively participate in efforts to improve school food offerings.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Recommended Citation

Southerland JL, Dula TM, Slawson DL. Barriers to healthy eating among high school youth in rural Southern Appalachia. J Appalach Health 2019;1(2):31-43. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13023/jah.0102.04

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