Determinants of Immigrant Food Security: An Examination of the Food Environment in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario
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This study aimed to explore the role of the food environment in shaping immigrants’ access to food and ultimately their health. A growing body of research is examining the influence of food environments—defined as everything outside of the individual that influences eating habits (Story, Kaphingst, Robinson-O’Brien, & Glanz, 2008)—on the health of Canadians. The study is based on the premise that immigrants to Canada may be particularly vulnerable to factors in the environment that impact access to nutritious and affordable food, and thus to poor health and health inequities. The inquiry opens by examining food insecurity among recent immigrants. It asserts that the food environment might be an overlooked determinant of declining immigrant health over time in Canada. In lieu of research examining the impact of the food environment on the health of immigrants in Canada, the literature review explores possible determinants of the food environment. Past research suggests that immigrants are vulnerable to barriers to food security in the food environment such as a lack of income due to limited employment opportunities. Immigrants also have key strenghts that can make them resilient to barriers in the food environment, such as social networks. This literature suggests a link between the food environment and food security and provides a sound rationale for this research. The methodology is the case study, using a mixed methods approach which encompassed in-depth interviews and photovoice to elicit perceptions regarding food access. The interview sample consisted of nine immigrants, in addition to nine key informants (i.e., settlement service providers, policy-makers) in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Prevalent themes in this study corroborate past research of the existence of economic barriers to food security for immigrants including limited employment opportunities for recent immigrants that can increase their purchasing power, the high cost of food, and the pervasive wide availability of unhealthy food in the Region of Waterloo. Two major theoretical contributions of this research are the application of a systems-based approach to food security and the examination of the role of the immigration experience as a social determinant of health. At the practice level, the findings indicated the need for collaboration and further coordination that can help stakeholders improve the food environment.