Using Focus Groups to Determine Blue-Collar Workers' Perceptions Regarding Dietary Practices and Cancer Prevention

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Virginia Tech

Recent nutrition reports conclude that changing dietary practices is a strategic way to reduce cancer rates in the United States. Nutrition recommendations to decrease risk of cancer include reducing fat intake to 30% of total calories, increasing fiber consumption to 20-30 g/day, and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to five servings daily. However, recent studies suggest that fruit and vegetable consumption decreases with educational and income levels within a population, and that blue-collar workers tend to consume 38-40% of total calories as fat. It is possible that national campaign efforts to change dietary practices are not reaching educationally and economically challenged populations.

This research identifies the perceptions of blue-collar workers regarding a link between dietary practices and disease prevention. Six focus groups, three of women and three of men were conducted in urban, suburban, and rural Virginia counties. A total of 66 workers participated, and each group was comprised of 8-16 blue-collar workers 35-65 years of age.

Most participants were aware of a link between dietary practices and health. A "healthy person" was described as eating low fat foods, fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy weight. Fatty meat consumption, food processing, and chemical treatment of food were perceived as increasing risk for disease. Few participants were aware of a potential link between diet and cancer. Many contributed risk for cancer to factors beyond their control such as heredity, environmental factors, and the influence of the food industry. Those who had experienced a disease, either themselves or through a loved one expressed a greater sense of urgency to modify their eating habits. Most of those attempting dietary modification were addressing health issues relating to cardiovascular disease. The majority reported consuming less than five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, most often as canned or frozen products.

Participants reported receiving nutrition education from non-interactive sources, such as television, newspapers, magazines, and radio, and interactive sources such as health professionals and community programs. Those that mentioned interactive sources were more likely to elaborate on specific information learned. Television segments, newsletters, and worksite programs were selected as the most preferred ways to receive nutrition education. When asked what topics would be most helpful in a newsletter series, people requested information regarding heart disease more frequently than cancer. Health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption, menus, and recipes were also mentioned.

The findings suggest that nutrition education efforts concerning cardiovascular disease have penetrated the blue collar population. Community educators need to broaden messages to include current information regarding the potential link between dietary practices and cancer. Furthermore, 35-65 year olds may exhibit more willingness to change dietary habits through nutrition education due to changes in health among themselves or loved ones.

blue-collar workers, focus groups, fruit and vegetable consumption, dietary practices, cancer