A Systematic Examination of Food Intake and Adaptation to the Food Environment by Refugees Settled in the United States1–4

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Abstract

The United States is the largest refugee resettlement country in the world. Refugees may face health-related challenges after resettlement in the United States, including higher rates of chronic diseases due to problems such as language barriers and difficulty adapting to new food environments. However, reported refugee diet challenges varied, and no systematic examination has been reported. This study examined refugee food intake pre- and postresettlement in the United States and differences in intake across various refugee groups. We systematically reviewed relevant studies that reported on refugee food intake and adaptation to the US food environment. We searched PubMed for literature published between January 1985 and April 2015, including cross-sectional and prospective studies. Eighteen studies met inclusion criteria. Limited research has been conducted, and most studies were based on small convenience samples. In general, refugees increased meat and egg consumption after resettling in the United States. Changes in refugee intake of vegetables, fruits, and dairy products varied by socioeconomic status, food insecurity, past food deprivation experience, length of stay in the United States, region of origin, and age. South Asians were more likely to maintain traditional diets, and increased age was associated with more conservative and traditional diets. Despite the abundance of food in the United States, postresettlement refugees reported difficulty in finding familiar or healthy foods. More research with larger samples and follow-up data are needed to study how refugees adapt to the US food environment and what factors may influence their food- and health-related outcomes. The work could inform future interventions to promote healthy eating and living among refugees and help to reduce health disparities.

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