Background

The overall diet quality of low-income mothers of young children may be an important public health concern but is rarely measured.

Methods

380 African American and Hispanic mothers of children attending NYC Head Start answered a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ); 167 also did so at 1-year follow-up and 73 at 2-year follow-up. FFQ data were converted to Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2015 total and component scores. Demographics were assessed by questionnaire.

Results

Mean HEI total score at baseline was 64.3±8.7 of 100, but 69.8±8.6 for Dominican and 60.2±6.5 for Mexican mothers. No mother scored above a 90 and only 3.7% scored 80-89. Scores (mean±SD) for total fruit, 4.3±1.1; total protein, 4.6±0.7; seafood & plant proteins, 4.5±0.9; and sodium, 8.2±2.1 were closest to recommendations. Scores for total vegetables, 3.0±1.3; greens & beans, 3.9±1.4; whole fruit, 3.4±1.5; whole grains 1.9±1.3; dairy, 6.0±3.0; healthy fats, 3.7±2.7; added sugar, 7.9±2.6; refined grains, 6.1±4.1; and saturated fats, 6.8±2.7 were furthest from recommendations.Scores for whole fruit improved by .3 points (p=.03) over 1 year and .8 points (p<.01) over 2 years. Scores for sodium improved by .7 points (p=.03) over 2 years; greens & beans declined by .4 points (p=.01) over 2 years.A regression model including age, weight loss attempts, education, marital status and race/ethnicity explained 18.9% of the variance in diet quality, p<.001.Dominican descent was associated with a 4.6-point increase, being married a 3.2-point increase, cohabiting a 2.7-point increase, and Mexican descent a 4.3-point decrease in HEI-2015 scores. Age, education, and weight loss attempts were not significant.

Conclusions

Diet quality among these low-income, predominantly Hispanic mothers was low and relatively stable over the two-year study period, but varied by national origin and other factors, suggesting targets for nutritional interventions.