Food preferences, practices, and cancer-related food and nutrition knowledge of southwestern American Indian youth.

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BACKGROUND: Pathways to Health is a cancer prevention and health promotion curriculum for fifth- and seventh-grade Navajo and Pueblo students living in New Mexico.

METHODS: A diet and nutrition questionnaire was administered to 1007 fifth- and seventh-grade students before beginning the Pathways to Health intervention. Sections of the questionnaire included listing favorite foods, frequency of intake of selected foods (e.g., "How often do you eat vegetables?"), targeted food practices (e.g., "When you eat chicken, do you eat the skin?"), and applied dietary fat and fiber knowledge questions. Descriptive analyses were generated by grade, gender, and tribe.

RESULTS: Students' favorite foods were pizza, hamburgers, and tacos. Only 35.7% of students reported consuming the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation of two or more daily servings of fruit, with only 19.3% reporting more than once-a-day intake of vegetables. The mean score (percent correct responses) to questions identifying common food sources of dietary fat and fiber, and other cancer-related nutrition knowledge questions, was 45.2% and 57.9% for fifth- and seventh-grade students, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: These and related data support the need for nutrition education interventions in this population that target essential cancer prevention skills and motivational information required to make positive dietary choices.