Overcoming Cultural Barriers
There is a frequent perception that advice to “eat healthfully” will mean giving up familiar or traditional foods and trying to conform to the eating patterns of the dominant culture. Nutrition professionals are charged with overcoming this barrier, which involves making nutrition communications culturally relevant while assisting individuals in adopting healthful food habits. Often this means adapting nutrition messages and developing flexible approaches for nutrition education and counseling.
Food guidance tools, such as food guide graphics developed or adapted by various countries, organizations or ethnic groups, can be very useful in nutrition communications. These education tools recognize ethnic foods and/or various dietary patterns (e.g., vegetarian diets) while demonstrating how the overall diet can be assembled to achieve health goals. For instance, Health Canada has developed a Food Guide targeted to Aboriginal groups (see Additional Resources). Providing practical tips for making small changes in food selection and preparation that allow individuals to retain food practices from their culture can greatly improve acceptance and the likelihood of positive health behaviours and outcomes14.
In addition to resistance to modifying food habits, there are often cultural barriers to exercise. Health professionals can encourage clients to get recommended amounts of physical activity by assessing their interests and suggesting culturally relevant pursuits. For example, being familiar with local community resources, including classes, events and facilities, is one way to overcome barriers such as cost, language and a sense of unfamiliarity.
Strategies to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to care can include the use of bilingual providers, bilingual/bicultural community health workers, interpreters and translated print materials15. Some strategies may work best in specific settings, while others have wide application and can be useful in all settings.