The Hispanic community is particularly at risk because of food insecurity, lack of access to healthy foods and low socioeconomic status among other factors, said Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietician who is a member of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) scientific advisory board.
She joined the foundation, which represents members of the milling and baking industries, to brief members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) this week on research that addresses the relationship between acculturation and diet among Latinos in the US.
Melendez- Klinger is co-author of the research which was published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which highlighted how food choices impact on overall health and nutrition.
Joining the GFF were members of the March of Dimes, which briefed the CHC on the lack of awareness for folic acid in the Hispanic community.
Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects which are 50 percent more likely to occur in the Hispanic population. The GFF and the March of Dimes have worked to develop communications tools to educate Hispanic women about the importance of folic acid, found in enriched grain products such as white bread and buns, flour tortillas, crackers and pretzels, to preventing neural tube defects.
Similarly studies have shown that there are increased instances of diabetes, coronary heart disease and lactose maldigestion in the Hispanic community.
Melendez- Klinger said: “The combination of cultural isolation which many Hispanics experience coupled with the fact that many parents are working multiple jobs equates to poor eating and exercise habits.
"These families have less time to prepare nutritious foods and may not have access to traditional foods.
"This is an important time to examine dietary issues unique to the Hispanic community.
"It’s equally critical that we promote and provide solutions to the problem that include nutrition education in Spanish and programs directed in these at-risk communities."
The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the US and Puerto Rico.
Next year Congress is to address major nutrition issues, reviewing the Child Nutrition Act and Dietary Guidelines.
Judi Adams, MS, RD and president of the GFF, said: "It is critical that we continue our mission of educating consumers, particularly Hispanic women, about the importance of eating healthfully, which includes enriched grains - the primary source of folic acid in the American diet."
The US Hispanic contingent now numbers more than 44 million and accounts for roughly 15 percent of the total population, according to the market analysts Nielsen.
By 2050, Census Bureau projections show Hispanics accounting for one-quarter of the US population, which is a growth rate of almost 70 percent for all Hispanics between 2006 and 2050.
Hispanics will represent $1.2 trillion in spending power by 2012, according to Selig Center for Economic Growth.
John Corella, is spokesman for the Expo Comida Latina and All Asia Food industry, which is taking place.
He recently told FoodNavigator-USA.com that the Hispanic influence on the US food and beverage market is growing stronger as ethnic flavors become mainstream and the spending power of these cultural groups increases. This translates into more food and drinks specifically targeting these groups.
Corella also highlighted the need for products which address conditions such as lactose intolerance, adding that Mexican populations and native Americans have higher incidence of lactose intolerance. This has led to growth in that market place of soy products.