Examination of dietary habits among the indigenous Kuna Indians of Panama

Allison L. Neitzel, Brittany L. Smalls, Rebekah J. Walker, Aprill Z. Dawson, Jennifer A. Campbell, Leonard E. Egede

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Evidence for dietary habits among the Kuna Indians of Panama outside of cacao consumption is limited. Global trends suggest an uptake in processed foods conferring risk for chronic disease. This paper aims to provide information on dietary habits and investigate sociodemographic correlates of diet for the indigenous population living off the coast of Panama. Methods: This sample included 211 Kuna Indians ages 18 years or older living within the island communities of Ustupu and Ogobsucum. Cross-sectional data was collected using a paper-based survey to assess dietary patterns. Categories of food included: fruits, vegetables, cacao, fish, sodas, fried, junk, and fast foods. Univariate analyses were used to describe demographic variables, followed by chi-squared tests to understand individual correlates of food types. Results: About 85% reported eating fast food at least weekly, 47% reported eating fried food daily, and 11% reported eating junk food daily. Forty-three percent of the sample population reported eating fish daily. Those with poor incomes reported more fish consumption than any other income group (51%, p = 0.02). After adjusting for all covariates, those in higher income categories were less likely to eat fruits, cacao, and fish daily, but were also less likely to eat fast food weekly and junk food daily. Elderly populations (age 60-90 OR = 12.17, 95%CI 2.00, 73.84), women (OR = 3.43, 95%CI 1.23, 9.56), and those with primary education (OR = 4.83, 95%CI 1.01, 23.0) were also more likely to eat fast food weekly. Conclusion: This is the first dietary survey study of the Kuna that focuses on food groups outside of cacao. Results suggest the community could benefit from efforts to increase cultivation of fruits and vegetables and reduce the percentage of energy consumption contributed by fast food, fried food, and junk food. Trial registration: N/A.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44
JournalNutrition Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Author(s).


  • Dietary patterns
  • Food consumption
  • Indigenous population
  • Nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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