Colonias in Hidalgo County, Texas are residential communities near the Texas-Mexico border which often lack basic living necessities with high rates of poverty. Due to complex socioeconomic/geopolitical stressors (factors ranging from income inequality to access to transportation to concern regarding safety and legal status), colonia residents have limited access to fresh produce, while processed foods are more readily available, resulting in significant food insecurity.


The aim of this study is to assess levels of food insecurity, current eating habits, barriers of access, and interest in more readily affordable and accessible produce options in colonias of Hidalgo County, Texas. We hypothesize that residents of the colonias indeed have limited access to fresh produce and healthy food options and that there is interest within the population for more readily affordable and accessible produce options.


In this study, we surveyed 80 residents within four colonias of Hidalgo County with health promoters from Proyecto Azteca, a program with established presences and trust within the community. The survey gathered anonymous data including respondent demographics, current food habits, barriers of access to fruits/vegetables, and interest in expanding access to fresh produce. We, furthermore, utilized geospatial analysis to map current locations of food sources in relation to the four colonias surveyed.


Overall, we identified high rates of food insecurity (82.5% identified as food insecure based on the Hunger Vital Signs), difficulty with many barriers of access to fresh produce (including transportation, cost, taste, and lack of knowledge about preparation), and high levels of interest in increasing fruit/vegetable consumption if there were more affordable (95%) and convenient (92.5%) options to purchase fresh produce. Furthermore, 23.8% of respondents admitted to feeling fearful of traveling outside of their colonia, the majority of whom identified immigration enforcement as their principle fear.


This study not only demonstrates many of the impediments to accessing fresh, healthful, affordable produce, but it also highlights some of the major effects of these barriers--especially the alarmingly high rate of food insecurity. It also identifies fear of leaving one’s colonia (especially fear of immigration enforcement) as a barrier to accessing fresh produce.

Key Take Away Points

  • There are high rates of food insecurity (82.5%) in the colonias of Hidalgo County, Texas.
  • Fear of leaving one's home because of immigration enforcement is significantly associated with food insecurity.
  • Barriers to accessing fresh, healthy, affordable produce include: transportation, cost, taste, lack of knowledge about preparation.
  • There are high levels of interest in increasing access to fresh, affordable produce in the colonias of Hidalgo County.

Author Biography

Julia Rosenberg is a pediatrician and National Clinician Scholar at Yale University. She spent time in Hidalgo county while participating in Community for Children program based out of Brownsville, Texas. Sindhu Sudanagunta was a pediatric resident at UTSW/Children’s Medical Center while she participated in an elective in Brownsville, Texas with Community for Children. She is now a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow. Marsha Griffin is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and Director of Community for Children for over a decade bringing residents and medical students to the southern border to engage with immigrant communities.


We thank the Community for Children at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and Proyecto Azteca for their support of this research project. Many thanks to the health promoters from Proyecto Azteca, Lourdes Salinas and Denise Martinez, as well as the Proyecto Azteca team of Ann Cass and Amber Arriagas-Salinas. We also thank the entire Community for Children team, including Dr. Minette Son, Dr. Cathi Monserrat, Judith Livingston, and Michael Seifert.