Healthy Food, Healthy Choice

Research & Engagement, 2014


This project used quantitative and qualitative approaches to understand current food environment, as well as food knowledge and preferences of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in south central South Dakota. It introduced short- and long-term strategies to increase local residents’ acceptance of and willingness to buy healthy foods. These strategies included working with Rosebud residents to design and test a labeling system to encourage the consumption of healthy food items, and focus groups to understand barriers to healthier eating.


We learned that tailoring healthy food interventions to the local community can improve the effectiveness. Behavior change requires that people are motivated to eat healthy diets. While healthy eating policies have for years relied on providing objective information to consumers— think of nutrition facts labels and fast food calorie count policies—evidence suggests that this information is used more frequently by those who are already healthy. However, materials that market healthy foods or prompt people to actively consider health when choosing food, rather than simply providing information about the nutritional value of food, seem to be more effective.

While there is significant literature examining healthy food labeling and promotion internationally, the materials and messages that have been found to be effective in large-scale, international studies may not be effective in underrepresented—but high priority—populations, such as rural and minority communities. The approach is particularly well suited for implementation in rural or minority communities for a variety of reasons, including because it is likely easier to obtain meaningful, community-level involvement in these types of communities, and more residents are likely to be exposed to healthy food promotional materials designed in a community with at most a few food retail outlets (grocery, convenience stores).

The solid data provided from this project allowed successful application for a federal grant to further investigate the effects of locally tailored labels on food choice. Collaborators on the grant—especially Rosebud residents working generally in the food access and sovereignty realm—have stated they feel that receiving the RFI Research and Engagement Award provided them with more credibility than they previously had in seeking additional external funding, which has allowed them to obtain a number of other small grants to further work on the community garden, farmers market, and other efforts predominantly on the community engagement side of the project.


Project Team








Media Coverage

Contact: Christopher Gustafson,