Family systems associations with obesogenic behaviors among rural Latino and White families

Routh, Brianna
Major Professor
Megan Gilligan
Kimberly Greder
Committee Member
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Human Development and Family Studies

Although obesity rates in the United States have stabilized at the national level, disparities continue to exist among rural, low-income, and Latino children. Research has identified obesogenic behaviors in the home as leading contributors to child obesity, and these behaviors are potentially influenced by individual, family, and contextual factors. This dissertation examined data collected as part of the multi-state Rural Families Speak about Health Project and the associated Iowa Latino Family Project. Through regression and moderation analyses, Chapter 3 explored how family relationships influence children’s obesogenic behaviors in the home among Latino immigrant and White families living in rural communities with low household incomes. Family profiles were constructed in Chapter 4 with mixed methods data to explore food parenting agency in relation to household obesogenic behaviors among Latina immigrant mothers who had low household incomes and who lived in rural U.S. communities.

Together, these studies provide rich complementary insights into family and contextual factors related to children’s obesogenic behaviors. Exploratory findings from Chapter 3 indicated identification as a Latina immigrant, co-parent respect, and number of children in the home were significantly associated with Family Nutrition and Physical Activity (FNPA) scores, while number of adults in the home and household food security approached significance. The identification as a Latina immigrant also moderated the association between number of adults in the home and FNPA scores. Findings from Chapter 4 family profiles indicated a food parenting agency continuum. Mothers with higher food parenting agency tended to report fewer obesogenic food parenting behaviors, take more behavior change actions, and perceive fewer contextual challenges. Across studies, findings suggest childhood obesity risk is associated with both family (e.g., parents and larger family networks) and context (e.g., rurality and identification as Latina immigrant mothers).

Future research should build on these exploratory studies to understand more fully the complexity of factors related to child obesogenic behaviors among under-represented families. Specifically, research should include those facing significant health disparities, such as rural low-income families and Latino immigrant families. Findings from this dissertation suggest that practitioners should attempt to implement broader family systems approaches and family-based obesity prevention programs when addressing obesogenic behaviors in the home.