Parenting practices related to positive eating, physical activity and sedentary behaviors in children: A qualitative exploration of strategies used by parents to navigate the obesigenic environment

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Downey, Jacy
Major Professor
Clinton G. Gudmunson
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Human Development and Family Studies

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies focuses on the interactions among individuals, families, and their resources and environments throughout their lifespans. It consists of three majors: Child, Adult, and Family Services (preparing students to work for agencies serving children, youth, adults, and families); Family Finance, Housing, and Policy (preparing students for work as financial counselors, insurance agents, loan-officers, lobbyists, policy experts, etc); and Early Childhood Education (preparing students to teach and work with young children and their families).


The Department of Human Development and Family Studies was formed in 1991 from the merger of the Department of Family Environment and the Department of Child Development.

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  • College of Human Sciences (parent college)
  • Department of Child Development (predecessor)
  • Department of Family Environment (predecessor)

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Parents model and teach early health practices that persist into adulthood by establishing a foundation through which children understand related family beliefs, values, and expectations. The environment in which parents socialize children's eating, physical activity, and screen-related behaviors has changed and has been widely faulted in the obesity epidemic. This phenomenological study examined the intentions, reflections, and strategies in which a purposefully selected group of mothers, scoring highly on the Family Nutrition and Physical Activity screening tool, shaped family culture related to physical activity, addressed screen-time behaviors, and established positive eating related routines.

Findings related to mothers' knowledge and belief systems about parenting within this domain pointed to the impact of family health history and mothers' own upbringing, reinforcing the powerful nature of early habit formation. Mothers prioritized this parenting domain and were intentional in their efforts, describing the power of modeling positive obesity-related behaviors and creating a culture that promoted activity over sedentariness. By focusing on establishing positive behaviors at home, and framing choices and opportunities in support of child autonomy, mothers believed they were preparing children to resist threats from the obesigenic environment. This study presents a strengths perspective and imparts a new narrative which serves to complement existing obesity research in representative and at-risk populations. Findings may inform obesity prevention and intervention programs as well as parenting education curricula.

Wed Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2014