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Promoting healthy diet and exercise patterns amongst primary school children: a qualitative investigation of parental perspectives

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Parents represent a potentially powerful intermediary in behaviour change strategies aimed at improving the lifestyle behaviours of young children. However, to fulfil this role, parents need to have the necessary knowledge and motivation to assimilate dietary guidelines. This study aimed to assess these psychosocial constructs, and subsequent parental receptiveness to nutrition education, through investigation of the barriers and benefits perceived by parents to the provision of a healthy diet and adequate exercise for their children. A qualitative methodology was employed and 41 parents took part in seven focus groups separated by socio-economic status (SES).

Across the groups, a combination of reported external barriers and unconscious internal barriers, stemming from high optimistic bias, low perceived control and unrealistic health expectations, were observed. SES differences were suggested in restrictive feeding practices, the responsibility attributed to the school and in the level and format of desired nutrition education. Overall a demand for interventions focusing on behavioural techniques rather than fact transmission was uncovered, in particular the promotion of parental self-awareness to reduce negative influences within the family food environment. Providing realistic definitions of appropriate behaviour and empowering parents to tackle children's weight issues were indicated as important targets for future education programmes.

Keywords: children; diet; exercise; nutrition education; parents

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Centre for Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2003

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