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The Paradoxical Buying Behaviour of Parents: The Purchase of 'Healthy and 'Unhealthy' Foods

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There is growing concern over childhood obesity levels around the world with many overweight children developing into obese adults. Research shows that the food choices of young children are determined largely by parents and that many parents are aware of what constitutes 'healthy' food yet continue to purchase 'unhealthy' food for their children's consumption. This study explores this apparent paradox by identifying the motivations of parents of pre-school children in the purchase of both 'healthy' and 'unhealthy' food in the context of a supermarket shopping experience.

Data were collected from 116 respondents using projective story and photograph techniques and then coded and analysed using the constant comparative method. What this study labels as 'good parenting' emerged as the main motivational force leading to the purchase of healthy food. In contrast, this study suggests the purchase of unhealthy "treats" or "bribes" is explained through the concept of 'expediency'. Both good parenting and expediency have a number of dimensions that are capable of explaining variations in the food decisions of individual respondents in this study.

The paper concludes by suggesting that information- and education-based campaigns which simply emphasise the benefits of 'healthy' food and the health consequences of 'unhealthy' food for children will have limited impact. Instead, interventions need to acknowledge the complex reality of parenting and the barriers and competition to healthy food choices, and to offer parents meaningful help in their food purchasing behaviour for pre-school children.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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