Healthy eating, activity and obesity prevention: a qualitative study of parent and child perceptions in Australia

Hesketh, K.; Waters, E.; Green, J.; Salmon, L.; Williams, J.
March 2005
Health Promotion International;Mar2005, Vol. 20 Issue 1, p19
Academic Journal
Preventative health strategies incorporating the views of target participants have improved the likelihood of success. This qualitative study aimed to elicit child and parent views regarding social and environmental barriers to healthy eating, physical activity and child obesity prevention programmes, acceptable foci, and appropriate modes of delivery. To obtain views across a range of social circumstances three demographically diverse primary schools in Victoria, Australia were selected. Children in Grades 2 (aged 7–8 years) and 5 (aged 10–11 years) participated in focus groups of three to six children. Groups were semi-structured using photo-based activities to initiate discussion. Focus groups with established parent groups were also conducted. Comments were recorded, collated, and themes extracted using grounded theory. 119 children and 17 parents participated. Nine themes emerged: information and awareness, contradiction between knowledge and behaviour, lifestyle balance, local environment, barriers to a healthy lifestyle, contradictory messages, myths, roles of the school and family, and timing and content of prevention strategies for childhood obesity. In conclusion, awareness of food ‘healthiness’ was high however perceptions of the ‘healthiness’ of some sedentary activities that are otherwise of benefit (e.g. reading) were uncertain. The contradictions in messages children receive were reported to be a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. Parent recommendations regarding the timing and content of childhood obesity prevention strategies were consistent with quantitative research. Contradictions in the explicit and implicit messages children receive around diet and physical activity need to be prevented. Consistent promotion of healthy food and activity choices across settings is core to population prevention programmes for childhood obesity.


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