What parents know and want to learn about healthy eating and body image in preschool children: a triangulated qualitative study with parents and Early Childhood Professionals Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND:Interventions for parents to encourage healthy eating in children often do not address parental feeding practices and body image development. METHODS:The current study investigated what parents (of children aged 1-6 years) understand about child healthy eating and body image, and what they would like in future interventions, by using structured focus groups with parents, and individual interviews with Early Childhood Professionals. Forty three parents (M(age) = 36.95 years, 93% female, 79% university degree) participated across 9 focus groups. Eleven Early Childhood Professionals (M(age) = 51.04, 100% female, 64% university degree, 64% Maternal and Child Health Nurses, 36% Childcare Centre Directors) completed individual telephone interviews. RESULTS:Parents described healthy eating as a variety, balance, and range of foods as well as limiting certain foods, such as the intake of sugar, salt, and processed foods. Most often parents defined child body image as a child's physical appearance and did not mention thoughts and feelings related to appearance or body experiences. Body image was most commonly considered a problem in early adolescence and often not an issue of relevance in early childhood. Parents appeared knowledgeable about nutrition and accessed information about healthy eating across a range of resources though rarely accessed information about child body image. They desired more practical information about how to avoid encouraging negative body image when promoting healthy eating. Professionals' responses confirmed these findings. CONCLUSIONS:Results suggest future interventions need to stress the important role positive body image plays in encouraging healthy attitudes to food and weight management, and the benefits positive body image can have on the health and mental health of preschool children.

publication date

  • 2015